35. Exalted in Reality

“Hound of Heaven” Meditations: 35. Exalted in Reality

Isa 52:13c “and shall be exalted.”

Easter Sunday must have been a roller-coaster day. For the disciples, when they awake and ease into consciousness, all of the things of two days ago would have come flooding back, all of the self-recriminations of yesterday were still there. Oh God, another awful day. Then the women went off on a foolish, pointless, and hopeless errand to anoint the body in the tomb. Hopeless because the tomb is sealed. Pointless because it’s too late. Stupid women. And they continued to wallow in anguish and defeat.

But then they come running in, flushed, incoherent, almost gibbering meaningless words. He’s gone, they’ve taken him, the tomb is empty. Oh, come on! How sick is that! The authorities have back-pedaled on their decision to allow Joseph to bury him, they’ve come and taken him to no doubt bury him somewhere else that is anonymous, where we can never honour him. Typical! We’d better go and have a look.

And then it starts happening. Individuals encountering someone who looks like him, sounds like him and….. yes, it has to be… but how can it be …. he’s dead. No, that’s not right, he’s no longer dead. It has to be him… but how? And suddenly all they think they know about him goes through the roof. He died but he’s alive. What…? Who….? Oh, my goodness, it’s true, he’s ….. Yesterday it was all about memory; today it’s about who it is with us still, here today, alive! This exalting is grounded in fact, we can’t deny it. We’ve seen him, we heard him, and soon they touched him. It is as John was to write many decades later, we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life. This one who is life itself was revealed to us, and we have seen him,” (1 Jn 1:1,2) and Paul was to detail the many people who witnessed this amazing fact before he returned to heaven. (1 Cor 25:5-8). This was ‘the hound’ establishing the reality of His chase. It HAS to be received, HAS to be followed forever! As the song pounds it out: “He’s alive, he’s alive, he has risen. Hallelujah”. The most glorious day of history (that the enemy tries to cover up with Easter eggs and bunnies) when the power of God triumphed over the Sin of mankind, grabbing it by the scruff of the neck, hauling it into court with the bellow: “Sentence paid, case dismissed, set them free!” And down through the centuries millions have flocked through that court door and declared, “I see, he did it for me!” and so, as that other old song says, “My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed thee.”  So He continues to pursue us, calling – you are free! Amazing! Awesome! Wonderful! Glorious! Yes!!!!!!!!

34. Exalted in Memory

“Hound of Heaven” Meditations: 34. Exalted in Memory

Isa 52:13c “and shall be exalted.”

Easter Saturday is a strange in-between day. So how do these four words have a relevance in these days of ongoing Pandemic, days that have brought anguish and hope. Anguish came with death or, for us maybe, the threat of death. Hope comes with new days of life being realised through resurrection, and for us through the wonder of vaccines. But for the disciples this was a day when there was no hope, so what were they left with?

When we grieve the loss of a loved one, we exalt them in our memory, we hold them up for the loved one they were, leaving such a gap in life, leaving us to reflect on the regrets for the things we never got round to saying. Sometimes, in our desire to somehow ease the situation, we exalt them by words that really go over the top, that really go beyond the reality of what was. So often on TV when someone has been killed in tragic circumstances, the family appear before the camera making their loved one sound like someone who puts Mother Teressa in the shade! It’s just how we would like to think of them and I suspect we say the words to cover up the guilt we have that we didn’t appreciate them like that when they were with us. So all we can do is eulogize, extolling their memory, exalting them in our family memories. It’s also how we would like the onlooking world to think about us and our family.

No doubt that was how it was with the disciples; on this day, silence, reflection, sorrow, memories, sadness, shame, grief, all the ingredients we all experience at some time or other. This day we wonder, has the ‘Hound’ given up His chase? Today they may not be able to see it, but all in that list will be resolved, soothed, gently dissolved away with the growing awareness of the love that is behind these days. For them, on that day, I’m sure there was no such feeling of love, just confusion, uncertainty, concern, fear. It is difficult to comprehend love in the midst of pain and anguish. But there is a strange paradox in this thinking, because when you seek to exalt someone in your memory it sometimes can only make the guilt and the sorrow and all the rest, much worse. Yes, he was wonderful, what he did was incredible, his love was sometimes almost tangible – do you remember when he reached out and touched that leper before he healed him? But the more we exalt in the memory, the more our own shortcomings have light shed on them. I never told him how much I appreciated him, I never thanked him for loving me. Oh yes, memory exaltation is odd, often unreal, but it is how we cope when hope seems a scarce ingredient, it’s all we have left, this Saturday. 

33. Lifted?

“Hound of Heaven” Meditations: 33. Lifted?

Isa 52:13b “he shall be high and lifted up.”

Good Friday, I always feel, is strangely named. It is good in that it is the day when God’s Son died to redeem the fallen world and atoned for our sins, opening the way for us to receive forgiveness, justification, adoption and glorification. And yet it is also a horrible day when we consider the way that all came about: the unjustified and probably illegal trial, the fickleness of the crowd, the cowardice of the disciples, the negligence of the Roman governor, the hypocrisy of the religious establishment, the brutality of the Roman soldiers. It is a dark day for humanity, even if it does pave the way for the only hope for humanity, the unique light for the world.  

Jesus said, “when I am lifted up I will draw all men to myself.” (Jn 12:32) The Cross is incredible. It seems absolute folly to some but to the one who is drowning it comes as a straw to be grabbed, an unbelievable yet believable source of salvation. Who could have believed that this awful travesty of justice today could have been God’s means of utterly transforming our lives? Jesus’ death to bring life to us, his atoning sacrifice to save us from our sins and God’s judgment. As it was happening, the enemy screamed in delight (Psa 22:12,16) while his followers looked on in helpless anguish as their world came to an end. Yet this day would echo round the world for the rest of history.

So on this day, to fulfil the plan of God, decreed from before the foundation of the world, Jesus was lifted up on a cross and executed alongside two common criminals. Why? I don’t know if you have ever come across a poem called ‘The Long Silence’ (it’s still on the Internet.)

In it a whole crowd of people stand on a plain before God’s throne, muttering such words as, “Can God judge us? How can He know about suffering? …. Why should I suffer?… It wasn’t my fault,” and many other similar complaints. “How lucky God was to live in Heaven, where all was sweetness and light.” So they harshly ‘sentenced’ God to experience the worst that earth could give and having pronounced their sentence, it finishes, “When the last had finished pronouncing sentence, there was a long silence. No one uttered a word. No one moved. For suddenly, all knew that God had already served His sentence.”
The incredible wonder of the awfulness of this day, is that God didn’t just set the world going so free will would mean injustice would prevail, He saw the Sin and decided the only way to deal with it was to carry it himself, on earth in a human body, so that Justice could look on and say, “Yes that’s fair, from every angle possible, justice has been done.” Bow in awe as ‘the Hound’ pursues His goal this day.

32. Roller-Coaster

“Hound of Heaven” Meditations: 32. Roller-Coaster

Isa 52:13a “Behold, my servant shall prosper.”

Easter is a peak in the pursuit of the Hound of Heaven, a peak that establishes the foundation and reality of the rest of His pursuit that we have been considering these past four weeks. Easter is awful AND glorious. The Fourth Servant Song of Isaiah that our verse comes from has some awful descriptions within it, and yet also this amazing declaration – he “shall prosper”, he will be successful.

I find Easter is always a roller-coaster of a weekend but nevertheless it is the climactic expression or activity of ‘the Hound’, pursuing His goal of love for our lives. This ‘Song’ reveals almost more than anywhere else in Scripture the awfulness of what Jesus went through on the cross – and why. And yet here is the anomaly; at the end of chapter 53 we find, I will give him a portion among the great,” (v.12) while at the beginning of the Song we find our starter verse, “my servant shall prosper.” It is like God is saying through Isaiah, yes, this is a terrible song and yet the end outworking is truly glorious.

The Song brings us the big picture of the terrible realities of the Cross and yet the other side of it is glory and triumph. In another reading the other day, I noted that ‘obedience trumps victory’ and yet leads to it. We don’t seek victory, we seek to be obedient, but when we get that order right, the victory follows. Jesus’ obedience that we remember at Easter – particularly seen in his submission in Gethsemane – brings a glorious victory but to achieve that victory, total obedience to God’s will is required first; indeed it is the only way to that victory.

But this weekend, with its lows and highs, brings a reality that is reflected in our own lives. So often our propensity to trip over our feet (to put it mildly) makes us feel abject failures, yet there are other times when His glory shines through us and the world is blessed by us. Humility holds failure in one hand and triumph in the other.

What Jesus achieved through these coming few days that we remember, is staggeringly wonderful as he pursued the goals of the Godhead through hell to glory, for us! For over a month now, we have been considering this amazing description by a poet, of God as ‘the Hound of Heaven’, the one who pursues us with His grace, pursuing the fleeing sinner, without hurry or haste, but with perseverance.  And He does it because They decided the Plan before the foundation of the world and Jesus – on this weekend – walked this awful path to bring about your atonement and mine. THIS is why He pursues us, to get us to receive it and all that follows on from it, to enable us to be forgiven children of God. Awful, terrible, wonderful. Praise and worship him for it.  

31. Achievement

“Hound of Heaven” Meditations: 31. Achievement

Rev 21:3 God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.

People will quite often ask, what will it be like in heaven? Will there be heavenly choirs and will we just be worshipping God all the time? Is that it? The very questions suggest there will be something more than this, more than simply singing.

Revelation 4 and 5 are prophetic visions that convey truths. Whether they convey what is going on all the time in heaven is questionable. When we get to the end of Revelation we see various things that might convey a bigger picture. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. (Rev 21:2) That followed, Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.” (v.1)

A change has come about. The world as we know it has gone only to be replaced by a new creation and, intriguingly, there is no sea. Sea divides. But there is more. The old Jerusalem, the supposed place of God’s dwelling once, has gone and is now replaced by a new city that is full of expectancy like a bride waiting to meet the bridegroom, as we saw yesterday. And in case we aren’t catching the full import of what John is seeing, it is followed by our starter verse today: God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.

This is the goal to which the ‘Hound’ is pursuing us – God with His people, God dwelling with them, their God. There is a sense of solidity and purpose and sureness about this statement; it is the goal that God has for us. But isn’t He with us now – Immanuel? Aren’t we indwelt by His Spirit so we are one with Him? Yes all of that is true but there seems there is much more for this new earth continues as v.22-27 indicate – a new world AND a new city and the light of the city that seems to permeate the world, is the Lord Himself. I feel like I am trying to convey color to myself and others who have only ever known grey. It is almost a concept beyond us. Singing all day? I don’t think so. Consider this world that God made with its staggering variety and complexity. In the new eternal existence it must surely be much more glorious, wonderful, complex and varied than anything we can presently comprehend. Rejoice in the wonder of today but rejoice that He has something that is so much more glorious so that the most common word the writers used was “like” as they failed to describe heavenly visions in earthly terms. Hallelujah!  

30. God’s Goal

“Hound of Heaven” Meditations: 30. God’s Goal

Rev 19:7 For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.

To where is ‘the Hound’ pursuing us, what is His goal that He seeks to take us towards? To catch the ultimate goal we have to move into an uncertain area of Scripture that has many questions over it – the book of Revelation. Much of it is clear if not repetitive but as it nears the end it seems to vary between that which is in sharp focus and that which, although it is in focus, leaves you wondering. What about that thousand year reign of a world run by Christians but obviously with others as well? But put aside what you struggle with and take that which is more clear.

Chapter 19 starts with four Hallelujahs the last of which is for, “for the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people.)” Jesus had used bridegroom language when he was on earth (Jn 3:29, Lk 5:34,35) and clearly he was the bridegroom. He even told a parable about a wedding (Mt 25). So his bride? The Church, all believers together. So what does this picture convey, of a wedding between Christ the bridegroom and the Church his bride? Several things come to mind.

First, it is the public uniting of a couple. It is public, it is seen out in the open and everyone knows they are now a couple. When Christ returns (Rev 19:11-19) it is first to deal with his enemies and second to draw his people to himself. The word ‘public’ is an understatement of his return (Lk 17:24, Mt 24:27) for 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. And so we will be with the Lord forever.” (1 Thess 4:17)

So second, it is the start of a new beginning, a legitimate coming together of this ‘couple’ in the eyes of the world, to start a new life, a new experience together, a new closeness, intimacy, and harmony of experience together with no limitations on this experience.

But third, and the Thessalonians verse says it, it is ‘forever’! There is nothing else to be done, nothing more to be achieved, no more goals to be set, because this is the ultimate goal but, be careful, don’t try to be too clever in envisaging it: “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changedin a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.” (1 Cor 15:51-53) Perhaps all we can say is that the ultimate goal is that we will be united with Christ in a most incredible, unimaginable way. Wow!

29. Be Patient

“Hound of Heaven” Meditations: 29. Be Patient

Mt 24:6 Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.

So the Plan flowed through history. Israel both revealed the glory of God and the sinfulness of mankind that needed a Saviour. But then Israel provided a ‘God-environment’ into which the Son of God came from heaven, for a short thirty-three years before he left and returned back to heaven – but not before revealing his Father’s love and then redeeming mankind by his own death as a criminal.

But one day, while still here, he turned to his disciples and started telling them something of the nature or character of the times that would follow until eventually he would return, in the sky. So when the day came when he ascended before them, back to heaven, although there must have been a tremendous gap in their lives, when the Spirit soon came He not only empowered them but also enlightened them and they began to understand something more of what had happened and the nature of the kingdom of which they were now key players.

But our verse today, taken from that discourse about the last times in Matthew, reveals a key feature of the kingdom time, the time of the church – it is a time of waiting, a time that will need patience and perseverance.

We have, in the recent studies of this series been focusing on God as the One who pursues His goals through history, specifically through the history of Israel and at the end of each phase, it seemed, there was a crisis – and yet God kept on with the Plan, as if knowing that there would be these setbacks and, from a human standpoint, crises, and was thus not put off by them.

So Jesus warns his disciples that there would be things happening in history, deceivers coming, wars, famines, earthquakes, things that we might think were portents of the end – but in fact, they are not. They are simply things that happen in the Fallen World. They reach a crescendo or climax at some point that IS the end but they are, for the most part, just things we should expect in a world that is fallen, that goes wrong because of the influence of Sin affecting the world in a variety of ways. From time to time we may be tempted to think it is so bad this must be the end, but until Jesus actually appears in the sky, somehow seen by the whole world at the same time, we’re just to get the grace of God and be patient and persevere. This is not crisis, this is not God’s failure and so again we need to remind ourselves that Jesus is ruling in the midst of his enemies (Psa 110:1,2), all wrongs, breakdowns of the world etc., and will continue to reign (1 Cor 15:25) until he comes to wind it all up and he is STILL pursuing his Father’s goals to the end. Hallelujah!

28. An Amazing Stage

“Hound of Heaven” Meditations: 28. An Amazing Stage

 Jn 14:17   he lives with you and will be in you

We continue to ponder this theme of the Lord who pursues us and now, in the second half of this series, the Lord who has been working through history to pursue His plans and purposes formulated from before the Creation. Two studies back I referred to His ‘interventions’ as He paved the way for His Son to leave heaven and appear on earth. I suggested that there appeared to be few people who were expecting this after four hundred years of silence from heaven. But person was the old man Simeon, a Spirit-alert, Spirit-led man of God who turned up at the temple just in time to welcome the baby Jesus and bless the family with prayer and prophecy.

We read that description of him, and it is accurate as we see in Luke 2 – the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts.” (v.25-27). We read it quite easily and it would only be an atheist who would query it. Now I say this because Simeon is a delightful picture of the life that the Lord urges us towards, the Spirit-alert, Spirit-led life, and I hope few of us would object to that.

The Plan was reaching its climax (for this stage of it at least) and we have moved on to Jesus’ three years of ministry that culminates in his death and resurrection as the Lamb of God who takes away our sins. He dies on the cross and his disciples think it is the end of the world – disaster. He is raised from the dead and they struggle to adjust their thinking to believe the impossible. For a little over a month he teaches them in seclusion in Galilee, brings them back to Jerusalem, and then ascends before their very eyes. The Plan of God moves on but again life must have felt empty for them.  Not quite a disaster because he had told them this would happen and they should wait for the promise of the Father. But now they are alone and so all they can do is pray. But he has said various things to them that didn’t make much sense at the time. One of them was that, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth… you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (Jn 14:16,17) The Holy Spirit “will be in you.” Not merely prompting you and guiding you but indwelling you. Throughout the Old Testament and up to then, He ‘came on’ people to inspire and equip them (see the examples in Judges 3:10, 6:34, 11:29, 14:6,19, 15:14). Now He is going to indwell all believers and we see it first happening on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2). That is you and me today, Christian believer, empowered from within, to be filled with Him. Amazing! Hallelujah!

27. The Intermediate Goal

“Hound of Heaven” Meditations: 27. The Intermediate Goal

Mt 1:21 he will save his people from their sins

We are following the works and ways of the Hound of Heaven who formulated a Plan before they created a material world, and who works quietly and persistently to bring that Plan about, a plan that would take millennia. The Hound may be persistent but He is not in a rush. This is a plan that will take eternity to work out.

But it is a plan born out of necessity because if they are to create human beings in their likeness, then those human beings must be free to communicate, to act to be creative, to choose, and in that choosing there is the danger, because they will be able to choose wrongly.

We take ‘free-will’ for granted but it is at the very heart of our existence. Every choice we make – what clothes to wear, when to get up – is free will at work. Every creative act we perform is an expression of free will – what to cook, knit, paint, write, compose, plant, design, plan, invent, discover, construct etc. etc. Every time we speak it is an act of free will – to be kind, compassionate, caring, sensitive, etc. etc. but also free will can be hurtful, harming, damaging, heartless, insensitive, cutting, thoughtless. Every ‘sin’ (wrong against God) is an act of free will, every ‘crime’  (wrong against State) is an act of free will. We would like to erase all the negatives from these lists but the trouble is, you can’t.

I think THE big question for skeptics is if YOU were God – all wise, all powerful, all knowing, WHAT would you DO to prevent it. The instant answer is do away with free-will but as you do that you simply make robots who can never love, never appreciate beauty, never go  “Ahhh”! at an amazing sunrise or sunset. Isaac Asimov had (initially at least) three rules of robotics, one of which was that no robot may harm a human being and it was programmed into every robot that was made. But no robots could compose a beautiful orchestral peace, or a ‘War and Peace’ or heart stirring poetry. No, God had to allow free will and so allow Israel to constantly blow it! The Old Testament is a catalogue of unbelief and rebellion, of self-centred godlessness (i.e. Sin). But when the apostle John realized that “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16) he didn’t mean that love was God but everything about God was an expression of love. Thus the eternal plan, made before all else, was that one day in earth terms, the Son would come and his apparent father would be told, “he will save his people from their sins.” That was the Plan, that although free-will would allow sin, it would also allow many to respond to the call and receive salvation from sin, a new generation could be born, “children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God!” (Jn 1:13) Wow!

26. The Long Silence Ends

“Hound of Heaven” Meditations: 26. The Long Silence Ends

Lk 1:11 then an angel of the Lord appeared to him

Merely because God goes silent it doesn’t mean He’s not watching and waiting. He never stops pursuing His goal, it’s just that sometimes it is not very obvious or simply that our spiritual sight isn’t good enough to see what He’s doing.

Over four hundred years have passed and nothing has been heard from heaven and then one day, without any warning a lowly priest finds an angel in his presence. It was going to be the first of a number of God interventions as heaven prepares the way for the Son of God to leave heaven and appear in the disguise of a human baby.

Back in Study 21 I suggested there were three reasons God created Israel, the first two being to reveal Himself and to reveal the sinfulness of mankind. Now we come to the third vital reason: to create a God-environment into which to place His Son, an environment where they can talk God talk, have God expectations, so when the time comes Jesus can act into this environment without many explanations. They already know.

So now we have the first of the God interventions after four hundred years of silence, to a priest, a man who will know their history and eventually see how he fits in it. The second intervention comes when his aged wife is enabled to conceive and the one we know as John the Baptist is born. The third intervention is when he is born his father bursts forth in Holy Spirit prophecy. Meanwhile there has been a fourth intervention, the same angel comes to a young girl by the name of Mary and explains God’s hopes through her. The intervention follow thick and fast: she miraculously conceives without a man, her fiancé Joseph gets a dream from God, an emperor ensures they will be in  Bethlehem for the birth, angels sing to shepherds, a star guides wise men from the east, the Spirit inspires an old men and woman at the temple, Joseph gets more dreams. And then it goes quiet again for thirty years. It’s like a spectacular firework display seen at New Year, an amazing burst of interventions and then afterwards, silence and darkness again and you are just left with the memory.

But this has all been the work of the Hound of Heaven as He presses His plans and purposes forward, paving the way for the most spectacular three years the world has ever known, but for the moment it is silent and dark again but a few people are left wondering. The prophets down through the earlier years had heard things and wondered, leaving their listeners and readers wondering. Someone is coming? Who? What will he be? Faith-on-pause is spelt T-R-U-S-T. It means to be at peace while not knowing. You and me?