45. God of Salvation

Getting to Know God Meditations:  45. God of Salvation

Mt 1:21   She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Jn 3:17  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Heb 2:1-4  We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

Towards the end:  As we come to the end of this series it is perhaps appropriate that we try to sum up some of the key things we have considered as we have walked this particular path. If you asked me why we have the Bible, why it exists even, my answer would be that God has given us a mean of seeing reality in a way that no one or no thing anywhere else in all Creation does. That ‘reality’ explains why we are like we are, how we came to be like we are – indeed, it forces us to face what we are truly like – and it lays out possibilities of what can be, and all of these things are to do with God.

Restating the Problem:  The big picture presented by the Bible reveals the following:

  1. God designed and brought this world into being – it is no accident.
  2. God designed us with free will – necessary to enable us to be human beings with all of the creative potential we have. (we are made in ‘the image of God’ and so each of us can reflect something of Him – goodness, kindness, compassion, creativity – great potential).
  3. From the outset we chose to reject God’s design instructions and as a result we have never fully functioned properly since, i.e. actually every single one of us is dysfunctional – we aren’t living as we were designed to live.
  4. The Bible calls this propensity within each of us, Sin, what I define as self-centred, godlessness that leads to self-destructive unrighteous, seen in such things as pride, envy, gluttony, greed, lust, sloth, and wrath (the seven so-called ‘cardinal sins’ of the heart), and the outworking of those, lies, and deceit, violence, abuse etc. etc. We may be creative, compassionate etc., but it doesn’t stop us being self-centred and godless and doesn’t stop us making a mess of life – see the life histories of famous artists, writers, composers etc.
  5. As far as God is concerned He appears at a distance (if He exists) and so we are left to struggle through life using our own limited resources which often run out or fall short (hence so much ‘mental illness’ today).

Restating the Answer: The big picture presented by the Bible reveals the following:

  1. Although mankind ‘fell’ having rejected Him, He nevertheless was still there communicating and reaching out to us.
  2. To enable the world to see this in action, He called Abraham to start a family – Isaac, Jacob – that became the nation of Israel through whom He sought to reveal Himself in the way He provided for them, blessed them, protected and led them; yet they, like their ancestors, constantly turned away from Him despite all the incredible things He did for them, simply revealing even more clearly the fact of the presence of sin in each and every one of us.
  3. Eventually, now about two thousand years ago, He sent His Son from heaven, born as a baby, seen in the life, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. Through the ministry that Jesus exercised we saw the incredible love of God being manifest as he “went around doing good and healing,” and “accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did … through him.”  
  4. His death by execution on a cross at the hands of the Romans, but incited by the Jewish authorities, was a travesty of justice in human terms but in divine terms was justice being satisfied in respect of every single one of us as the Son of God took our punishment, in our place.
  5. The result of this – and this is the Gospel – is that every one of us can come to God and receive forgiveness for our past dysfunctional, godless lives and receive new power to live new lives from Him, whereby we receive His guidance, His directions, His enabling to live godly, good lives, lives that no longer strive for acceptance because we are accepted by The One who counts, no longer striving for self-centred goals because He who knows best, has things on His heart for each of us so that we may have a sense of purpose, direction and fulfillment than can come from no other source.
  6. Because of these things, death is no longer to be feared for He imparts and conveys eternal life to us so that ‘death’ is simply passing on into the eternity that we have with Him where all limitations on receiving His love and goodness are removed. That is our inheritance.

And So? Dishonesty, that comes from a fearful sense of inadequacy, so often stops us facing what we are really like. Insecurity, not knowing the love of God for us, is what blinds us to the wonder of what He offers to us, and so the work of God towards each one of us is to watch over each of us, looking, watching for a chink in this self-protective deceptive armor, so that His word can penetrate our darkness and shed light which, if we respond, grows and grows and brings conviction that shows us the truth about ourselves and the truth of what He offers.

It is a battle but as we surrender, all we find is that, contrary to the lies we have been fed, He is there for us and His arms of love are open to us. When we surrender our pride, our past and our present perversity and lay it down before Him, He takes it, removes it and replaces it with the most wonderful sense of being loved, accepted, forgiven, cleansed and remade. When that happens it is but the start of an eternal future, the wonder of which will never be fully appreciated this side of death – but we will some sense of it immediately. This is what this series has been all about.

It is possible that you may have only found it near the end – well, catch the wonder and go back when you have the time to see the detail that has been here in the previous 44 studies. It is possible you have been reading as an unbeliever. That can change; it just needs honesty, acceptance of the truth and a surrender to Him, receiving His salvation through Christ, a new life, and all this will happen as you pray. Don’t worry about the words, just utter your heart. For those who have been reading and you are already believers, let the truths we have been laying out, touch your heart afresh with the wonder of it all, and worship Him. Be blessed.

44. God of the End Game (2)

Getting to Know God Meditations:  44. God of the End Game (2)

Dan 12:1,2   There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake, some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.

Mt 13:48  This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous”

Continuing:  In the previous study we started pondering on the limited life this earth appears to have and how views of the future can be so different. The secular materialist looks at the various doomsday scenarios being painted today and sees only death and destruction and gloom and doom (hence Doomsday), but the Christian sees all this simply as a path through a scarred battlefield, on the other side of which is something so glorious that it is difficult to comprehend.

A Winding Up? The thought of all these various doomsday scenarios coming to a head simply suggests a bringing to an end of what had been a relatively short human history, but the Bible doesn’t leave the end in the hands of sinful mankind. As we considered before, the Revelation of John brings us prophetic insights that may or may not be literal or they may be figurative, but what is conveyed above all else, is that God is in charge and that His angels open up the way ahead, a way that is supposed to bring mankind to a point of repentance, but which instead simply shows the intransigence of sin: “The rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood—idols that cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts,” (Rev 9:20,21) and then later, “the sun was allowed to scorch people with fire. They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him,” (Rev 16:8,9) and, “People gnawed their tongues in agony and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done.” (Rev 16:10b,11)

How bizarre sin is, this self-centred, godless propensity we cling to in the face of a God who says, “I love you and want to bless you,” but still, as a world, we reject Him. In many ways, I believe, although the overall image is of God bringing these things into being, nevertheless when we look at them in the light of what – today – we see mankind doing, most of these things in Revelation are the result of the works of mankind and Revelation is merely a warning of the strongest kind of where we are heading.

The First End: What is referred to as the Second Coming of Christ is, if the concluding chapters are to be read as chronological history (and it’s not always clear with prophecy), the bringing to an end of the reign of mankind. The picture is of Christ returning as a conquering king (see Rev 19:11-21) who is resisted but who conquers and destroys those who hold out against him. Now I have called this ‘the first end’ because it does not end there. Satan is bound and removed from the scene for a thousand years, the source of deception and temptation and outright destruction is removed (see Rev 20:1-3) and it is clear that mankind – “the nations” (v.3) – continue on in this period until Satan is released and is used to allow him to sift the hearts of men and women and deceive who will be deceived who rebel against God (yet again) and seek to move against God’s people in Jerusalem (see Rev 20:7-9) but fire from heaven simply ‘devours’ them.

Judgment: This is then followed by the Final Judgment, a time when every person who has ever lived has to stand before God and face their past life. All non-believers are consigned to a second death, the ultimate end of them with no further possible future (see Rev 20:11-15).  Again, I would simply comment that scholars struggled with these passages over the centuries, pondering whether they are a chronological rolling out of events involving mankind or whether this is some figurative description of what will yet to come, and so I leave you to make your own assessment. What is quite clear, however else we may understand it, is that a) God is in control always, b) He has the will and power to bring about the end He wants and c) that end involves the activities of mankind being put under the microscope, if you like, to bring a faithful conclusion whereby justice is seen to be done and salvation through the work of Christ on the Cross brings forth large numbers of redeemed members of the human race.

The Ultimate End – a New Beginning: But there are still two chapters of revelation to go. Chapter 21 shows us a new heaven and a new earth (v.1,5), a new Jerusalem (v.2, 10-21) where God and His people dwell together in total peace and harmony (v.3,4) with no more death or pain or tears.  Chapter 22 shows a river flowing from the throne of God, down through the new city that brings life wherever it flows (22:1-2). When the angel says to John, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this scroll, because the time is near,” (22:10) and later Jesus says to him, Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done,” (22:12) it leaves one wondering if these words give warning and promise of what each of us will face when we die and step out of time-space history. For those who live and are yet to come, the judgments, battles etc., are still to be rolled out in history, but for those of us believers who ‘die’, do Jesus’ words to the penitent thief apply to what we have just been reading: Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” ?(Lk 23:43)

Questions, wonderings, speculations, but all in the face of the Scriptures before us. As one wise preacher once said, ‘It will all pan out right in the end’. God knows how it will all happen but in the meantime you and I have so much before us in His word, that we will never ever be able to say, “You didn’t warn me.” We don’t need to understand it all to be able to see that God has an end-game on his agenda (whether immediately after we die or yet in times ahead) and if we respond to His Son, Jesus, we can have a glorious part in it. If we refuse him, our part will be truly inglorious! The warnings of things to be avoided are there, the promises of blessings to be received are there, it is up to us how we will respond to it.

43. God of the End Game (1)

Getting to Know God Meditations:  43. God of the End Game (1)

2 Pet 3:7   the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

2 Pet 3:10  But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare

2 Pet 3:11-13  You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

Limited:  Perhaps there is no greater untruth that the human mind has held onto than, “This is all there is and this is all there ever will be.” In science, once upon a time, there was the belief that everything that is had always existed, but now scientists believe in a beginning. In the world today there are rumors of doomsday scenarios, the definition of which is, ‘an extremely serious or dangerous situation that could end in death or destruction.’  The possible end of this world has, in recent years, become a topic of frequent conversation. Interesting!  No longer is that untruth held so strongly.

Throughout the Bible the are many clear references to both the beginning and a purposeful end to all we know, and it is clearly by the design of God. The duration of this world is thus seen in the Bible as limited, and increasingly the world is agreeing with that.

Work of Mankind? The question that must lurk behind all this talk is, is the beginning and the end a work of chance (beginning) AND of mankind (ending) or are both the design and will of God? In the ‘doomsday discussion’ the environment features largely, population explosion used to be but not so much now, but other ends at the hands of mankind also now feature largely: the continuing threat of nuclear holocaust and terrorism (may be one and the same thing, very high probability), robotics & human destruction (the Matrix scenario), ‘Star Wars’ weaponry and warfare (growth of technology to kill which, in the wrong hands may be devastating), cyborg lives (technology within the body changing us out of all recognition), superhumans (intellect/memory enhancement, ditto with all the ensuing problems, social and economic), biological pandemics (on purpose & accidental). All of these things in one form or another have in recent years become possible realities, realities that end the human race and possibly the very existence of the planet.

Work of God? When we turn to the Bible, the last book, Revelation, which is mostly a prophecy of the ‘end times’ and ‘The End’ confirms the probability (not merely ‘possibility’) of large scale destruction, seen as angelic prophetic figures apparently bring destruction, for example, “I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.” (Rev 6:8) War, famine and plague are observable features of history, one thing leading on to the other so that when the population is wiped out, wild animals roam the earth unhindered. We also read later, “A third of the earth was burned up.” (Rev 8:7) When I was young I could not think how such destruction could be but in my lifetime so much has changed that it is easy to conceive it now.

But is God the instigator of these things, and how do they come about? Well clearly, as we have been considering with the talk of doomsday scenarios, these are all the work of mankind. What the Bible does show is that sometimes, mankind seems to get to such of rebellion against God that we find the words, “God gave them over to…” (Rom 1:24,26,28) suggesting that His acts of judgment often take the form (and we see it again and again in the book of Judges) of Him lifting off His hand of restraint so that mankind is given the freedom to do exactly what it wants – and that ends up being self-destructive – but it is our choice! The book of Revelation is, remember, pure prophecy and prophecy is sometimes literal and sometimes figurative. The angels cited above may or may not be figurative but the outcomes, we have just demonstrated, could be the work of mankind and the destruction literal.

A Glooms-day Scenario? Is this just gloomy talk or is there something more here? May I make a suggestion which I don’t think is expressly stated in the Bible yet I believe is clearly there. Again and again God sets up mankind to live and be blessed but each time the consequences of free will mean that Sin (self-centred, godlessness leading to self-destructive living) prevails. We see it in the beginning and we see it in the establishing of the nation of Israel that we have considered in earlier studies. Israel went into hiding for two thousand years (see Rev 12) but have now been restored to their land. With the development of science and technology, God has enabled us to provide for the whole world (if we will only use it for that) so that every human could benefit from it. That could have been the possibility but instead, the very presence of all these doomsday scenarios shows us clearly that we are more bent on destruction than on life and blessing and so John’s prophecies in the book of Revelation simply record that. Godless mankind, bent on doing their own thing,  appear bent on their own destruction. That unfortunately includes you and me!

Is that all? So is a burnt-out earth all we can look forward to? If aliens (should they exist) turn up in a hundred years, will all they find is a scorched earth, a devastated earth that so many films portray as a possible outcome? The Biblical prophetic answer of Revelation says definitely not but to see that we will need to move on into another study to be able to cover it in the required detail.

And So? So what are we left with? We have considered a scenario where God creates this wonderful world and us on it. To enable us to be human in the sense we know, not robots, thus able to be creative, loving, thinking, reasoning, etc., He gave us free will. The truth, that has been made obvious multiple times in the Bible, is that we have used that to do our own thing to the exclusion of God and whenever we do that it has destructive consequences, often allowed by God but motivated by us.  That sequence has been seen a number of times and appears to be in its final phase where the science and technology we have been given to bless the world is, in fact, being used by us to bring about greater destruction than ever before possible – our choice.

Nevertheless, godlessness still prevails and so the end will come either by the hand of God (which we’ll look at in the next study) or by the hand of man, permitted by God, but with a yet further goal in mind. The future holds questions marks but some things are clear from the Bible: first, it is not ‘out of control’, it is all happening by the permissive will of God; second, He has an ultimate ‘end game’ in mind which will be achieved; third, the duration of the existence of mankind on this earth is strictly limited; finally God’s intent is that there is yet to be something infinitely more glorious to come than we can possibly comprehend at the moment and this, too, will be the subject of the next study.

42. God of Resurrection (2)

Getting to Know God Meditations:  42. God of Resurrection (2)

1 Cor 15:3-5   Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures ….  he was buried ….he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures

Rev 20:4,5 They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection.

Jn 11:25,26    Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.

Resurrection?   Resurrection, I suspect, is something that again rarely crosses the mind of the average person and maybe for that reason they might struggle with the very idea. In the previous study we merely noted that there were instances, prophetic and poetic of the belief that God can raise us up when we are dead, that there is more after visible physical death. Yet it is fairly obvious that the very idea of Jesus’ death and resurrection were alien to the disciples. Again and again Jesus told them these two things would happen – see Mt 16:21, 17:22,23, 20:17-19 – and yet when the events rolled out and he was crucified, they simply could not believe that he was alive again – see Mk 16:11, Lk 24:11,12,37,38, Jn 20:2,9,25. I find these very human responses very reassuring when it comes to the veracity of the Bible – who would have recorded this unbelief unless it was true?

Past Examples: The strange thing about this unbelief is that, not only had the disciples heard Jesus a number of times prophesying that this would happen, but they had seen his power at work raising the dead.  He had raised a woman’s dead son (Lk 7:11-17), he raised Jairus’s daughter (Lk 8:49-56) and of course, the big one, he raised Lazarus from the dead (Jn 11). The son would have been dead many hours, Jairus’s daughter was clearly dead and “her spirit returned” (v.55) and Lazarus had been dead several days. When Martha, Lazarus’s sister, challenged Jesus when he eventually turned up, he responded, “Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”  Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” (v.23,24)

She is a good Jew and well taught and so knows this teaching. It is then that he responds with one of our starter verses, “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”   “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” (Jn 11:26,27) There are three significant parts to those verses. First, Jesus’ declaration, “The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.” Death may come he says, but life will follow! Wow! What a reversal. Second, he says, “and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” This goes a step further by emphasizing that it is belief in Jesus that brings us life, and so having received that new life from him, when physical death does eventually come, as it will, that does not mean that the believer is lost; it just means that ‘that life’ received from Christ, was the precursor or first stage of the eternal life they will experience when they pass through death. The third thing is Martha’s response of belief: “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” Now the Messiah was to be the deliverer who came from heaven and by making this declaration she is saying, “Of course I believe you because I know who you really are.”

The Concept Applied: The apostle Paul wrote along these lines to the Romans: “if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” (Rom 8:10,11) The paraphrase Message version puts this interestingly, “It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he’ll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself? When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ’s!” The emphasis of that version directs us to see that Christ’s life is what is conveyed to us when we come to him, so we come alive to God. It can’t help but also accept that that life will impact us physically as well, which implies something about the body going on after death.

In the classic passage on resurrection that Paul writes in 1 Cor 15, after having laid out the evidence for Christ having being raised, Paul goes on to lay out some theological thoughts (v.12-34) but then goes on to consider the nature of the resurrection body (v.35 on) and concludes, “So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” (v.42-44) i.e. our physical body dies but in eternity we will receive a new ‘spiritual’ body. The word ‘spiritual’ is open to question but note it is a body, a means of life being carried, identifiable and able to interact with other such bodies. Sometimes commentators point to Jesus’ raised body that appeared to move about more speedily than before and even appeared to be able to pass through locked doors, though the writers make the point that this is not a ghost but a body who could be touched, spoken to and listened to.

Uncertainty: However, a variety of words are used to describe what may yet happen to us in the future. For example when Peter was preaching shortly after Pentecost he declared, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord” (Acts 3:19) The timing of those words may suggest that refreshing or new life is what always follows repentance. Jesus, speaking had said, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne…” (Mt 19:28) which could mean after his ascension or after his second coming, which may be more likely in the light of Peter’s preaching again, Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.” (Acts 3:21)

A Specific Resurrection:  So far we have observed Jesus’ resurrection and the apostle Paul making some comment about us having the same power, in us now, that raised Jesus from the dead, and then the different ways of describing what will yet happen. Now let’s consider some of the more specific things that are said about the End. For example, Jesus himself, speaking of the end times presumably, said, a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.” (Jn 5:28,29) The picture is of a resurrection at some future date. The apostle Paul, presumably referring to the same event, declared, the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” (1 Thess 4:16,17) The message seems quite clear – there will come a time of resurrection.

The apostle Paul, before Governor Felix declared, “I have the same hope in God as these men themselves have, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.” (Acts 24:15) Note a resurrection of both the good and the bad. In Revelation 20, John shows the division between the two, the first being the believers at what was referred to as ‘the first resurrection’ (Rev 20:4,5) who were raised and brought to life to reign of a set period, before all the rest (unbelievers) who are raised in what must be implied as the ‘second resurrection’ (although those words never appear) when all have to stand before God and be accountable (Rev 20:12-15) in what is referred to as the Final Judgment.

The Difficulty: I have said previously, do not think in material-time terms. Whether these things take place in a split second or in eternity where time does not exist, we will not know until it happens. The nature of the prophecy of Revelation means that many of us try to be too specific, I suggest, and it will only be when we are in it, part of it, that we will fully comprehend how it all works out. The ‘activities’ may be clear, but maybe the ‘timing’ is not so.

The Clarity: What does seem to be clear is that following physical death (some time?) there will be an experience of another ongoing life. For the believer it will be to reign with Christ and then spend eternity with God. For the unbeliever, it will be a time of being presented before God to account for their past life experience and confirm that justice would be right in condemning them to ultimate death where there will be no further chance of any future. Both of those experiences are what is being referred to when we speak of ‘the resurrection of the dead’. One is to confirm eternal life, the other to confirm NO future whatsoever. Before we approach the end of this series, we will do well therefore to seek to clarify what I will refer to a God’s ‘End Game’ and that will be the purpose of the next study.

41. God of Resurrection (1)

Getting to Know God Meditations:  41. God of Resurrection (1)

1 Cor 15:3-5   Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures ….  he was buried ….he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures

1 Cor 15:13  If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.

Resurrection?   Resurrection simply means being raised to life when dead. The order is always life – death – resurrection, an order seen a number of times in the Bible, and most especially in the New Testament. Is it important? Well yes, because the defining act in respect of Christ is his resurrection but, as the apostle Paul said, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.

Even more, the idea of resurrection is arguably the most powerful argument for the power of God in respect of human beings. We cannot bring ourselves back when we have fully died, but God can. When Jesus said, “I am the resurrection,”  (Jn 11:25) he was declaring that he was both the life source that could enable resurrection to take place and the cause or reason that it can take place.

Resurrection Explicit in the Old Testament? Jesus challenged the unbelieving religious authorities before him, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. . . . As for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God?” (Mt 22:29,31).  He was clearly implying that the Old Testament taught resurrection.

Daniel was told, at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.” (Dan 12:1,2) An apparently end-time picture that features resurrection.

Isaiah prophesied, “But your dead will live, Lord; their bodies will rise— let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout for joy— your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead.” (Isa 26:19) Whether he meant that literally, physically or allegorically is unclear, but the picture of resurrection is clearly there.

The Psalmists also contributed to the concept. In Psa 49 the psalmist declares that all will die, good and bad alike but adds, “But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead;  he will surely take me to himself.” (Psa 49:15) Resurrection there is linked with life after death, but nevertheless, still resurrection. In Psa 16 we find, “my body also will rest secure,  because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful  one see decay,” (Psa 16:9,10) verses that find an echo in the New Testament, applied to Jesus (Act 2:24-29). In Psa 71 we find, “you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth  you will again bring me up.” (Psa 71:20) Again whether allegorical or literal is unclear but a resurrection reference, nevertheless.

Ezekiel, in his valley of dry bones vision (Ezek 37), is presented with an extreme possibility that involves resurrection, a valley of dry bones, the final remnants of dead people, and is challenged whether God can make them live, i.e. can they be resurrected?  But then God spells it out: This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land.” (Ezek 37:12-14) Israel as a nation were as good as dead and as far as the world was concerned, they were lined up to die in graves there in Babylon – yet the work of God redeeming them and restoring them to their land would be without any doubt, an act of resurrection.

Resurrection Implicit in the Old Testament? Although in some of the above cases resurrection may be allegorical, symbolic of what would happen in life, nevertheless resurrection is quite explicit. However there are also a number of instances where resurrection – the bringing of life where only death exists – is implied or can be seen in what takes place. This is the study of ‘types’, seeing pictures (historical incidents) in the Old Testament as illustrating or foreshadowing things in the New Testament. For our purposes here, those ‘types’ or pictures are all in respect of resurrection.

Noah’s ark (Gen 6-8) is one such historical event, the nature of which speaks of a bigger reality. The world (Middle East or all of world) was doomed to destruction – death, end of mankind – but Noah and his family were carried through the flood, survived and continued what became the Hebrew family. In 1 Pet 3 the apostle Peter referring to the Ark says, “In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you ….It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet 3:20,21) The sense is that ‘in Christ’, even as Christ was raised from the dead, so are we and even as the Ark carried Noah safely through the judgment, so ‘in Christ’ we are saved from the Final Judgment, dead but now raised to eternal life.

Abraham (Gen 11:29,30) the childless nomad, married to a barren woman, is promised a son by God even though his wife’s body is beyond the capability of bearing a child. As far as child-bearing is concerned, she is dead, but God enabled her to conceive. Life flows in her body afresh – resurrection. Later Abraham is asked by God (Gen 22) to sacrifice the miracle son, Isaac, and as he goes to do it, God stops him and provides a substitute, a ram stuck in a nearby thicket. The writer to the Hebrew comments on this, “Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.” (Heb 11:19) A picture of resurrection.

Joseph surely has to be a similar picture. God has prophesied, in dreams Joseph received, that he would be ruler and savior of the family. Instead he is sold as a slave and imprisoned. He is as good as dead. There is no future – but then through more dreams God has him released from prison and made the second most powerful man in the region; the prophetic dreams fulfilled. He is raised from the dead, figuratively at least.

Moses, the Prince of Egypt who gets it wrong and has to flee Egypt and live as a shepherd in the desert of Sinai. He is as good as dead; he has no future and so the years just keep passing – forty of them – until God comes to him and takes him and uses him as the greatest shepherd of history (next to Jesus!). He is resurrected, figuratively at least.  Then there is Israel, the people, slaves in Egypt, as good as dead with no hope of liberation, doomed for eternity – and then God comes and delivers them. The Exodus has to be one of the great examples of resurrection, and it is finalized by the Passover where a nation’s inhabitants are all under the shadow of the angel of judgment who will destroy every first born son – in every family – except in the homes of those who will kill a lamb and put its blood on the doorposts so the destroying angel will see it and ‘pass over’ and leave them untouched. Death and resurrection because of a lamb of God. (Now see Jn 1:29,36 & Rev 5:6)

Barren Wives: The Old Testament almost seems littered with such women – Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Hannah, all barren, all with apparently ‘dead’ wombs, who were then enabled to conceive – resurrection.

The Exile: We have already seen reference to this with Ezekiel but when Nebuchadnezzar utterly destroyed Jerusalem and took all the inhabitants into exile in Babylon, Israel were as good as dead, literally. It was the end of their time in the Promised Land, it was the end of them as a people – or so it seemed. God had destroyed them; they were dead. And then some forty years on, God stirs their current pagan overlord-king, Cyrus, who sends them back and they and Jerusalem are restored. Resurrection!

And So?  Well we have the New Testament to look at yet, but here we have both explicit words and implicit pictures again and again in the Old Testament, that testify to this amazing concept –  of the God who takes ‘dead’ people and ‘dead’ situations and raises up new life. The end of it is that He offers to take our ‘dead’ lives and raise them to new life, but for that we’ll have to wait until the next study that takes us into the New Testament.

40. God of Death (& Life)

Getting to Know God Meditations:  40. God of Death (& Life)

Gen 2:17  you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

Rom 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Eccles 3:2 (There is) a time to be born and a time to die

Eccles 7:2   It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.

Heb 9:27 people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment,

Mt 20:18 the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death

Death? Death is one of those things that postmodern man tries to reject.  Some speak of science extending and extending life and maybe even eventually denying death completely. How terrible a picture! In Ecclesiastes 7 Solomon confronted death declaring, “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.” (Eccles 7:4) Both there and in the earlier verse above, he is saying that a wise person thinks about death because it helps bring a right and better perspective to life. It is often the person who has been confronted with their own death who truly appreciates the wonder of life.

Death at the Beginning: However we view the early chapters of Genesis (fact or parable) there is a challenging picture portrayed because when God warned Adam against taking the fruit of one particular tree else they would know evil (which happened), He warned that that evil would produce death which implies that up until then the potential for Adam and Eve was that they could have everlasting life. Now the separating of the couple from God (by being banned from the Garden) suggests that the life of God was what conveyed life to them and while they were in close relationship with Him, they would have that same life source. Being separated from Him meant being separated from that life source and so physical death would follow eventually.

Death Now: The testimony of Scripture accords exactly with reality: death comes to every living being without exception. It is the only thing of which we can be sure. Solomon, in the Old Testament,  testified to it – “There is a time for dying” – and so did the writer to the Hebrews in the New Testament – “people are destined to die”.  Why? Because of the presence of Sin – “the wages (or payment or consequence) of sin is death.”  And yet for us today, that need not be the end for there are numerous references to eternal life, a life that will continue on after physical death.

Eternal Life? Let’s let the truths of Scripture sink into us:  they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Mt 25:46)  Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.” (Mt 10:29,30) God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16) “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.” (Jn 3:36) “whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (Jn 4:14) “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” (Jn 5:24)  “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day….. Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life.(Jn 6:40,47) “Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (Jn 12:25) Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (Jn 17:3) When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honoured the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.” (Acts 13:48) “To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honour and immortality, he will give eternal life.” (Rom 2:7) “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 6:23)

There are just some of the references to eternal life but even from these we can see that this is not some periphery doctrine but something that is at the very heart of the Christian Faith. We see it set off against eternal punishment (a punishment that is always there waiting for unbelievers and which cannot be withdrawn only replaced by eternal life). Eternal life, these verses add, is the life yet to come for us, the life that follows this one, or continues it! The message is quite clear, it is granted to those who believe Jesus and believe in Jesus.

Death at the End: Death was not there at the beginning; it only came with the Fall. Having come with the Fall it is now the experience of every single human being. Yet in the present age for those who will believe in Christ it is supplanted by eternal life, the continuation of the life that has been granted here on this earth, a life that goes on and on, a life outside the limitations of time. But what about death? “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.  The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Cor 215:25,26) Jesus is now reigning in the midst of his enemies (Psa 110:1,2) and will continue to reign until he returns in triumph (see Rev 19). As we read on in Revelation we see an ultimate judgment before God and then we read, “Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Rev 20:14,15)

Hades?  Sheol, a Hebrew word used in the Old Testament, is normally simply defined as ‘the state or resting place of the dead.’  When the Hebrew scriptures were translated into Greek, ‘Hades’ was substituted for ‘Sheol’.  Hades is similarly ‘ the state or resting place of the dead’. However we view this Jewish belief of ‘the place of the dead’ at the end, any place, location or existence (apart from the Lake of Fire containing the banished spirit beings) is utterly removed so death or any other potential area of concern is removed. Fire, as I have commented previously is always seen as a means of complete destruction. The fact that ‘death’ is consigned to the fire means the end of it.

Death appears the end but ‘the first death’ is merely a doorway out of this existence on earth. The ‘second death’ (Rev 20:14) is the end from which there is no return. This leaves us speculating further about Hades, ‘the resting place of the dead’. Our problem when considering these things is that we cannot comprehend the absence of time. Possibilities appear to be that the redeemed pass immediately into God’s presence (“Today you will be with me in paradise.” Lk 24:43) but all others pass into a timeless zone, ready to be raised again later (Rev 20:5,13) for final judgment.  Don’t think in time and space.

The Beginning of the End? After this, all that is left is the New Heaven and the New Earth and the New Jerusalem (see Rev 21:1,2) This is the dwelling place of the people of God with their God for eternity. (Rev 21 & 22)  The past experience of time-space history, of limited-term-lives, brought to an end by death, is now all past. Material life is past and now all  (all?????) that is left is timeless eternity and the wonder of all that means, that will only become clear when we experience it. A word we have avoided but which arises a number of times in the above contexts, is ‘resurrection’ and so we will consider that in the next study.

39. God of Times & Seasons

Getting to Know God Meditations:  39. God of Times & Seasons

Eccles 3:1   There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:

Songs 8:4   I charge you: Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.

Jn 7:6  Jesus told them, “My time is not yet here; for you any time will do.

Gal 4:4  when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son

Gal 6:9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

And So? Let’s declare it from the outset – God is never in a rush.  This God we have been considering, who we have said more than once is all-knowing and all-wise, knows exactly what is going on, what causes stuff to happen, how long things will take and when things will happen. And because of this, God is patient, He waits and He waits: “he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9)

The enigma of time: Time is a mystery or a philosophical construct or a philosophical bind. It is taken for granted but also causes speculation so that ‘time-travel’ has been a good source of writing and films. But in this modern day, we are ever aware of ‘the time’ whether it is to clock-in at work at the right time, to turn on the TV at a right time, or to get to the airport to have the right time to get processed before your flight. Time is simply the space awareness we have between one activity and another. We say, “We have just an hour before we need to leave for the meal out,” and within that ‘hour’ we know we have a number of things to do and each of them will take ‘time’.

Time involves Process: Eccles 3:1-8 is a great source for meditation but it speaks of appropriate or right times to do various things, but when it comes to the process we need to go to Isaiah as he chides the people and implies that God take His time and has a time for everything: “Listen to me now. Give me your closest attention. Do farmers plough and plough and do nothing but plough? Or harrow and harrow and do nothing but harrow? After they’ve prepared the ground, don’t they plant?…. They know exactly what to do and when to do it.(Isa 28:23-26)  Farming is a process, it takes time and varied activities to bring about a harvest. Gardeners learn this thing as well; they are constant season watchers. They may put bulbs in during October, say, but realize they won’t see any signs of growth until March perhaps. To be a gardener you have to learn patience. Parents know that children are not good with patience: “Are we almost there yet?”   Are we like little children with God sometimes, I wonder? Solomon understood this when he wrote the Song of Songs and penned, “I charge you: Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.”   It takes a while for love to build so often, and it is a foolhardy suitor who seeks to rush it. There is a process even within relationships.

God is Patient: Earlier in this series we considered the God of Purpose and we considered His activities and words in respect of Israel, providing a nation for the world through which He could reveal Himself, a nation into which He could send His Son. From the time He spoke to Abram about blessing the world through him, and the fulfillment through His Son, was roughly two thousand years. In our perspective God is not in a rush. If you really want to put time in perspective consider what today’s world-watchers say; according to one history book on my shelves, there have been 31.7 billion years since ‘the Big Bang’. If they are right that is a long time – indeed a time that we cannot possibly comprehend. It is utterly meaningless to the human mind. But if they are right, God is certainly not in a rush. (Perhaps He was doing lots of other things in that time we know nothing about!!!!!)

Frustration: Frustration follows impatience. We want things to happen NOW! We struggle to cope with delay, even though we know time has just got to pass, a process has got to be allowed to work through. For God, revealing things through Israel, it necessitated each player in Israel’s history to live out their time, day by day, hour by hour, so that they be allowed to build their testimony. Often we find the scribes writing such things as, “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, but not as his father David had done. In everything he followed the example of his father Joash,” (2 Kings 14:3) here referring to Amaziah. Those few simple words, “as his father David had done,” refer back to pages of testimony about David’s life, but he had to live it out before it could be said. So it was of each king, years passing in which testimony was built, and all the while God watches patiently. God is patient, He doesn’t get frustrated like we do.

Jesus, the example: Jesus, the Son of God, must be the prime example of divine patience and order. Again and again he indicates that he is moving according to a divine plan and would not, therefore, be rushed into anything prematurely. Our verse above from Jn 7 was from a time when his brothers were encouraging him to go to Jerusalem for publicity sake, but he resists that motivation. At a wedding in Cana in Galilee when the wine ran out, his mother sought to involve him but his response was, “My hour has not come,” (Jn 2:4) or, “This isn’t my time. Don’t push me.” (Msg paraphrase) Although in both cases he did respond in the way suggested, his immediate response indicates he was not going to let even closest family conclude they could dictate his activity. Later he was to explain, “The Son can’t independently do a thing, only what he sees the Father doing. What the Father does, the Son does.” (Jn 5:19 Msg) The Son’s activity and timing was governed by what he sensed his Father was leading him to do, not what others wanted him to do.

Our Gal 4:4 quote comes over well in the Message paraphrase: “But when the time arrived that was set by God the Father, God sent his Son…” which very much matches what we’ve just seen Jesus himself saying. In a previous study we noted that there were a number of things in history that showed that that time was the very best time for the gospel to be spread across the Roman world. Within that same letter, Paul encouraged us to persevere with life because a time of harvest will come in our lives if we do press on and persevere. Timing is all important and even as we commented about there being a right time for a harvest for the farmer, so sometimes we just have to wait for various things to either fall into place or come to fruition before the good comes that we have been praying and waiting for.

God’s Seasons: We should perhaps note, as we conclude this study, that when you observe the history of the Church there have been various phases or seasons but mostly, in the ordinary, everyday run of the mill order of things, they tend to be determined by how we respond to God. The years following Jesus’ ascension were clearly years of blessing as the early Church moving under the power of the Spirit continued the works of Jesus.  The further on and away from that day, as history progressed, it seemed that much of that died away even though the Church was flourishing. Although many of the following centuries were mostly spiritually dark, historians do observe that there were pockets of blessing throughout much of the past two thousand years.

These days? After 1517 when Luther nailed up his 95 theses, the Reformation restored Scripture to its proper place in the life of individuals and the church. More centuries passed before, in 1906, the Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles, restored the life and ministry of the Holy Spirit to the fore, although it did not cross denominational boundaries until in the 1960’s the Charismatic Movement restored Holy Spirit life for the individual, with also a new teaching restoring the ministry of ‘the body of Christ.  These were clearly seasons of God when He moved on individuals to restore His Word and Spirit to the lives of His people. What is interesting is that these were not revivals.

Revivals? The characteristics of true revival were described by Duncan Campbell of the Hebridean 1949 revival: “God moves in the district. Suddenly, the community becomes God conscious. The Spirit of God grips men and women in such a way that even work is given up as people give themselves to waiting upon God. In the midst of the Lewis Awakening, the parish minister at Barvas wrote, “The Spirit of the Lord was resting wonderfully on the different townships of the region. His Presence was in the homes of the people, on meadow and moorland, and even on the public roads.” This presence of God is the supreme characteristic of a God-sent revival. Of the hundreds who found Jesus Christ during this time fully seventy-five per cent were saved before they came near a meeting or heard a sermon by myself or any other ministers in the parish. The power of God, the Spirit of God, was moving in operation, and the fear of God gripped the souls of men – this is God-sent revival as distinct from special efforts in the field of evangelism.”

When does a revival occur (and a number have through the period of Church history)? When God decides. Often it seems at low social or low moral times, usually preceded by a burden of prayer but these times that have occurred in history, just like the three years of Jesus’ ministry, cannot be explained as a human phenomenon but only as an act of God. They last for limited periods of time and appear as God intervenes in history, mostly in the lives of His people (renewals) but sometimes community-wide (revivals) as and when He sees that His testimony in the world needs strengthening.

And us? We have sought to show again and again that God is patient and God works not only sovereignly but through the way He inspires and empowers individuals. That inspiration and empowering is available for every believer in greater or lesser degrees. The ‘greater degrees’ tends to be a work in the individual who is wholly committed to God and open to receive and respond to whatever God has for them. That is true for all of us, it just depends on how open we will be to Him. The challenge is always there, will I be open to be used by Him if He comes in a fresh way to empower us by His Spirit in either renewal or revival? May He find us open and available.

38. God who is Righteous (3)

Getting to Know God Meditations:  38. God who is Righteous (3)

Mt 6:33   seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Eph 4:24   put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Acts 7:51,52 You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One.” 

Where to look? Perhaps there are fewer better places to see the wonder of God’s grace and His righteousness – His ways of dealing rightly with us human beings – than in the way He called people and dealt with them in the New Testament. As we pursue these thoughts about God’s righteousness, His good and right way of doing everything,  our natural concern must be about His interaction with human beings as seen in the Bible and with the coming of the Son of God there is a clarity brought that almost takes your breath away when you pause up and look at it carefully.

When Jesus called: There was something about Jesus, and remember those who encountered him had no preconceived ideas about how God might turn up in human form (apart from rare angelic visitations) and so when they first met Jesus, they did not immediately think, “Oh this is God,”  but there was something about him so that when he encounters fishermen on the beach and invites them to follow him,  “they left their nets and followed him,” (Mt 4:22) and when he says the same to a tax collector at work, he does likewise (Mt 9:9) But if that isn’t bad enough to understand, what is more difficult to comprehend is the sort of people he called.  First of all four rough fishermen, then a tax collector, considered by the local populace to be one of the lowest of the low, probably a crook feathering his own nest while collaborating with the Romans. Another of them is described as a zealot, a nationalist, an extremist possibly intent on revolution. Not exactly men you would think you would recruit to a top religious team.

Serving with Jesus: But then they get under way and you find one of the obvious leaders of this bunch, Peter, constantly opening his mouth to put both feet in it. Then there were James and John, two brothers also seen to be within the inner four close to Jesus exercising pride and arrogance (see Mt 20:20- and Lk 9:54). At this point you might be forgiven for questioning Jesus’ talent for choosing good men to serve God with him. But it gets worse.  As what turns out to be the end draws near, Peter denies knowing Jesus three times, Judas betrays Jesus to the authorities for thirty pieces of silver, and the rest flee and go into hiding, abandoning Jesus to his fate. What a bunch!

Jesus’ Response: Now when Jesus rises from the dead and reveals himself as the glorious, risen Son of God, you might expect him to come down on this miserable bunch like a ton of bricks, but it’s nothing like that.  Instead (read the encounters in Mt 28, Lk 24) he simply encourages them and comfort them. Yes, he does gently chide them for lack of belief (see Lk 24,25) but mostly he just seeks to help them believe. And then comes the most amazing thing of all. He meets with them all back up in Galilee and wonder of wonders he takes that greatest example of failure, Peter, and commissions him to lead the church. Unbelievable!!! But read on in Acts and you see this bunch of failures, full of the Spirit and powerfully proclaiming the gospel and performing miracles. Even more incredible!

And Saul: But Jesus hasn’t finished yet. He may be in heaven but don’t think that’s the end of it. Here is Saul, a prominent Jew, a Roman citizen, a zealous Pharisee, who is all out to imprison these new Christians who are upsetting Judaism, a clear enemy of the Faith, so what might we expect Jesus to do? Strike him down? Well, yes, he does in one sense, he temporarily blinds him, but more than this he calls him to follow him and go and take the gospel to the gentile world. (Read Acts 9)

Righteousness???  Hold on, this is supposed to be all about God’s righteousness, the way God does all things rightly. But it is all as Isaiah declared, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord, “ (Isa 55:8) and Saul, who later became Paul was to write, “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.“ (1 Cor 1:27) ‘Right’ as far as God is concerned is redeeming people. For us we might look for revenge or judgment but God comes to redeem us, save us from ourselves and our foolish ways of thinking. God sees past our failures, He sees past Peter’s big mouth and his unknowingness of his own weaknesses, He sees past Saul’s misguided zealousness, and He looks and sees what we can become – Peter the leader of the Church, Paul the greatest missionary ever.

We focus on looking good, appearing religious (try reading Isa 58), appearing spiritual but God sees past the outside (see 1 Sam 16:7) and sees the heart and sees our potential. Yes, Jesus knew exactly who he was recruiting to his team, knew exactly what they were like, knew exactly their potential for getting it wrong, sometimes very wrong, but he sees past the failures and sees what yet can be. Tell me if that is not the right way of doing things!

But what about….?  Yes, there will be times when we read Scripture that we will be left wondering, times when all the answers are not there and we are left with question marks. There are times here on earth when things will appear to be going wrong and in the midst of pain and anxiety we wonder is this a unique time when God has got it wrong. No, it’s just that at this moment we can’t see it or haven’t yet seen it and we are going to have to wait until we get to heaven to have all the answers. I often say that when we meet Him face to face, if He allows us to see the past with His eyes, we will never be able to criticize Him for anything He did or didn’t do. I wonder sometimes if the Lord takes His children home prematurely because He knows what might be coming and so does it to protect us (see Isa 57:1). I also wonder sometimes if the Lord prevents us going down some particular path in life because He knows what is might lead to – harm!    As an old friend used to say, “The things I see and understand in the Bible give me confidence to simply trust when I come across things I don’t yet understand.

And So?  I am sure I must have said it before somewhere in one of these series, but we need to distinguish between faith and trust. Faith comes from hearing; trust is what we are left with when we are hearing nothing. Faith is our response when we’ve heard God. Hopefully in this study I have provided some material that will release faith in us. However there will be times when we are left perplexed, either by scripture we don’t understand, or circumstances that challenge our understanding and in both cases we just need to trust God. Why? Because, as my friend said, of the confidence we built up in Him by the things we do understand. Whether it be faith or trust, may we be able stand assured that whatever it is, our God does all things well.

(We will now pause up this series for two weeks while we have a mini-series taking a fresh look at Advent and the Nativity)

37. God who is Righteous (2)

Getting to Know God Meditations:  37. God who is Righteous (2)

Psa 11:7 For the Lord is righteous, he loves justice;

Job 37:23 The Almighty is beyond our reach and exalted in power; in his justice and great righteousness, he does not oppress.

Doing all things well? The complaints that come from the grumbling, critical and so often ignorant-of-the-Bible atheists, is that God is harsh and unkind and spiteful. I really don’t know what Bible they are reading – if only they would read – for the Bible I have before me shows a very different God. Perhaps it is all a matter of perspective! The God I see does all things well, not perhaps as we would do things, but He does them far better than anything we could do if we were masters of the universe. Yes, I understand that at first sight some of His actions appear ‘different’ – I am not going to use any stronger negative word because that would only show our folly in misunderstanding. In this study I want to look at a couple of incidents from the Old Testament, and then in the next study, incidents from the New Testament.

Following the Fall: I used to think that what followed the Fall was tough going for Adam and Eve, until I gave it some more thought.  First of all, let’s just recap what happened. God gave them a wonderful world in which to live, a world of enjoyment but to build character into them, He gave them one prohibition to follow.  They ignored it and did what He said not to do, so He held them to account for this and they made excuses. I wonder if the outcome would have been different, if they had responded, “We’re sorry, we’re stupid, we did wrong, please forgive us,” but they didn’t and so we find the Lord sending them out of the Garden, forbidding them to return. That seemed hard.

Whatever else it meant, it meant loss of that previous wonderful experience of peace, tranquility, security and love, but basically God was giving them exactly what they had asked for – freedom to do what they wanted without any restrictions from God – just like most people want. But left to their own devices, humanity is not nice, we exercise our free will in ways that are self-harming and certainly harming to others (as a history with only very few years free from war, tells). So Cain kills Abel (Gen 4) and within a relatively short time, “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.” (Gen 6:5)

But Hope: What a mess! And we sometimes refer to ‘civilization’????? How stupid sin is. If we had a complaint of God it might be, “Why ever did you give us free will?” and I think the answer would be, “Without it there would no love, no creativity, no relationships, no inspiration, and so much more missing.” So yes, God cut us free to be ourselves with all the awfulness that entails, but the alternative would be a world of zombies. Yet He doesn’t leave it there. When I first realized it, it came as a surprise but the mere fact that He gave them freedom to live outside His sphere of influence – the Garden – didn’t mean He completely cut Himself off from them. In chapter 4 we find Him talking with Cain, trying to guide him away from murder.

In chapter 5 we find Enoch ‘walking with God’, having an ongoing relationship with God. In chapter 6 we see Him talking to Noah. In chapter 12 we see the start of the long saga of Abram’s relationship with God, and all that follows on. Oh no, as we saw very early on, this is a God of involvement and eventually a God of salvation through His Son, Jesus. Free-will failure, yes. Banishment. Yes. No contact. No! The plan is that God would work within the folly of mankind, not outside it as we’ll see.

Pharaoh, a hopeless case: We’ll keep this one short: why did God engineer the whole debacle involving hard-hearted Pharaoh (Ex 1-12) because that’s what it seems like? He knew it would happen,  He knew that in a broken world a famine would mean Jacob and his family would end up in Egypt, He knew they would stay there instead of returning to Canaan, He knew they would flourish and grow and be a threat to Egypt and become their slaves, He knew that Egypt, with the folly of sinful mankind would decline into an occult-driven, superstitious mess of inhumanity (even sacrificing their own children) and He knew that hard-hearted occult-driven Pharaoh would never give way to Moses’ demands, so why…… hold on!

I used the word ‘engineer’ early on but perhaps that is not an appropriate word to use because what I have just listed in this series of events is i) a result of the Fall, a famine, and ii) then a series of misdoings by human beings whereby their messy interactions ended up with the events of the Exodus. God simply took the sinful affairs of mankind and used that as the backdrop of the stage where He would reveal His power and grace and mankind’s staggering folly. Wow!

Saul: The third instance that I have in mind, of the way God works well, is that of Saul. To try and keep it as short as possible, Israel are fed up with having judges rule over them and so ask Samuel to give them a king like other nations have. (1 Sam 8:4,5). Now God is incredibly gracious when Samuel comes to Him with this request and says, don’t worry, it’s not you they are rejecting, but me. Now make sure you tell them what happens when you have a king, the things he will demand (see 1 Sam 8:10-18) so that they will know exactly what they are getting into.

Nevertheless the people say give us a king – so God gives them exactly what they want – a big guy, head and shoulders taller than most, who looks good and looks like he can beat up the enemy. You can read it in the following chapters. God even allows the choice – Saul – to have a serious spiritual experience (see 10:9,11) Saul has everything going for him, yet he shows that being a king of a nation under God requires more than just looking big and tough and, cutting a long story short, God has to tell Samuel that it’s up with Saul and He has someone else on His heart to replace him, (1 Sam 13:14) a man after his own heart – David. But consider all this, God gave them exactly what they wanted but that wasn’t enough and the record proves that.

And So? So what have we seen?  God who holds His erring Adam and Eve accountable but allows them to live their lives exactly as they wanted – and yet He still keeps in close contact. Then there was the foolish Pharaoh, coming at the end of a series of unwise choices by Israel (not to return home and to stay in Egypt, and not flee when the pressures started to build) who simply provided a further opportunity for the folly of sin in mankind to be demonstrated for all to see, alongside the power and grace of God.

Finally, in the case of Saul, we see God giving Israel exactly what they want – despite all the warnings they rejected – and allowing that situation to be worked out in the long-term bringing maturity to the shepherd-boy-cum-king, David. For anyone with an honest and open heart, these are examples of a God who cares but that caring is in such a manner that in each case truth is revealed to the world about itself. The message we are left with? We need a Savior, someone to dig us out of the messes we keep getting ourselves into!  We’ll see some more of this in the next study.

36. God who is Righteous (1)

Getting to Know God Meditations:  36. God who is Righteous (1)

Amos 5:24    But let justice roll on like a river,  righteousness like a never-failing stream!

Job 4:7 ‘Can a mortal be more righteous than God? Can even a strong man be more pure than his Maker?

Job 37:23 The Almighty is beyond our reach and exalted in power; in his justice and great righteousness, he does not oppress.

Psa 9:8  He rules the world in righteousness and judges the peoples with equity.

Psa 11:7 For the Lord is righteous, he loves justice;

Righteousness? The words ‘righteous’ or ‘righteousness’ don’t come up in regular conversation today! They are, I suspect, words we consign to Bible use only, which is a shame because it is foundational to understanding God and His purposes for us. Righteousness is a word linked to justice and of course justice is about rightness and fairness when it comes to behaviour. Righteousness is simply right thinking, right speech and right behaviour.

God is Righteous: Mostly, in Christian circles, we tend to talk about righteousness as something required of us. The prophets, such as Amos above in our starter verses, were constantly challenging the people to live righteous lives. Righteousness for them meant adhering to the Law of Moses.  But the thing about righteousness is that it starts in the character of God, He is righteous.  As one theologian has put it, “God’s righteousness means that God always acts in accordance with what is right and is himself the final standard of what is right.”

Creation & Righteousness: You might be wondering why the subject of righteousness is appearing here immediately after the study on God being the Creator. The answer comes when we ask the question, how can we know ‘what is right’ in that definition above, and the answer to that question is twofold. Part of it is in the second half of that definition above, but the other half is in the fact of Creation.

We take Creation, or what we often refer to as ‘Nature’, for granted. Much of the time we only take note of it in nature programmes (which, with the wonders of modern photography, have become incredibly good) or when it goes wrong – earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, etc.  Someone might ask, is this how God made this world, so it goes wrong and kills people? The answer is no, before the Fall it was not like that but the effect of Sin meant that mankind’s activity released spiritual powers (is the best way to describe it perhaps) or maybe removed God’s sustaining power in the way it had been before, and that meant that natural forces were released that cause these upsets. The Bible is not very specific on it although there are occasional hints. What is clear is that before the Fall, everything about Creation was very good (see Gen 1:25,31).

Now put aside for a moment these aberrations of the natural world (things that by and large with some more thought, we could quite easily cope with, considering modern construction techniques and the use of early warning technology) and consider the 95% of the rest of our experience with this world. There are certain characteristics about it that are worth noting:

  • First, it is mostly orderly and predictable.
  • Second, it is for our benefit whether that refers to the amazing range of food and drink available to us, or even into the pleasurable ways that we find to enjoy this world – skiing, sailing, swimming, diving, flying etc. etc. There are endless ways we find to enjoy this world because it is orderly and predictable. It works well!
  • Third, there are clearly ways to ‘use’ this world that are both pleasurable and beneficial, but there are also ways to misuse this world that are harmful and destructive. I often give the example of eating, an experience that can be very pleasurable, but when taken in excess causes obesity which in turn has other various health harming and even life-threatening effects.
  • Fourth, there are therefore, clearly boundaries of wise behaviour but the effects of Sin – that self-centred godless propensity that we all have – so often means that we see the negative effects that come from unwisely using this world, but that should not detract from this wonderful ‘machine’ (that includes us) that God has given us, that is good!

A fresh view of Righteousness: The character of God, we have observed in previous studies, includes love, goodness, knowing everything, and knowing how everything works best (wisdom). The character of this word reflects all those attributes. Righteousness goes back to ‘what is right’, and that goes back to how God has designed the world before the Fall and before the effects of the Fall, and that again goes back to His character.

Righteousness through the Law: When He gave Israel the Law through Moses, that law simply reflected His design criteria, and therefore pointed Israel in the right direction of how to live, how to behave, how to relate to one another (and outsiders) and how to relate to Him, as an embryonic, agrarian nation standing out from the rest of the world and remaining distinct from their pagan neighbours. All those things are reflected in it.

Righteousness through Christ: We today (as believers) living in a different world, are not limited to one nation or culture, are mostly not agriculture focused, and now live in the light of the salvation God offers us through Jesus Christ. Righteousness for us is, as the apostle Paul put it, “a righteousness that is by faith from first to last,” (Rom 1:17) righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe,” (Rom 3 :22) so, faith is credited as righteousness,” (Rom 4:5) so, “God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.” (Rom 4:24)  i.e. we are declared righteous by God when we simply believe in Jesus as our Saviour who died for our sins and was raised from the dead as proof of that. That is faith and faith is what God uses as the measure that decrees us righteous – living in accord with His will as revealed in and through Jesus.

And So: God always doing what is right – whether in His design of the world or the way He responds to sinners  – is the foundation upon which we can live in total peace and harmony with God, being able to utterly trust Him for all good things. Why, someone might ask, does God not deal with all evil and immediately punish all wrong-doers? Well to take the second part first, if He did that He would be punishing all of us all of the time. We have cited Ezekiel’s declarations on this again and again: “I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!” (Ezek 18:32 – also 18:23 & 33:11) God’s objective is not to destroy us but to save us (see also 2 Pet 3:9 on God’s ‘delaying tactics’!)

But what about justice? Will unrepentant sinners get away with the evil they commit under God’s benign reign? No, because often there is an accounting later in life which is seen, but there is always an accounting after death which is not seen from this perspective. One way or another, justice WILL be done and (in eternity) seen to be done. God is righteous and that means everything He does is right, as we said above,  whether in His design of the world or the way He responds to sinners. We would do well to understand these things, learn from them, and heed them.  Amen.