16. The Rule of Jesus

Meditations on “The Big Picture” 16. The Rule  of Jesus

Rev 1:4,5    Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

Some would refer to the present ere as the day of the Spirit but the names of the Holy Spirit include ‘the Spirit of Jesus’ and so the Holy Spirit is the executive arm if you like of the Godhead, but He administers the will of Jesus in his people while Jesus sits at his Father’s right hand in heaven exercising his rule, deciding and determining what will be. Now of course many of us would prefer to focus on the works of the Spirit as seen, say, in the Acts of the Apostles and that is certainly the starting place.

Yes, there we see on the Day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit being poured out on the believers and them being equipped to be Jesus’ witnesses (see Acts 1:8, 2:1-4,14-21).  Yes, there we see Peter preaching the first sermon and three thousand being saved (Acts 2:22-41), there we see the apostles performing miracles (e.g. Acts 3:1-10) and then taking the opportunity to share the Gospel (Acts 3:11-26) And so it continues. The Holy Spirit moving through the early church with signs and wonders accompanying the preaching of the Gospel.

Others may wish to observe the roles of the Church and Israel. It is a fact, forgotten by many, that the early church was entirely Jewish in nature with all the apostles being Jews and Jerusalem being the heart of the church. As the church reached out with the Gospel more and more, it was obvious that it would change its nature with believers coming from the larger population of the world and thus became more Gentile orientated. Indeed Acts shows us quite clearly that it was Jewish hostility that forced the apostle Paul to move on sometimes and thus pushing the Gospel out even further. (Some modern historians suggest that Jews continued to be saved in numbers until the seventh century). With the fall of Jerusalem  – and the church leaders had already moved on – Judaism was also dispersed into the world (see Rev 12)

As far as individual Jews are concerned, they are no different from Gentiles in terms of needing salvation: there is no difference between Jew and Gentile–the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Rom 10:12,13) yet when it comes to them as a people, “Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved.” (Rom 10:25,25)  Some will say that word ‘Israel’ simply means all believers whether from Jew or Gentile background, others will say it means the Jewish people will eventually be saved. Time alone will tell. That they as a people still have a part to play in the plans of God seems fairly obvious.

Which leaves us coming back to Jesus revealed as:

  1. a) the one seated next to the Father in heaven (Mark 16:19 / Acts 2:33 / Acts 5:31 / Acts 7:55 / Rom 8:34 / Eph 1:20 / Phil 2:9 / Col. 3:1 / Heb 1:3 / Heb 8:1 / Heb 10:12 / Heb 12:2 / 1 Pet 3:22), and
  2. the one with all authority (Rom 8:34 / Eph. 1:22 / Heb 2:8 / 1 Pet 3:22 / 1 Cor. 15:25 / Isa 9:7  / Psa 110:1,2) and
  3. the ruler of the kings of the earth (Rev 1:5, Psa 110:1,2, 1 Cor 15:24,25)
  4. the one ruling over the church (Rev 1:12-20)
  5. the one who will return sometime in the future in power (Matt 24:42,44, Matt 25:31-32, Acts 1:11, Eph 1:9,10, Rev 1:7)

It might be well to emphasis the 1 Cor 15 verses: Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” (1 Cor 15:24,25) We may not be able to discern his works but the truth is that he IS reigning over this world – from heaven. He brings things about by his Spirit working in his followers, he will use Satan and his demons and powers as he sees fit (this is too big a subject to cover here, but he does) and he will work to manipulate circumstances, yet overall it is a mystery for most of the time. BUT he IS ruling; this is the era of Christ’s reign from heaven.

However when we see the praise given to him in heaven there comes a surprise: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” (Rev 5:9,10) We the believers should be reigning. Now there will be some who say that is in the future but when you consider Jesus’ words, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Mt 16:19 & 18:18) there seems a certain amount of ‘exercising rule’ about that. There is a similar hint in Eph 1:22 – “God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church,” Perhaps, as with so many things it is a partial reign this side of heaven, fulfilled completely in the new heaven new earth where, “they will reign for ever and ever.” (Rev 22;5)  Some room for more reflection there!

Pre-AD1 (say) Christ sat with his father in heaven, waiting for his day on earth to come. Somewhere about that time, about AD30-33  He expressed his father’s kingdom in his ministry on earth. Since that time he has been reigning from heaven. At some point in the future he will return again as a conquering king (see Rev 19) and will then preside alongside his Father in eternity over the new heaven and new earth. The present ‘stepping stone’ of history is unknown to us as to duration for the time being – so watch the skies.

28. The Kingdom of the Son

CHAPTER 1: Part 4: The Wonder of Jesus

Meditations in Colossians: 28. The Kingdom of the Son

Col 1:13,14   For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption (through his blood) the forgiveness of sins.

I have commented many times about how easy it is to skip over words in Scripture, taking them for granted and failing to get to grips with them.  My original intent had been to move on to the next paragraph which is all about Jesus, but then I realised that Paul had eased us towards that subject within the end of this present paragraph. But it starts right at the beginning of the letter where Paul’s opening words were, Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus.” (v.1) He doesn’t say an apostle of God, but of Christ Jesus and there is a clear reason for that.

The ‘Christ elements’, if I may call them that, are limited in the early verses of this letter.  The church he writes to is “in Christ” (v.2) and Christ is identified as the Son of the Father (v.3). Salvation is based upon “faith in Christ” (v.4) and Epaphras is identified as a “minister of Christ” (v.7) but these are all very peripheral references to Christ. It is only as we get to the paragraph starting with v.15 that the focus turns wholly to Christ. However in v.13 we have this subtle, almost-in-passing, reference to “the kingdom of the Son,” and suddenly we see why Paul is an apostle of Christ, because Christ is administering God’s kingdom. Let’s examine various facets of this.

First, Christ seated at the Father’s right hand: The scriptural testimony is quite clear: “Jesus …was taken up into heaven and sat down in the place of honour at God’s right hand,” (Mk 16:19) and “Now he sits on the throne of highest honour in heaven, at God’s right hand,” (Acts 2:33) and “He is seated in the place of honour next to God, and all the angels and authorities and powers are bowing before him.” (1 Pet 3:22)  See the same in Acts 5:31 / Acts 7:55 / Rom 8:34 / Ephes. 1:20 / Phil 2:9 / Col. 3:1 / Heb 1:3 / Heb 8:1 / Heb 10:12 / Heb 12:2  Nowhere else in the world do you find this incredible testimony about any man except here. Seated at the Father’s right hand on the thrones of heaven is the highest position it is possible to have, and the abundant testimony of the New Testament is that that is where Jesus now is.

Second, Christ who has all authority:  The testimony is equally clear that Christ is there at the Father’s right hand and the Father has bestowed upon him all authority, for example, “And God has put all things under the authority of Christ, and he gave him this authority for the benefit of the church,” (Eph 1:22) and, “You gave him authority over all things…we .. see.. Jesus… crowned with glory and honour” (Heb 2:8) See also 1 Cor. 15:25,  Isa 9:7  and Psa 110:1.

Third, Christ who reigns with a purpose: Indeed in the 1 Cor 15 reference we see something very significant: Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” (1 Cor 15:24,25) First, note that God is working towards an end, a specific time when He winds all things up that we know at the present. Second, Jesus is reigning or ruling at the present time. When we considered the difference between a kingdom and a dominion we noted that the kingdom is overseen by a king but a dominion is overseen by a governor on behalf of the king who reigns over all. Thus Satan may have been given power over those who reject God and rebel against Him, but Jesus is still the King of Kings who rules over all. Indeed Psa 110:1,2 prophetically suggests that he rules in the midst of his enemies. The verse above says he rules until a point in time when he has subdued all his enemies. Rev 19 suggests that that will be when he returns as a conquering king.

However there are clues in scripture that suggest that Jesus’ kingdom on earth began when he started his three year ministry and continues on growing and growing. It is interesting to note that when Jesus started preaching he spoke of the kingdom or rule of God and demonstrated it by healing people: “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.” (Mt 4:23) The apostle Paul was later to teach, “the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.” (1 Cor 4:20) No wonder Jesus said, “anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12) The church is supposed to continue to demonstrate the kingdom.

When Jesus told a parable that started, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed,” (Mt 13:31) he pictured it as starting from a very small beginning (a mustard seed) but growing into a large tree: “when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree.” (Mt 13:32). It is not the only ‘tree’ in the world, but it is certainly the largest! We should not expect the Church to get smaller and smaller, for it is the instrument that Jesus uses as his ‘body’ to demonstrate and exercise his rule.

The 1 Cor 15 verses above show us that temporarily the administration of the kingdom of God has been put into the hands of Jesus who is working through his body, the church, up until some future climax when he will bring all things to an end and then hand it back to the Father. We are presently in the era of the Son who administers the kingdom of God through the work of his Holy Spirit on behalf of the Father.

Ultimately all glory and authority is the Father’s but for the moment the administration of the end times has been handed to the conquering lamb, Jesus: “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne….. He came and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. ….. . And they sang a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” (Rev 5:6-10) Hallelujah!

19. Aspects of Ministry

Meditations in Titus: 19:  Aspects of Ministry

Titus 2:15   These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you

We have noted previously Titus has within it a number of succinct passages or verses that powerfully summarise different doctrines. In our verse above we have a number of aspects of Christian leadership, things which we would hope we would find in the ministry of any local church leader. There are five things to note.

First of all there is teaching. That is what Paul has been putting before Titus for so much of this letter so far, things that Titus needs to teach within the church. The truth is that when we come to Christ most of us have very little knowledge of the New Testament teachings so we understand little of what has happened to us and little of what we can expect and little of what we should be working for. Making up these deficiencies is the role of the teacher in the church and, I believe, all leaders are called to be such teachers.

Second there is encouragement. Encouragement is all about building up people’s self esteem ‘in Christ’. Building up self esteem on its own only tends towards building pride and self-centredness. Self-esteem in Christ is knowing who we are in him and realising the wonder of who he has made us to be. Encouragement reminds us that we are loved and accepted by God. It points out to us what He has done for us and in us and it helps us face a meaningful and purposeful future.

Third there is rebuking. For most of us this is an aspect of ministry we would rather ignore but when Paul wrote to Timothy he said, All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,” (2 Tim 3:16) I have emphasised three words, Rebuking points out that something is wrong. Wrong attitudes and wrong behaviour need pointing out and identifying as displeasing to God. Correcting shows us what is the alternative that God wants for us, while training is about how to go about changing from one to the other.

Fourth there is authority. The authority that a leader has should come from two sources. First there is his calling. He has been called to be God’s representative. He is not there to do his own bidding but God’s. He is not there to provide for himself but for the flock of God. He’s been called to oversee them, to guard them, protect them and provide for them just as The Good Shepherd does, for they are his representatives. This is not a casual or light thing. Second there is God’s will as revealed in His word. We can say with authority, this is right and this is wrong – because God’s word says so.  When the leader comes to present the word of God to the flock in preaching or teaching, he is not there full of ‘maybe’ or ‘perhaps’ but of a certainty that is there in God’s word.  Next to basic food or drink, the Bible is The most important material thing that we have. It is the revelation of God and when we realise the significance of what that means, we will be leaders who come with an authority that was observed in Jesus (see Mt 7:28,29 and Mk 1:22-27)

Fifth there is good reputation.  This has already come up in Titus in a variety of way, for example, “an overseer is entrusted with God’s work, he must be blameless.” (Titus 1:7) in respect of leaders, and, “so that no one will malign the word of God,” (2:5 – women) and, “they have nothing bad to say about us,” (2:8 – Titus himself) and, “so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.” (2:10 – slaves) about others. Each of these examples are about behaving in such a way as to create a good reputation so that the work of God’s word and Spirit is not hindered in any way by us. It is true of all of us but especially so of leaders.

Thus we find in these five things, things that we should find in all spiritual leaders. These are basics, fundamentals that are essential in the church if we are to be the people of God, expressing Jesus  and demonstrating God’s love and grace. May it be that we can see them wherever we are part of the church.

13. God’s Workmanship

Meditating on the Will of God: 13:  God’s Workmanship

Eph 2:10    For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

I am aware that as we meander around pondering the will of God, there will be times when we will tread the same ground more than once. The more we tread it the more we will understand it. I find at this moment I am being drawn back to this familiar verse which says so much. Let’s ponder it and as we do we’ll find it opens up a number of other avenues of amazing thought!

First of all it speaks of a God of purpose. We can, in the hurly burly of  life forget that we are living in a world where God is working out His specific purposes. Nothing is happening by accident. It is a combination of what we’ll call the mechanical working of the world (e.g. perhaps the weather), the workings of mankind, each person expressing their own will in creating their own little world and yet constrained by circumstances and human limitations – and of course the workings of God which may be infinitely bigger than anything we can comprehend.

We’ll come back to our starting verse later but the apostle Paul hinted at something of Jesus’ working into this world when he writes, “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” (1 Cor 15:24,25)  Those are challenging words. Note that they declare that Jesus IS reigning TODAY and will continue to rule until he winds everything up. There are those tantalizing verses in Psa 110 – “The LORD says to my Lord “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” The LORD will extend your mighty scepter from Zion; you will rule in the midst of your enemies.” (Psa 110:1,2). Jesus is ruling in the midst of his enemies, those who are self-centred and godless, and they tend to be the ones who catch our attention and fill most of the news. But he is sovereignly working to bring about an end where, eventually when he comes again, every knee will bow before him (Phil 2:9-11). He is working to bring everything and every one back into the perfect will of God where all things confirm to the design of God as He made it perfect at the beginning.  The mystery is what Jesus is doing in the world and for that we need prophets and we need the revelation of the Holy Spirit – but he IS working.

Now coming back to our starting verse, what we are today is a product of the will of the Father, the work of Jesus on the Cross, and the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. If yesterday was the day we had been born again of the Spirit of God – after He had drawn us to a place of conviction and surrender and then put His Spirit in us and adopted us as His forgiven and cleansed children – today we stand in the world as new entities, God’s workmanship, the product of the working of the Trinity.

We are what we are because we have been “created in Christ Jesus”. That simply encompasses his work on the Cross on our behalf, the work of his Holy Spirit (as we noted above) and his work to make us part of his body on the earth today. Thus on one hand we are unique beings with our own unique characteristics but at the same time limited so that we form a body, the church, with all our different characteristics and gifts harmonizing and flowing together to act as ‘the body of Christ’ to bring about the will of God – part of the reign of Christ in the midst of his enemies.

And that brings us to the “good works” part.  That is the outworking of His working to bring us to Himself, that we can become part of Him as He works to bless His world. But there are two levels for this as scripture shows us. Observe. “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:16).  Very simply by being nice people, good people, kind people, generous people, etc. etc. others will realise that we have something more than they have and will realise it comes from God and will praise Him and even turn to Him. Understand this is simply by being good, and that will flow out of our relationship with Him. If it flows from humanistic self-centred ‘please me’ motivation it will always have a rough edge and will simply glorify self, and not God.  But that is simply good deeds.

But then there is another level. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.” (Jn 14:10) To catch that we have to look at Jesus own summary spoken to the disciples of John the Baptist: “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” (Mt 11:4,5) Alternatively, consider Jesus mandate found in Luke’s Gospel: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed,  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Lk 4:18,19) What we see in both those quotes is divinely supernatural ministry, ministry directed and enabled by the Holy Spirit. This isn’t just doing good, this is moving under the direction, guiding and inspiration of the Holy Spirit and bringing about changes that are the will of God through Jesus Christ as he ‘reigns in the midst of his enemies’. These are the good works that God has got for us to do.

14. In Conflict with Authority

Motivation Meditations in Acts : 14 : In Conflict with Authority taxes, 

Acts  4:5-7    The next day the rulers, elders and teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and the other men of the high priest’s family. They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”

Christians have been known through the centuries as those who obey the law. In fact they should be model citizens. We have Paul’s teaching: Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities.” (Rom 13:1) Jesus himself taught that, in respect of the temple tax, the sons of God (believers) no longer had a duty to pay it, but for the sake of the institution it is wiser to do so. Paul’s teaching went on, “This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.” (Rom 13:6,7) Indeed he instructed Titus, “Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good.” (Titus 3:1)  We thus have a problem when we find ourselves in conflict with authority, especially authority that is anti-God and anti-Jesus. Those instructions to Titus start us off: where we can, we are to be obedient and whatever else we do, we are to do good and to bless our society.

But let’s examine what happened with Peter and John who have simply healed a crippled beggar. They are known to be part of this new sect that will eventually be called Christians (Acts 11:26) and so they are brought before the ruling Council of the Jews, the Sanhedrin, and are questioned. We then find: “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.” (Acts 4:8-10) It is the power of the Holy Spirit which now prompts Peter to use this opportunity to confront these men with the truth about Jesus.

But that presents the Sanhedrin with a problem: “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say…. What are we going to do with these men?” they asked. “Everybody living in Jerusalem knows they have done an outstanding miracle, and we cannot deny it.” (v.13,14,16)  But that’s not the biggest problem as far as they were concerned; it was Jesus. “Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.” (v.18)

Now Peter’s answer is very simple: “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (v.19,20)  It may be that Peter remember what happened with the blind man that Jesus had healed and who had also been questioned by the authorities about Jesus: “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” (Jn 9:25)

Do you see this? In the face of ungodly authority, we don’t have to preach doctrine, we simply declare our testimony. Isn’t that what the apostle John did at the beginning of his first letter and what Luke did at the beginning of his Gospel? I’m only telling you what I saw and heard. You then decide the significance of it; I can only testify to my experience.

Later on, these same authorities has the apostles arrested but an angel released them and when they were again brought before the authorities, Peter emboldened by the divine experience declared, “We must obey God rather than men! The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead–whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” (Acts 5:29-32)

The law can give other people permission to act unrighteously but it can never make you act unrighteously. In atheist-led countries, as we have seen over the past hundred years or so, the rulers may seek to silence the believer but he or she still has their testimony and if, while they are being threatened, they continue to pray for their enemies and do good, that may give the Holy Spirit opportunity to convict their persecutors. The apostle Paul was the classic example. In such times we need to pray for God’s grace and wisdom (Jas 1:5) as to how to act, and then leave the rest to the Lord. You can do no more.

1. Loved

Meditations in Malachi : 1. Loved

Mal 1:1,2   An oracle: The word of the LORD to Israel through Malachi. “I have loved you,” says the LORD. “But you ask, `How have you loved us?’

Studying Malachi comes as a challenge. I don’t think I would have written these meditations two years ago, but over the past two years I have come to realise something very clearly: God is a God of love (1 Jn 4:8,16)  The apostle John declared what the rest of the Bible testifies to, that God is love. In Ex 34:6,7 the Lord reveals Himself: “the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” The truths there are reiterated again and again and again throughout the Old Testament and then the New. Many of us just don’t notice them but they are there. Now if “God is love” as John testifies it means that everything about God is love. Everything He thinks is love, everything He says is love and everything He does is an expression of love.

Now this has certain consequences. The first is that we need to read the Bible through this filter, and that would be a major change for many of us. It means that we need to learn to view everything but everything that we read throughout the Bible from this perspective – that God is love. and that what we read about Him and His activities is an expression of love. Now what follows from this is that love can be expressed through a number of ways. Imagine a human father. He works long hours to provide for his family. That is sacrificial love. He comes home and romps around on the floor with his young children. That is intimate love. He sits quietly and listens to the complaints of his teenager and makes helpful comments. This is caring and wise love. He lays down house rules that will be kept. This is orderly love with authority. On rare occasion he will punish one or other of his children because he wants to stop a potentially harmful pattern of behaviour developing in them. This is the love of discipline. Sometimes he stands back and simply watches from a distance as his children struggle and this is the love that gives space to learn. Sometimes he hands over the keys of his car to his teenager. This is the love of respect and acknowledgement of maturity. These are ALL different expressions of love, and we need to realise that even hard actions of God seen in the Bible ARE expressions of love.

Now I think it tends to be more of an American expression rather than a British one, but I am thinking of a father taking the son out to the woodshed where, traditionally, a beating would take place. Does the father love the son any the less because he is administering painful punishment?  No, if anything it proves exactly the opposite. Because the father cares for the son, cares what will happen to him unless this wrong behaviour is corrected, he takes this painful action.  Malachi has the feeling about it of a ‘trip to the woodshed’! The Lord is speaking to Israel because of what he starts out by saying: “I have loved you.”

Now the tense here is an ongoing one so it doesn’t mean, “I loved you once in the distant past.”  It actually means, “I have loved you always, right up to now.”  The problem isn’t with God’s love; it is with Israel’s  perception of Him, which we’ll go on to see in the next meditation. Why is the Lord speaking words that, the more they go on, the more they make us feel defensive? The answer to that is because He wants to restore the relationship that they once had, and that needs action on Israel’s part. The Lord has done everything He can and now it is Israel’s turn to do something – but hold that before you; it is because He wants to restore the relationship between Himself andIsrael.

Does the Lord want to punish them? Of course not! Does any father want to punish their child? Of course not, because on the negative side they don’t want to risk the child moving even further from them, and on the positive side they would much rather the relationship was restored to what it was before there was any disharmony caused by the child’s misbehaviour. What we have in Malachi is a simple list of things that Israel have done or are not doing that means the relationship has been broken, things which need remedial action.  It is as simple as that!

Why, therefore, do so many of us feel so negative and defensive when we come to Malachi?  Because guilt produces shame, fear and defensiveness. We don’t like being confronted with our imperfections but such ‘imperfections’ break down the relationship we have with the Lord. Indeed they may also be an indication of attitudes that have grown within us which go on to show that we have already moved away from the Lord. Remember, therefore, as we work our way through the verses to come, that this comes from a God of love who wants to reinstate a loving relationship between us. There is nothing onerous about being loved. It is not as if God is trying to reinstate an oppressive regime. No, He simply wants Israel to come back close to Him so that He can easily impart His blessing to them.

21. Raw Authority

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 21. Raw Authority

Mk 1:25,26 “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.

You might think that when Jesus is being revealed for who he is by a man in the synagogue he would have approved that, but no! He tells the man to be silent. Why?  Perhaps because this is an unrighteous and ungodly interruption from the enemy and it doesn’t actually help. Jesus will be revealed by his works and his words, not by demonic powers. On the day of Pentecost Jesus declared, Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.” (Acts 2:22).  So this present outburst was not the right way.  Right, stop it!

But Jesus isn’t going to leave it there; he’s going to get this demon out of this man. Now if you know anything about demons you’ll know that they don’t like giving up occupancy of a person who has surrendered to the enemy. Just speaking nicely to them and asking them to leave will not do it. There will be only one thing that will get a demon out once it has taken possession and that is the raw authority of God!

You want to see that raw authority in action? It’s here! “Come out of him!” That’s it. That’s all it needed, just four words that have their origins in heaven and spoken out on earth. This is the Son of God speaking, the perfect representative of the Father in heaven. Jesus said,the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing.” (Jn 5:19) The Son ‘sees’ or catches the heart of the Father and does His bidding – and it is done! When God speaks a word of command, it is done.  Yes, it IS done!  What is so incredible is that the Father rarely speaks such words to humans. He grants us free will, but where it suits Him that is no so for demons. They are rebellious evil spirits and as such are existing on borrowed time. When He wants them out, He simply speaks it and they HAVE to obey!

Whether they obey because they know they have to or whether they are impelled to by the power of God is never clear, but the outcome is always the same – they leave! There is no recorded instance in the Gospels of a demon refusing to obey Jesus. The individual may not have been able to set himself free, but Jesus was – and he didn’t ask permission!

Lord, thank you that you ARE Lord over all things, and that includes the whole spirit world.

20. Recognition

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 20. Recognition

Mk 1:24 “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are–the Holy One of God!”

I am amazed at the things I sometimes find myself saying, or that I hear other people saying. It seems that sometimes we can’t help but blurt things out. I always find myself laughing when I think of Peter, in the middle of the night, in the middle of a storm, in the middle of the lake, as he sees what appears to be Jesus, blurting out, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.” (Mt 14:28)  I’m sure later on when he looked back on that incident he would have thought to himself, “Whatever was I thinking about!”

I say this for I can see no other reason for this demon possessed man in the synagogue to interrupt that is going on and cry out like this. Almost by definition there is a foolish hostile opposition to God in demons. It seems to me that these words come tumbling out like they do from a little child having a tantrum. It seems they can’t help themselves. When a child grows up, for the sake of appearances, they bite back their words and restrain themselves, but when they are young there is no such restraint; they just pour out what comes to mind, heedless of how it appears.

This is how it seems to be with this demon possessed man. All his inhibitions seem to have gone (like when someone is drunk?) and he just pours out what comes to mind. Now is it the man or the demon? Surely it has to be the latter? When refers to ‘us’ would that have meant the people in the synagogue? Surely not, for Jesus gave no indication of that. In fact in Luke’s account of Jesus first teaching in a synagogue it is clear that Jesus has come to help people. No, surely the ‘us’ refers to the demonic world on earth.

Out of a sense of fear or doom this demon cries out for he, unlike anyone else there, recognises the power and authority in Jesus. He knows that Jesus has both the authority, and the power to back up that authority, that could bring an end to the quiet existence of this demon. The fear that rises in it cannot be held in and so he plaintively cries out in defensive desperation. He knows his time of occupation in this man is near its end. When we face eviction we get upset, and this demon is no exception. He knows what is coming and cannot hold himself back.

Lord, thank you that your authority and power is supreme and none can stand before you. Thank you that you are the Lord!

18. Different Teaching

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 18. A Different Teaching

Mk 1:22 The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.

I have listened to many sermons over the years and I have reached a conclusion: a preacher is able to convey only as much truth and with as much anointing as he personally has received, and the amount of truth or the anointing is obvious if you are aware of these things. Two different men can preach the same sermon and they will be completely different, because the life of a sermon comes from the life of the individual. It’s a scary thing to be a preacher because your preaching reveals you!

So Jesus comes to a synagogue and they allow him to teach, and suddenly they realise that here is someone quite different. This man knows what it is all about, this man speaks with authority. Yes, he knows the Scriptures, but then so did the Rabbis. But there is something more and it is more than just knowing the texts. This man knows what is behind them, this man knows the truth, this man knows God. Yes, all of that would be behind these words.

This man is different; he’s not like the teachers of the law. Oh yes, they had plenty of them and they just seemed to convey lifeless information; it seemed all a bit unreal when they spoke. They spoke about the law and the past in ways that tended to leave you somewhat bored. It was just old history and, after all, God hadn’t spoken for centuries. This was the religion of yesteryear.

And then Jesus got up and spoke and suddenly it wasn’t like that any more. There was life in what he was saying. He meant what he was saying. Indeed, he knew what he was saying and that was more than just knowing the right words in the book. This man, somehow, stepped right into the book and it came alive; this man made the book real and relevant. No longer was this just turning up to hear dry and dusty words every Saturday morning in the synagogue. Suddenly life is there, and truth is there and it is vibrantly alive.

Lord, please help me when I speak out your word, to have your life. May I convey life through your word. Deliver us from thinking it is an irrelevant book, meaningless for today’s age. Thank you that your word is real and relevant for every age and that never changes. Thank you for the wonder of your word. Please help me convey that to others.

27. Authority

Meditations in 1 Peter : 27:  Subject to Authority

1 Pet 2:13,14 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.

We have to remind ourselves again and again when focusing on one or two verses that they come in a context, they fit into what has gone before and what follows. There is a train of thinking in the mind of the writer and we need to try to follow it. Peter has just said, Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (v.12) and the whole of the previous meditation was about us being visible, about being seen. What we now have is an illustration of how we are to live godly lives that are seen, and it is in respect of how we react to those in authority in our world.

Now I confess that being a modern person I find this difficult because, especially as at the time I am writing this we are in the run up to an election, and I do not feel good about the way our present government has been leading the country and not very excited about the alternatives. We live in an age where the media encourage us to challenge and criticise what government does. It is also an age that is large ungodly, where the majority do not acknowledge the Lord; one party leader acknowledges no faith and the two others appear to have a scanty faith. But does Peter say we have to like them or like what they have been doing? No, but he does call us to something else. He calls us to have a submissive attitude. Now that is difficult in today’s age! We need to consider the extent or content of his teaching.

First of all his call is to submit to ALL authorities in our nation. We are to have a right attitude towards authority. Why? We are to have a right attitude, says Peter, because all authority, of whatever kind, comes from God. God is the one who institutes authority, and Peter goes on to tell us why He does: to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right,” i.e. the purpose of all authority, declares Peter, is to establish and maintain the Law and to ensure Law and Order is maintained so that we may live peaceful lives. Now there is inherent in this an assumption that Governments and authorities are to clarify what is right and what is wrong and to make sure that society adheres to that, doing what is right and not doing what is wrong.

Now of course we live in a very much more complicated society today where government intervenes in daily life in ways that in Peter’s day could not be imagined. Even in establishing and maintaining the welfare state imposes immense regulation, the application of which goes way beyond the bounds of simple moral right and wrong. The Ten Commandments, for instance, have nothing to say about corporate or governmental administrative law. In a relativist age where society has put aside God’s moral absolutes, it is arguable that the vast majority of government policy comes outside the moral area that Peter has in mind.

Yet the truth still remains that while we are part of a democracy, while we are still Christians, the call to submit to and accept the dictates of Government (as long as they do not stray outside the morality of God’s word) is still there. That is not to say that we cannot campaign and speak out against things we believe government are doing wrong, but until we can get them to change the law, the requirement upon us is to be those who keep the law. This means that we do what the law says and we don’t seek to dodge it. We may not always like it, but while it does not go against the moral law of God we are called to adhere to it. Paul said a similar thing to Titus: “Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good.” (Titus 3:1). As Peter has already hinted, how we submit to authorities, how we maintain a right attitude towards them, should be an expression of our goodness which might speak to others and point them to the Lord.

Indeed Paul opened up this whole subject to the church in Rome who were similarly struggling with the authority of Rome: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.” (Rom 13:1-5) This is not something that is just a Peter issue; it is the witness of the leadership of the early church and it has not changed.