Church History

REVELATION OF GOD Meditations No.10 of 10

1 John 1:1-3 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched–this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us.

As we are still very much aware today, the ongoing history of the Church is an ongoing battle. Those who do not want to submit to a sovereign God speak out and do all in their power to destroy Christianity. In the early centuries of the life of the Church there was tremendous persecution that went on against the Church, which went on for the first three hundred years of its life. In some measure or other that persecution has carried on throughout the whole period of Church History and in some parts of the world is just as terrible as ever. The skeptic would do well to consider why such a pointless religion (as they see it) should evoke such terrible violence and horror against it.

There was also a battle against heresies throughout those early centuries, those teachings that sought to distort the historical truths of Christianity. In the beginning of the 21st century we see a resurgence of many of those heresies. What those who refuse to study these things fail to see, is that the traditional Christian beliefs are clear cut and free from the ‘weird and wonderful’. The New Testament accounts and teaching is free from mystical or weird teaching. It is very simple and straight forward and can be understood by anyone coming to God through Jesus Christ. There is no ‘special’ or ‘mystical’ knowledge required as the variety of heresies have demanded. The testimony of John in his letter that we have above, is that this was all about the eternal Son of God who had come, and who they had seen, heard and touched. This was as down to earth as is possible to get!

Possibly the biggest struggle that the church has had is within itself, with what the Bible calls ‘sin’, that tendency to self-centredness and godlessness. Thus the further history moved on from the life of Jesus and the early apostles, the greater the distortions and variations and mishandling by men involved in leadership in the Church. Thus we had one part of the Church growing up with a central focus at Rome while the eastern part grew under the focus at Constantinople. Eventually came what was referred to as the Great Schism where the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Church split apart to go their separate ways.

Through the Dark Ages, abuses eventually so upset Martin Luther that we had the Protestant Reformation, the start of a return, away from tradition and abuses, back to Biblical Christianity. At various times in Church History in various places around the world, different areas experienced ‘revival’ where the sovereign working of God brought many people to know Him, often accompanied by signs and wonders.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, while much of the Church was suffering the ravages of liberal theologians, God came by His Spirit in California with the start of the Pentecostal wing of the church, emphasising the use of the gifts of the Spirit (see 1 Cor 12), now a strong worldwide movement. In the latter part of the twentieth century came a fresh emphasis on the teaching that the Church is the body of Christ. With this came charismatic renewal and the so-called restoration movement. In each of these movements can be seen, by those with eyes to see, the ongoing revelation of God to and through His church, confirming and affirming all that is found in the New Testament. 

The history of the Church has included:

a) a struggle to arrive at the truth of what happened two thousand years ago

  • in and through the life of Jesus Christ,
  • and its effects for us as human beings,
    by the early Church,

b) a diluting of that truth by the formation of human institutions and ideas of men, over the centuries,
c) a recovering of the biblical truths through the protestant reformation,

d) a recovering of the biblical life of the Spirit, by a variety of moves of God over the past hundred years.

In these notes we observed the gradual revelation of God through the first two books of the Bible which is echoed throughout the Old Testament. We briefly considered the greater revelation of God through His Son, Jesus Christ, and the effects of that on mankind. The ongoing battle is to hold onto the truth of the revelation of God through the Bible, and to counter the many distortions that we, the sinful human race, seem to manage to come up with about God, that are contrary to the Biblical revelation.

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Coming of Jesus

REVELATION OF GOD Meditations No.9 of 10

John 1:10-13 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God– children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

Remember, all we are trying to do in these studies is provide a broad brush strokes overview. Now, at the end of the Old Testament, we have a nation, Israel, who have a history of revealing God. By the beginning of the New Testament, history has moved on some four hundred years and they are now under the rule of Rome. It is into this environment that Jesus Christ comes. Although he is born as a little baby, his arrival is surrounded by supernatural events.

At the age of about thirty Jesus starts preaching, teaching, healing people and performing miracles. He clearly has a power beyond anything known to mankind. He reveals himself as the Son of God who has come from heaven. After three years he is arrested, falsely tried and put to death by crucifixion. It was clear that he knew this was going to happen. More than this he had predicted that he would come back from the dead after three days. This happened, and in such manner he convinced his followers that he was who he said he was.

To all who believed in him he gave life transforming power and in the Acts of the Apostles, following the four Gospels, we see the power of God flowing through these followers of Jesus, who has now returned to heaven. It is so staggering that it would be almost impossible to believe if the same life transforming process were not observed in every new follower of Jesus down to the present day.

The New Testament teaches us that Jesus came to more fully reveal God, his Father. Thus when we look at the life and character of Jesus we see this same love that the Old Testament spoke about, a love which accepts us exactly as we are, and yet which loves us so much that wants to help us change so that we can more fully enjoy being who God has designed us to be. The work of Jesus on the Cross, for that was what it was, a purposeful ‘work of God’, was to deal with our guilt in the same way that the sacrificial system in the Old Testament had helped the people of Israel. That Old Testament sacrificial system, the New Testament teaches, was simply a picture of what the Son of God would come and do.

The end product is a people who can call themselves ‘children of God’ who are not ‘religious’ but who have been made whole or complete and able to live at peace and harmony with God. There is nothing servile about this, in the same way that a poor child adopted into a rich family does not have to be servile, only to enter into the fullness of a child of that family.

The Law of Moses

REVELATION OF GOD Meditations No.7 of 10

Ex 24:3.4 When Moses went and told the people all the LORD’s words and laws, they responded with one voice, “Everything the LORD has said we will do.” Moses then wrote down everything the LORD had said.

Moses, at God’s instigation leads his people out of Egypt, and across the desert to Mount Sinai where they have a longer encounter, as a people, with God. God conveys to Moses the Ten Commandments and then a number of other laws which might be divided into national, social or ceremonial. The national ones applied to them as a nation, the social ones were about relationships, and the ceremonial were all about how they as individuals or as a people should deal with their sins. Within these we see some more important things about God.

The first one, which should not surprise us if we accept that He is the Creator of the world, is that 13. God knows best how we ‘work’ and therefore 14. Any laws He gave Israel could perhaps be seen as His ‘design rules’ for living. It is interesting to note that when Moses first passed on the laws that God had been imparting to him, there is a very positive response by the people: “Everything the LORD has said we will do.” They recognised a) they were good laws for a good society and b) they were laws that they were capable of keeping. There was nothing too hard to do!

The second one is that, 15. God knows we are weak and will fail, and so 16. He provides for a way for our guilt to be taken through the sacrificial laws. That comes out clearly in the provision of the ceremonial or sacrificial law. This is all about how to deal with personal or corporate guilt. God knows what many counsellors state today, that one of man’s biggest problems is that of guilt. So how did God deal with it? He gave them a procedure whereby they would present an animal that would die in their place, and in presenting it they would become aware of the seriousness of their wrongs and seeing the animal die in their place, determine not to repeat that wrong. Also, having gone through the procedure instituted by God, they knew that they had dealt with it according to His requirements, and therefore they also knew that they would not have an ongoing issue with God. It was sorted!

So many religions (or people) today try to appease God for their guilty consciences by their own striving to do good things to make up, but the trouble is you never know if you have done enough. When God lays down a simple and specific procedure to deal with your guilt, when you have done it, you know it is dealt with and you can walk away from it without fear and carry on with your life. Are we advocating we all follow the sacrificial law of Moses? No, the teaching of the New Testament is that Jesus Christ came as our sacrifice and all we have to do is believe that. When we do and approach God on that basis, the New Testament says, we ARE forgiven.

In the midst of these laws comes the clear and stated revelation that, 17. He is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. (Ex 34:6,7) This is a far cry from the callous, capricious, angry God that others try to make Him out to be. We thus see that this God is more concerned to bring people into a place of peace and harmony than He is to tell off, chide or punish. The proof of this is the sacrificial system provided for Israel and now, today, the provision of Jesus Christ as God’s answer to our sin. His whole objective is to bring us into a place of guilt-free peace and harmony.

So, through the Law conveyed to Moses, we see the following revealed about God:
13. God knows best how we ‘work’,

14. Any laws He gave
Israel could perhaps be seen as His ‘design rules’ for living.
15. God knows we are weak and will fail
,
16. He provides for a way for our guilt to be taken through the sacrificial laws
17.
He is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.

Can we see that everything God does here is show us how we can live in peace and harmony with ourselves, with others and with Him. The Law didn’t only provide a ‘blueprint’ for living for Israel, it also made provision for when they failed. This is a picture of God who seeks to work for our ‘success’ in life!

Those who struggle with the idea that God inspired people to write all these different books of the Old Testament also struggle to see (often because they won’t read it) the incredible unity that there is throughout it. These seventeen points that we have picked up purely from the first two books of the Bible, are seen again and again throughout the Old Testament. There is no contradiction of these points throughout all those books.

Moses’ Exodus

REVELATION OF GOD Meditations No.6 of 10

Ex 3:6-8 Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God. The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey…

Remember this is all about God gradually revealing Himself to mankind. At the end of Genesis we are left with Joseph and the rest of this family settled in Egypt. In the book of Exodus, about four hundred years pass and with the passing of time two things have happened. First, this family now named Israel has multiplied and multiplied and may well have been in excess of a million people. Each son has essentially become a separate ‘tribe’. The second thing is that their numbers have become a threat to the Egyptians who have now made them slaves.

In the early chapters of Exodus we find a miraculous encounter of Moses with God (not visible, but a voice from a burning bush). In the discussion that ensues God instructs Moses to go to the Pharaoh or king and demand the release of the Israelites. This Moses does but Pharaoh refuses. Through a series of ten ‘plagues’ of increasing severity we learn some more things about God. Because He is Creator, 8. He is all powerful and can act into His world and change it with what we call acts of nature.

Next, 9. Where He does bring pressure to bear on individuals or a nation, He always gives a warning and options first. But more than that, when He does bring such pressure to bear it is always with, 10. The intention of bringing such people through to a place of agreeing with Him, for their good and for the good of His people. Stubbornness and total refusal to respond means the death will ensue, i.e. 11. When all else fails, God will sometimes take that person or people off the planet, yet it becomes very clear in Scripture that, 12. God does not delight in death but wants people to repent and live.

So to summarise again, in the first twelve chapters of Exodus we find God revealing Himself as God who:
8. Is all-powerful and who can act into His world and change it with what we call acts of nature
,
9. Where He does bring pressure to bear on individuals or a nation
, always gives a warning and options first,
10. Always has the intention of bringing such people through to a place of agreeing with Him,
11. When all else fails, God will sometimes take that person or people off the planet but,
12. He does not delight in death but wants people to repent and live
.

This part of Scripture reveals the shear folly of proud men who think they can out-think God, but it is also a chance to realise, as some modern counsellors have concluded, that ‘love must be tough’ and it is not loving to let tyrants carry on beating up on people. Why, we may ask, doesn’t He do it with all tyrants, and the answer from this part of the Bible is that he only does it when He is able to speak into the lives of such tyrants and give them the option to repent.

For anyone carefully reading and thinking about the ‘plagues’ that came upon Egypt, it becomes obvious that God could have wiped out the entire nation instantly from the beginning, yet the process that follows through chapters 4 to 12, amazingly gives ordinary individuals in Egypt, as well as the ruling class, the opportunity to come in line with God’s wishes for all people, and to avoid the plagues.

Moreover observing the plagues shows that they gradually increased in intensity so that the message could gradually sink into to these obtuse people. It was left to the prophet Ezekiel, many years later, to declare the truth from God which was obvious in this situation: “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Eze k 18:23) and “I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!” (Ezek 18:32).

As became obvious many years later with Israel before the Exile, God warned again and again and again before He acted. Some of us today might become exasperated with a father who kept on warning his wayward child and did nothing but warn, yet that is what we find again and again in the Old Testament. Those who speak about God as a capricious, hasty or angry God simply reveal they have never read the Old Testament!

Isaac, Jacob and….

REVELATION OF GOD Meditations No.5 of 10

Gen 25:21-23 Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren. The LORD answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the LORD. The LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.”

Now we have a problem here; there is so much that could be said that we could write pages, but we have set ourselves the task of just providing an overview. They key task is to see God revealing Himself. That, we said, is the key role of this set of readings.

So as the book rolls on, we see Isaac growing up, getting a wife and eventually having twin boys, Esau and Jacob. What is interesting in the verses above is that both Isaac and his wife Rebekah have clearly had passed on to them from Abraham, the knowledge of a possible relationship with God, whereby they can talk to him (prayer) and He can talk back. Rebekah was barren and so Isaac prays. She conceives. She finds she is carrying more that one baby and so prays and God speaks (somehow) to her and she comes to this understanding that she is carrying twins and that God knows all about their future, and indeed seems to be involved in directing that future.

Now Isaac doesn’t come over very well in some of this, as you’ll see if you read the following chapters, but one thing that does become clear through him is that he has learnt the same as Rebekah, that which we have just commented upon, that 5. God knows the future and acts into it.

We then watch Jacob growing up, and he’s a real little twister. He’s an opportunist who gets his older brother to sell him his birthright (Gen 25:27-34) – culturally the older son became the leader and took over management of the farm – and later cons his father into promising him the goodness of taking the role of the older son with all that went with it (Gen 27:1-40). We watch him working his way through life as a schemer, working for his own selfish good.

Now here’s the tricky part: God has chosen him, even though he’s the younger son, to become the leader and become a major figure in history. 6. God knows what He can do with individuals. Thus Jacob encounters God, submits to Him and we gradually see some remarkable changes taking place, until eventually in old age (renamed as Israel), he is a wise old man, patriarch of a family of twelve sons and one daughter, with a great understanding of God.

Following Jacob, we said, are twelve sons, but one of them, Joseph, is picked out by God. He is given pictures of the future by God (Gen 37), but then apparently everything goes wrong, except the end result of it all is that he ends up as Prime Minister of Egypt, one of the most powerful men in the world. It is in this position that, with the wisdom God gives him, he acts as saviour of that whole part of the world, by making provision for seven years before a further seven year period of famine strikes. We see behind Joseph all the way through his tumultuous circumstances, the invisible hand of God at work, being there for him. In this we come to realise that 7. That God works in and through and around us as He works for His end goal for the good of mankind, He is the God of destiny.

To summarise, in considering Isaac, Jacob and Joseph we have added the following knowledge about God, that He:
5.
Knows the future and acts into it
6.
Knows what He can do with individuals
7.
Works in and through and around us as He works for His end goal for the good of mankind.

In other words, God who is Almighty, works for the good of mankind and uses those He sees will be open to Him, as He sees the future and knows what He wants to achieve in it. He doesn’t force them but calls them – despite their initial apparent negative, self-centred and godless attitudes. Part of the process of revealing Himself, involves drawing out the best out of men and women who will be open to Him. With Jacob and Joseph in particular it is the picture of a God of grace and mercy who tolerates their self-centredness because He knows their potential – the ability to develop into men of faith and goodness.

Why Abram?

REVELATION OF GOD Meditations No.4 of 10

Gen 12:1-3 The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

Warning! We did say that in this series we will cover big sweeps, and so we are not focusing on individual verses but will cover big sweeps of history and in this study, we will consider many years of life of Abram as he was originally named, later to be renamed Abraham. Serious thinkers might ponder this question. Why Abram? Why this childless nomad? The answer, we suggest, is that God saw in him a man through whom He could show things about Himself. When you enter into relationship with someone you have to reveal yourself to them; it is what a relationship is all about. Remember, this series is all about how God came to reveal Himself to the human race.

The first thing I want to suggest, is that 1. God sees and knows and understands everything there is to know about us. God sees this man who has gone along with his father on a trek from Ur to Canaan but has settled in Haran (Gen 11:31). He sees he is childless (Gen 11:30) and that this is something through which He can reveal something of Himself. (The unfolding story indicates all this is true).

The second thing God shows is that 2. He has a purpose for the earth which stretches far into the future. He communicates with Abram and tells him that He has a land for him to settle in and He will make him great and He will give him many descendents. For a childless nomad, this is quite an amazing promise. God is going to take him and use him to bless many people in the centuries to come; just how will only become clear as we read through the Bible.

The third thing that comes through about God is that 3. He persists with our slowness to understand. Remember Abram is the first man that God is going to reveal Himself to and through. This is a very embryonic relationship. Abram has nothing to go on beyond what he senses he is hearing. Difficult! Yet God understands us and understands Abram and knows how difficult it is, so we find Him speaking again and again to Abram, in the following chapters, reiterating His original first promises, that the land of Canaan will be his, and he will have many descendents.

Now after many years pass, Abram’s wife, Sarai, suggests that perhaps Abram has misheard (I’m assuming) because in all those previous promises there was no mention of her, so why doesn’t he take her maid and have his children through her. So this is what happens and Ishmael is born. But God doesn’t give up. Some twelve years later He speaks to Abram again and tells him that the coming son is in fact to be born to Sarai. Now the only trouble about this is that Sarai is also very old and well past the menopause and well beyond child-bearing capabilities. By now, Abram has learnt that he can trust what he is hearing from God, so this lovely old couple try for a baby, and miracle of miracles, she conceives and Isaac is born. So fourthly, through this incredible event, God reveals that He is 4. A God who can intervene in His world and bring miraculous changes, i.e. the things He can do can go completely against what we call the course of nature, the way that God originally designed things to be.

So to recap, through the accounts of God’s dealings with Abram, (later to be called Abraham) we learn that God:
1. Sees and knows and understands everything
there is to know about us,
2.
Has a purpose for the earth which stretches far into the future,
3. Persists with our slowness to understand,
4. Can intervene
in His world and bring miraculous changes.

The picture of God being revealed thus far is of an all-knowing and all powerful God who enters into relationships with frail men and women, who He knows will struggle to understand Him, yet with whom He persists and gently draws into a place where He can bless them and bring good into their lives. It is the picture of God who interacts with sinful mankind, when He is allowed by their free will, and draws them into a place of good.

God doesn’t develop

REVELATION OF GOD Meditations No.3 of 10

Job 42:3 Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.

We jump today, to what is considered possibly one of the oldest parts of the Bible, the book of Job. Job was a good guy, and he was also wealthy. Unfortunately tragedy hit his life and he lost most of what he had, including his health. Three friends turn up and the bulk of the book ensues – a discussion about Job’s state before God. It’s a difficult book to read. At the end of it, God steps in and challenges Job over what he has been declaring – that he is righteous and he has some things he wants to bring up with God. Fairly understandable and very like many of us. We just don’t understand God and we don’t ‘see’ what it is all about and so we grumble and say, “If only I could talk to Him face to face, I’d tell Him what I think!”

God’s answer for the proud is most unsatisfactory. He doesn’t defend or explain His actions. He simply points out His greatness – and our smallness. When we catch something of who the Lord really us, we shut up! Our careless and foolish talk is born out of ignorance. A little bit later Job said, “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (v.5,6). God had either given him a glimpse of Himself or had painted such a picture of Himself that Job suddenly realised the truth: he was a clown when it came to his previous thinking about God!

Many today fill books and the airwaves with their foolish rantings about the God they think doesn’t exist. They are actually a small minority but they make their voices heard. There is money in atheism! At the beginning of 2008 one intellectual, statistician and commentator stated, “Around the world, there are estimated to be more people with traditional religious views than ever before, and they constitute a growing proportion of the world’s population.” Nevertheless the atheistic voices speak loudly and deserve some rational answers.

Our problem is that so often we start off, like Job, from a position of ignorance, so silly things are suggested. For instance that religion developed from primitive beliefs and God developed similarly. The Bible tells is otherwise. God didn’t develop; He always was as He is.

This needs to be said from the outset. Unlike man God didn’t develop. He always was as He is and always will be. It defies our imagination and understanding but that’s what the Bible says, and it makes sense for an ‘Ultimate Being’.

Now God may not develop but our understanding of Him does and that’s what we see in the Bible. I’m not very bothered whether or not you accept the story of Adam and Eve, but it does explain a lot of things and makes a lot of sense. Consider what we said yesterday: Think of all the things that we do – communicate with words, think, plan, reason, formulate, investigate, research, invent, create, write, produce music, paint, sculpt and so on – and worship. These two being were clearly different from all the other living creatures; the gulf is enormous, even if many modern people try to minimise it.

Genesis 2 & 3 show us these first two truly human beings relating to God. Now we don’t know how this happened but all we know is there was this communication-interaction which occurred daily. When they rejected the relationship they had with God and disregarded His wishes, this daily communication was broken. In the chapters that follow, in succeeding generations that could have been spread over a very long period, there is sporadic contact. It is not until we come to Abram in chapter 12 of Genesis that we see God taking the initiative to establish a long-term relationship with man. See tomorrow.