31. Life (2)

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 5 – Starting from Scratch

31. Life (2)

Jn 6:54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 

Pause:  I was wanting to move on but then the Lord reminded me of something I saw a little while back while studying John 6. There a number of times Jesus spoke the same sort of thing we see in the verse above, and we might summarise this ‘eating’ and ‘drinking’ as a requirement of us, that we are to take Jesus fully into our lives. The Jews with Jesus struggled with this sort of language and I wrote in a previous study as follows: Talking to Jesus when you don’t understand is the answer, the path to wisdom, not just grumbling. I suspect if they had done that Jesus might have said something like, “Follow me, learn of me, live with me, watch me, share with me, encounter me, share your life with me and let me share my life with you, join with me in doing the things our Father wants us to do.” That, I suggest, is ‘eating Jesus’, taking Jesus into your life, absorbing him, feeding on him. In a later study I added, so what is that truth? It is, very simply, that you have to take Jesus fully into your life, his life entering your life. This is not about the Holy Spirit coming to indwell us but more about taking the very nature or character of Jesus into our lives so that our lives are changed by it.

Us Today? So why do I raise this again here, just after we have been thinking about ‘life’, spiritual life?  Well, as I looked back, I noted that I wrote in one study as follows: In recent days I have been watching the work of erosion of faith that the enemy of souls is working in many of the children of God; good Christians, believers who are for God, and yet I watch and see an erosion of the practices that have been referred to by some as the ‘spiritual disciplines’. Prayer ceases, the Bible is rarely opened, church gets dropped and, and here is the point, I have watched an impoverishing of spirit taking place that makes them vulnerable to knocks of the world, vulnerable to anxiety and worry and an inability to cope with those knocks. What has been happening? They have stopped eating the Bread, they have stopped receiving regular life nourishment and they grow weary, downcast, and weak. When Jesus said, again and again, “I am the bread” he didn’t mean that he was to be put on some altar of remembrance, but that he was to be eaten, taken in, absorbed, become one with. Only in this way is he the source of spiritual life that we need every single day of our lives.  As we focus on him, wait on him, seek his face, pray, read, worship, we are ‘eating’. This isn’t just about life after our body dies physically, this is about having ‘life’ every single day our heart beats and we breath.

And Church?  Very well, let’s get to the heart of the burden I feel here. Church should be about conveying this ‘life’. Initially it is about sharing about it with unbelievers so that they become believers, become Christians, become part of the Church, become receivers of this ‘life’. Then it is about teaching them, encouraging them, building them up in their faith so that they see a fruitfulness coming from their life, a sense of fulfilment as they become part of the active body of Christ and see God using them to bless others. ‘Life’ involves conveying life to others. Where there is this ‘life’ you cannot help conveying it in some form or other.  In the first paragraph above I have italicized Jesus’ call to each one of us, a call that the Church should convey and keep on conveying, not as Law that Must be followed, but as the wisdom of living out the life with Christ. In the second paragraph above I italicized what happens when we don’t do that and do it through the so-called spiritual disciplines, so that we become spiritually impoverished, weary, downcast and weak and, what I didn’t add back then, vulnerable to the attacks of the enemy and the trials of life.

Jesus’ Wisdom: We sometimes, I think, view Jesus’ parables as quaint little stories, especially good for telling in Sunday School. No more is this true than in the parable of the Two House Builders (see Mt 7:24-27) that teaches that if you want a stable and strong life that can weather the storms of life, you will base it on Jesus’ words, Jesus’ life. And again, that is not just academic knowledge but actually taking Jesus’ words and Jesus’ very life into your life so together you become one.  Jesus sought to convey this sense of oneness with him when he spoke of us being yoked together with him like two oxen working together (Mt 11:28-30) and us being branches of the vine that is his life (Jn 15:1-5). This ‘life’ comes by obeying Jesus, by being tied to him, but being one with him so his life flows into us.

This happens when we pray, when we wait on him, when we read and study his word, when we fellowship together (and we’ll see this in the coming studies), when we worship, when we share him, when we minister to others in his name. In all these ways his life will flow in us. When we start giving up these things we become under-nourished and weak, vulnerable to attack and unable to cope with the storms of life that will come. It’s that sort of world and we need Jesus’ resource to handle it, cope with it, and triumph over it. And this is where the church comes in. We are not called to do it alone, we are called into a corporate experience, if I may put it like that, and that is what we will shortly go on to consider.

To Summarize: Jesus taught us, using very graphic, almost shocking language, to take him into our lives. We do that by giving ourselves to him to be our Saviour and Lord at conversion. Thereafter we are learning what it means to ‘feed’ on him, experiencing him through things such as prayer, reading his word, worshipping, fellowshipping, sharing him, ministering him, etc. This is the role of the Church, a body of people with Jesus as their head, rather like a mutual self-help group, except it is not self but Jesus through each member of the body building up the rest. The apostle Paul explained it, “so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ,” (Eph 4:12,13) and the Message paraphrase so graphically puts it, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.” Isn’t that good, just like a physical body moves. But see those closing words: fully alive like Christ”. That’s the ‘life’ bit! So perhaps we should now move on a see something of this corporate dimension of church life, first in the way we relate to one another, and then in the next Part, how God provides for us in the form of those specifically raised up to provide for and protect this body.

53. Obscure Challenge

Short Meditations in John 6:  53. Obscure Challenge

Jn 6:53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 

It gets worse! In verse 51 we read, I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh” and in verse 50 we had to think about what it meant by the talk of ‘eating’ him. But now it’s like he really puts it in our face with direct talk of eating his flesh and drinking his blood.

There is a certain part of the Church that has decided that when Jesus said about Communion, “Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant,” (Mt 26:27,28) it means when we take the cup as we drink it becomes the literal blood of Jesus. I have to say I believe that is the equivalent of magic, almost a superstitious mysticism reminiscent of the Gnostics of the first century, because as we have seen in this chapter, Jesus is using graphic picture language to convey a deeply significant truth.  This is not mysticism but simple metaphor or allegory, a picture from human experience to convey a deep spiritual truth that is not open to just a few, but to all.

So what is that truth? It is, very simply, that you have to take Jesus fully into your life, his life entering your life. This is not about the Holy Spirit coming to indwell us but more about taking the very nature or character of Jesus into our lives so that our lives are changed by it. This idea of being changed to be like Jesus, we know from Paul’s teaching: “we all…. are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory.” (2 Cor 3:18) That is one of primary objectives of our salvation, to be changed to become like Jesus, to become like him in character and in service, related to the Father and seeking to do His will. It is not to be religious, not super-spiritual, not super-devout or super-pious, it is to become like Jesus and he was none of those things.

Perhaps we should just repeat again what we said in Study 50, that Jesus might have explained it as follows: “Follow me, learn of me, live with me, watch me, share with me, encounter me, share your life with me and let me share my life with you, join with me in doing the things our Father wants us to do.” That, I suggested, is ‘eating Jesus’, taking Jesus into your life, absorbing him, feeding on him.

And the blood? In the Law it said, “the life of a creature is in the blood,” (Lev 17:11) When the heart stops, we stop. So, if you didn’t see it with the bread, see it here with the life force that flows in each of us. Take Jesus’ life force into your life because if you don’t, you don’t really have real life. That is the teaching here.

26. Reconciled

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 26. Reconciled

Col 1:20  and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Our verse today comes at the end of a truly glorious paragraph that describes Christ who is displayed as the image of God (v.15), creator with the Father (v.16), the one who holds all things together (v.17), head of the church as the firstborn from the dead (v.18), expressing all the fulness of God (v.19) and the one who has reconciled all things to God (v.20).

We live in a Fallen World where Sin prevails, and the world is broken, no longer perfect as it was when God first made it. Things go wrong in it. It was Tennyson in his monumental poem, ‘In Memoriam’ who made famous the phrase, “Nature, red in tooth and claw”, encapsulating the state of this fallen world. This is how the world is, which makes Isaiah’s prophecy of the Messiah’s peace in 11:6-9 so dramatic.

We tend to focus on the reconciliation with the Father, but this verse seems to suggest that, in respect of the earth, it is much bigger than that; it is a picture that suggests that through the cross, one day there will come a time when everything that we know will be brought into peace and harmony.

We are told that in the present age, Christ is ruling at his Father’s right hand, establishing the kingdom (see 1 Cor 15:24-26) and that one day he will return to fully establish it on the earth (see Rev 19). There is in Romans 8 what can only be described as a mysterious passage (v.18-22) that speaks of the creation groaning (v.22)  as it, “waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed” (v.19). Somehow there is a link between us and this world whereby our presence, it seems, should impact and change the very way the world works. That, at least, is what is implied by these sorts of verses.

But on safer ground, this reconciliation means between us and God and that includes both Jew and Gentile: “and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.” (Eph 2:16). How was this peace, this reconciliation between us and God, brought about? “through his blood, shed on the cross”, seen in terms of the Passover lamb being slain and being seen as the sacrifice for sins, and seen as the punishment to end all punishments. Justice has been satisfied and thus any obstacle between us and the Father has been removed. The way is open for the Son of God, ruling at his Father’s right hand to express himself through his church to bring peace and harmony on the earth. Are we up to it?

39. The New Order

Meditations in Hebrews 8:    39.  The New Order

Heb 9:15   For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance–now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.

The Link: Ah, we have another of those link phrases, “For this reason.” Verse 13 had spoken of the blood shed under the old covenant and verse 14 had brought us through to the parallel work of Christ whose blood was shed on the Cross at Calvary so that our consciences could be freed from guilt-laden striving to appease God by self-centred works of religion, and freed to be able to relate to and serve God without fear and trepidation.

The Cross Opens the Door to our Inheritance: So, because Christ has done this on the Cross he can now be, “the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance.” (v.15a) i.e. he can now mediate or administer this new covenant so that we who God calls (and we respond to Him) may be able to receive an inheritance that has been promised by God from long ago, an inheritance that has an eternal dimension to it.

Just in case we hadn’t followed the link between what Christ has done on the Cross and what he now does helping us enter into our inheritance, he backs up the reason with, “now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.” (v.15b)  He can now work on getting us to receive our inheritance because his death has meant that we have been freed from both the guilt of our sins and the sinful habits that produce the individual sins, which were still products of that old covenant.

Jesus, the Ransom:  Before we pass on, note the word, ‘ransom’. Jesus taught, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mk 10:45)  A ransom is a price paid to set a prisoner free. We were prisoners to guilt and to Sin and so, by giving his life to take the sentence of death that justice demands for lives of sin, that life dealt with all the problems of justice and so acted as a ransom that released us prisoners from our constant sense of guilt and our ongoing sinning.

The Working of a Will: Now, having spoken about our inheritance, he piles on the teaching by talking about wills: “In the case of a will,  it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living.” (v.16,17) Interestingly the Greek word for ‘will’ is the same word as ‘covenant’, but we use ‘will’ here because we are familiar with the procedure that follows a death and the will being administered. The will of a person only becomes operative once the person dies. A death has to be involved. “This is why even the first covenant was not put into effect without blood.” (v.18) This is his rabbinic teaching kicking in again. To receive the inheritance of freedom from condemnation under the old covenant, a sacrifice had to be offered, a life given, a death involved.

Blood & Covenant: He explains how Moses, after having proclaimed all the laws of the Sinai covenant, ratified the covenant with the blood of calves (v.19) and then declared, “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.” (v.20) Of course there is a similarity here to Jesus’ words at the Last Supper: “This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mt 26:28) If Moses had known what was coming, he might have inserted the word ‘first’ in front of the word ‘covenant’. He emphasises the role of blood in the establishing of a covenant: “In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” (v.21,22) Although we normally see this as applying to the Levitical Law, it is interesting to note that when God and Abram entered into a covenant, animal death and shedding of blood was involved – see Gen 15:8-19. To create a sense of solemnity, the creatures were cut in two and two lines made between which the participants to the covenant walked – walking between death to acknowledge a new life agreement.

Blood = Life: Perhaps we should emphasise this matter of ‘the blood’. I believe talk about ‘the blood’ when sharing with non-Christians is highly inappropriate, but it is the language of the Old Testament that is used symbolically to refer to ‘life’; when the blood was shed, the life was given. Ultimately the message of the Bible is that a life of sin deserves to be forfeited and, as we are ALL sinners, all of our lives deserve to be forfeited.

Lives of Sin: I deliberately refer to a ‘life of sin’ because before we came to Christ that was the sort of life we lived, one that is characterized by self-centred godlessness; we elevated ‘self’ to the level of deity and took God’s place as the arbiter of right and wrong and we determined the sort of life we considered acceptable. Because it was ours, we made excuses, but nevertheless it was a life that was self-centred and godless, and a life where, if you watched it second by second throughout however many years it lived, you would see example after example of thoughts, words and deeds that were not only self-centred and godless but they also harmed other people and the world, and of course they rejected God. The ways we do these things are innumerable and the impact we have on people and sometimes the  world itself, is immeasurable.

The Penalty = Forfeiture of Life: Oh, someone cries, but do any of these things, even all together warrant, as you put it, someone’s life being forfeit? You miss the point in the big picture and we saw this at the very beginning of this book, that ‘life’ comes from God. He alone is the source of life and without His word and His power and His presence, ‘life’ as we know it ceases.  Now my definition of Sin has been self-centred godlessness and both parts speak to rejecting the presence of God, rejecting the provider of life. So imagine the picture of the dock in a courtroom that we have used before. The charge is that you have rejected THE Life-giver and therefore you should be allowed to follow that through and take the effects of that – and die. That is the sole case that justice presents. You chose that, so live with it – and die! You rejected the Life-giver so trying living without Him in eternity – you won’t.

The New Possibility: But, says God, the Son has already died for you, believe that and I will channel you into a new existence where all your self-centred and godless choices are transferred to my Son’s account and your account is cleared of any such folly. There is no reason why you should not live in harmony with me and receive my ‘life’ and experience eternity – and thus we receive His Holy Spirit and ‘live’ and keep on living in what is called ‘eternal life’. That, I believe, is how it really works.

38. The Old Order

Meditations in Hebrews 9:     38. The Old Order

Heb 9:1   Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary

Tabernacle Ministry: Our writer goes on to compare what went on in the earthly tabernacle (the earthly sanctuary) with what goes on in the heavenly one. In the earthly one the high priest carried out the ‘regulations for worship’ which comprised instructions for sacrifices and offerings. That was what the Tabernacle, and later the Temple, was all about. He reminds us that it was set up with a lamp-stand, a table and consecrated bread in the first room, the Holy Place (v.2) Then behind the curtain was the curtained off area called the Most Holy Place in which were the golden altar and the ark which contained a jar of manna, Aaron’s staff and the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments. (v.3,4) Above the ark were the cherubim but, he says, “we cannot discuss these things in detail now,” (v.5) so we likewise will simply move on.

He then reminds us that “the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry, but only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance.” (v.6,7) So, two rooms, the inner one only being entered once a year by the high priest, ad the outer one where daily service to God was provided.

He explains, “The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing.” (v.8) i.e. there wasn’t general access to that inner room and to God’s presence as long as that Tabernacle or Temple service continued under the Law. But then he shows its further limitations: “This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings–external regulations applying until the time of the new order.” (v.9,10) i.e. the priests and the people did these things because they were told to, but they still felt guilty. Their obedience to the Law was good but it still didn’t leave them with any understanding that in fact justice had been done and punishment taken for their wrongs –  apart from by the animals they sacrificed. It DID provide a means of providing an obedient response to God showing the heart had turned but it DIDN’T appease their conscience. That was the old system, the old order, purely external things until the new order came and showed the reality.

Christ’s work: He then turns to what Christ has done: “When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, (or ‘are to come’) he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation.” (v.11) We have to wait until later on when he explains, “Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.” (v.24)  Christ’s activity on our behalf was acted out here on earth (although I don’t think ‘acted out’ is a good description of his dying on the Cross!) but the reality of it and what it achieved was brought about in heaven.  Then comes the key verse: “He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.” (v.12)

‘The Blood’: For the new believer, references to “Christ’s blood” may seem strange but it is simply shorthand for “his death on the Cross for our sins”. Having said that, ‘blood’ was a key feature of the sacrificial system or, to be more precise, shedding it by killing the animal, and scripture declares that “the life of a creature is in the blood.” (Lev 17:11 and a number of other verses). We know that when our heart stops pumping blood around our system, life ceases. Remove the blood and you remove the life; it was that simple.

The Impact of a Sacrifice: Without doubt the sacrificial system was horrible, the taking an animal into the Tabernacle or Temple, placing your hand on its head and then having its throat cut so that the blood poured out so you could literally see the life ebbing away out of this creature, but I am certain that people would realise the seriousness of sin in a much greater way than any of us do today. Once you had done it once, you would resolve not to sin and have to do it again! (In comparison to modern Western societies it would certainly be almost crimeless!)

Christ the Offering: He explains that the sinner who was sprinkled with blood under some of these rites would be declared ceremonially clean and if that was so, how much more would Christ’s death on the Cross, “who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” (v.14)  That is rather a heavy verse we had better delve into.

“How much more, then.”  If the old order was able to declare a person ceremonially clean how much more can a ritual involving the Son of God.

“will the blood of Christ.” i.e. his death on the Cross.

“who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God.” This was God himself, the One who is Spirit, who died, perfect without sin.

 “cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death.” i.e. our sinful acts are dealt with, acts that lead to spiritual death.

 “so that we may serve the living God!” The end outcome of Christ’s death is that we are left knowing we have done what God laid on for us, i.e. accepted HIS way of salvation, and knowing that justice has been served and our sins properly dealt with.

Us Today? The next verses are also information-packed so we’ll leave them to the next study. Today we may be grateful that we do not have to trek miles to a place where we are required to take an animal to be put to death. Today – and it is almost too easy and therein there is a danger that we become casual about it – we simply turn to God in prayer, confess our sins and declare our acceptance of Jesus as our Saviour and are forgiven and cleansed immediately.

The old was making a primitive people aware of the seriousness of Sin as far as God and people are concerned. The fact that we do not have to follow through those rituals should not make us casual. Perhaps that is the main reason the writer to the Hebrews spells it out as he does; it is another of his warning-encouragements that he keeps on bringing to encourage us to stay on track. Being reminded and being aware of the seriousness of Sin and the wonder of what Christ has done for us, should truly be a motivating factor to keep us in the Faith. Amen? Amen!

40.Moses instructs Israel

Meditations in Exodus: 40. Moses instructs Israel

Ex 12:21   Then Moses summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go at once and select the animals for your families and slaughter the Passover lamb.

The Lord has instructed Moses and now Moses instructs the people. What follows will depend entirely on their obedience. Earlier in the chapter the Lord had said to Moses, “tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household,” (v.3) and then, “Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. (v.6) That was the timing of what follows.

So now, Moses summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go at once and select the animals for your families and slaughter the Passover lamb,” (v21) which must be happening in that time-frame. The elders would no doubt have been over a group of families and so each elder would take the men and they would choose the best of the lambs as instructed and made sure there were no cast-offs being used. Stage one was selecting the lambs, and stage two was slaughtering the lambs and making sure each family had one. Now stage three was the most important part: “Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the door-frame.” (v.22) Hyssop was a plant that grew naturally in the desert regions and so would be plentiful and when several pieces were tied together would act as a brush with the blood of the lamb so it could be dabbed clearly on the door-frame of each of their houses.

Then comes a crucial instruction: “Not one of you shall go out the door of his house until morning.” (v.22b) Why was that so important? “When the LORD goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the door-frame and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down.” (v.23) Reference to ‘the destroyer’ suggests, as so often was the case, the Lord had an angel carry out the destruction. It may be that it was Satan himself so that, as in the case of Job, he was given permission to bring destruction, “thus far and no further”. The blood on the doorpost indicated obedience of the family within and thus they should be spared, but it was only those behind such a door that could receive that protection.

Now, so significant was this who affair that, as we have said before, it was to become something remembered by all future generations of the Lord’s people. So now we come to how it is to be remembered: “Obey these instructions as a lasting ordinance for you and your descendants. When you enter the land that the LORD will give you as he promised, observe this ceremony.” (v.24,25) So, this wasn’t something to be done just this once, but it was to become an annual event and so, “And when your children ask you, `What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them, `It is the Passover sacrifice to the LORD, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.’ “ (v.26,27) Such an annual ceremony was bound to raise questions from the younger generation and so when the asked, they would be told all about the Passover and the deliverance from Egypt.

The result of this communication? “Then the people bowed down and worshiped. The Israelites did just what the LORD commanded Moses and Aaron.” (v.27b,28) Belief, worship and obedience! How things have changed since Moses first came back to them and Pharaoh turned on them. They have now witnessed amazing miracles of judgments on this land and this people – and they have been spared. Now when they are told what is about to happen, unlike Pharaoh, they have no reason not to believe and they fall on their knees in awe and wonder at the goodness and greatness of God and they worship Him, and then they do what they have been told to do – and wait.

I wonder if we need to see nine miracles before we will believe?  We have the miracle of the Bible. We have the miracle of the coming of Jesus to earth, we have the miracle of his life and ministry, we have the miracle of his death and resurrection, we have the miracle of his ascension, we have the miracle of the coming of the Holy Spirit, we have the miracle of the indwelling Spirit, we have the miracle of the history of the Church, we have the miracle of revivals in that history, we have the miracle of the worldwide Church today, we have the miracle of the body of Christ. That is ten miracles that I suspect we so often take for granted, but miracles of blessing they are. Not miracles of judgment but miracles of blessings. Do we need anything more to be people of faith, people of obedience, people who truly worship? Perhaps it is, as we said at the conclusion of the previous meditation, that we need to revisit each of these things on a regular basis and thank the Lord for them. Look back in this paragraph to the ‘ten miracles’ I identified and thank the Lord for them.

28. First Plague – Blood

Meditations in Exodus: 28. First Plague – Blood

Ex 7:14,15   Then the LORD said to Moses, “Pharaoh’s heart is unyielding; he refuses to let the people go. Go to Pharaoh in the morning as he goes out to the water. Wait on the bank of the Nile to meet him, and take in your hand the staff that was changed into a snake.

So now the battle really commences. The matter of the staff was merely a warm-up. For some reason Pharaoh (and no doubt his retinue) were going down to the Nile. Now earlier in the book the Princess had regularly gone down to bathe. Possibly Pharaoh did the same thing. Others have suggested that he went down to perform rites to welcome the Nile when, each year, it flooded and brought silt with it that then made the surrounding areas some of them most fertile in the land.

The Egyptians worshiped the Nile because when it flooded it extended agricultural life eight miles to either side of its banks. It not only brought irrigation for crops, but it also supplied its marshes for pasture and hunting wild game. It also contained a wealth of fish that was basic to the diet of the Egyptian and so in a variety of ways it truly brought life to the otherwise desert-covered land.

Now we need to bear in mind that many of Egypt’s gods were also associated either directly or indirectly with the Nile and its productivity. For instance, the great Khnum, (the water god and potter god of creation), was considered the guardian of the Nile sources, a life bringer. Another of the gods, possibly one of the greatest, was Osiris, who was the god of the underworld. Now listen – the Egyptians believed that the river Nile was his bloodstream. Now take note of what follows.

The Lord in our present verses instructs Moses and Aaron to go and meet Pharaoh in the morning and meet him on the banks of the Nile (note, the Lord knows exactly what Pharaoh will be doing). They are not to demand release of Israel – they have already done that – but reiterate that that is what they have done and then tell him exactly what they are about to do, strike the Nile with Moses’ staff and turn it to blood (v.16-18) and it will be so bad that “the fish in the Nile will die, and the river will stink; the Egyptians will not be able to drink its water.’ “ (v.18) It is important that Pharaoh hears it before it happens so that there is no question as to why it happens – it is God!!!!

But actually this ‘plague’ or disaster is to stretch much further than just the Nile: “The LORD said to Moses, “Tell Aaron, `Take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt–over the streams and canals, over the ponds and all the reservoirs’–and they will turn to blood. Blood will be everywhere in Egypt, even in the wooden buckets and stone jars.” (v.19) This they do and exactly that happens (v.20,21)

Then the story takes on an element of farce: “But the Egyptian magicians did the same things by their secret arts, and Pharaoh’s heart became hard; he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said.” (v.22) Now presumably they took buckets of water already around the palace and by occult means turned the water into blood – pretty stupid really because they were removing the last of the clean water for drinking!

Pharaoh is unmoved, just as the Lord said he would, but consider the intellectual and emotional turmoil that must be going on in the minds of the superstitious Egyptians. Remember what we said: they believed the great Khnum was considered the guardian of the Nile sources, a life bringer, and that that the river Nile was the bloodstream of the greatest of their gods, Osiris, who was the god of the underworld. Suddenly it IS blood and it is flowing down to the sea. Is the literal lifeblood of this all-important ‘god’ being drained away, and is it the cause of Khnum? Is there a war among the gods, are they angry with Egypt, is Osiris about the die? And that is apart from the practical catastrophe of there being no clean drinking or washing water – ANYWHERE in the land. And how has this come about? Moses and Aaron! Or at least ‘their god’.

At which point the superstitious Egyptian, hearing what has happened may be weeping in anguish, not only at the loss of water but at the loss of their very gods who they have relied upon. It is as if this crusader has come with his magic staff and stabbed the very heart of Osiris by his magic powers. Or perhaps there is indeed another god who is all-powerful and has come to slay their gods and challenge the very heart of their beliefs about their gods who have up until now provided water for them and thus irrigation and life in a variety of forms. The very heart of their basic economy has just been threatened – and Pharaoh is too stubborn to do anything about it.

In many ways this first plague is one of the worst, threatening everything about the life of Egypt. As we’ll go on to see, other plagues follow on or flow from this one but don’t be deceived, they are not merely natural outworkings, they are the disciplinary judgment of God. This judgment has struck not only at Pharaoh’s pride, and not only at the very economy of the land, but at the very belief system grounded in superstitious fear that held these Egyptians slaves. That’s funny, it was the Israelites who were supposed to be the slaves wasn’t it? Well now the fear has been multiplied but it is very mixed and confused. Ours gods, their God, what is happening, what is going to happen, how will all this end?

It might be useful to conclude by reminding ourselves that the intent of these first ‘plagues’ is not to kill but to discipline – to bring change of behaviour. The Lord later says through one of His prophets, 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?” (Ezek 18:23) and “I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!” (Ezek 18:32) Be careful when you hear people attributing God as the cause of a death. He certainly does on occasion but mostly not. His desire is to bring life not final judgment, deliverance rather than death wherever it is possible. Thank Him for that.

27. Redeemed

Meditations in Colossians: 27. Redeemed

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.

In the previous meditation I commented on how in this series I have felt the need to pick up on specific words or phrases to stop and pause afresh over their meaning. We come now to that highly important and significant word ‘redemption’.  I ended that previous meditation commenting that Jesus came on a rescue mission, to establish legal grounds that satisfy justice, to enable all these other things to happen to release us and set us free to live entirely new lives. That was in the context of the great rescue but in the midst of that sentence I draw your attention again to the words, ‘to establish legal grounds to satisfy justice.’ That, in as few words as possible, sums up Jesus’ work on the Cross.

Few of us think deeply enough to realise and acknowledge the existence of this concept of ‘justice’ in the human experience and then vocabulary. Justice starts out in childhood when one child wails, “It’s not fair; you gave more to him than to me!” The child appeals to an idea of fairness. Nobody taught it to him or her but they knew its absence and cried out for a remedy.  A dictionary might define it as “behaving according to what is morally right and fair.”  Every tribe, people group or nation in history has exhibited this concept. They may exercise it differently but they all have exercised it.

In our modern age foolish philosophers and moral thinkers have sought in various ways to do away with guilt and blame, or rather the blame is passed on to others. For example, he stole because he was poor and never had a chance in life to better himself.  Or, she gave her body to him because she needed to feel she was loved because throughout her childhood she had lacked love and her father had abandoned her. The terrorists exploded a bomb because they were a repressed people. Or, he shot fifteen people in the shopping mall because he was unloved, and had been abandoned to a solitary life of playing violent computer games.

We may go along with the philosophy that excuses people their sins until it affects me personally. When a pair of burglars break into my house and violate my family, I want the police to do something about them – and not just scold them. Justice says in some way they should pay for the wrongs they have done; there needs to be a balancing up; that’s what justice demands – that they be stopped but, even more, they be made to suffer as I have suffered. This was essentially what was behind the ear for an ear, or eye for an eye law (Ex 21:24) in the Old Testament primitive Law given through Moses.

Now all of these things may contribute to the person’s behaviour, but as individual’s made in the image of God, they have the ability to choose exactly how they will behave, and God thus holds them accountable. In fact He holds every single one of us accountable for every wrong thought, word or deed. He doesn’t look on us as a bunch of children who don’t have a clue about life, but He respects us as those who know exactly what we are doing and who thus can be held accountable for what we did.

Imagine, if you will, you suffer from amnesia and you can remember nothing about how the human race works. You travel around the world and observe human behaviour through completely new eyes with no preconceived ideas. I am sure that again and again you would see things that would stir a response in you of, “Why doesn’t somebody stop that? Why doesn’t somebody do something about that?” as you observe a man abusing his daughter, a wife violently beating her husband, men holding up a bank, a man stealing from work, a tribe wiping out another tribe, one religious group warring against others who don’t hold the same beliefs. As a human being, even though you have lost everything else, you will still have this sense of ‘justice’ that says, this is wrong, someone should stop it  and deal with the perpetrators.

Now imagine you are outside of time and you confront God at the end of time, as all things are being wound up. You cannot help but ask Him, “God, there is this inherent sense of justice and yet as it has come to an end, all these people, groups and nations have got away with behaviour that is wrong; they should not be allowed to get away with it! Why don’t you do something?”  He asks gently, “What would you have me to do?” You pause and think and eventually say, “Well all those wrong doers should be punished, justice demands it.”  He asks again, “Which wrong doers? Where do you want me to draw the line?” I reply, “I don’t know I need help. Can you somehow show the severity of the wrongs up on a big screen so we can get an idea of the magnitude of what they have done?”  A big screen appears and it is covered with small red dots, so many as to almost cover the screen. I ask, “Which criminal does this represent?”  Instead of giving a direct answer He says, “Well each dot represents every wrong thought, wrong word, or wrong act throughout this person’s life. What would you have me do about them as they stand here now before my throne?” I respond boldly, “Well justice demands you punish them. There is so much red altogether it has to be the ultimate punishment, death I presume, exclusion from your presence!”  Very quietly He says, “That is your screen.”

I am condemned by my own words. I believe in justice. I believe wrong doers should be punished, and yet I find I am a wrong doer and the court of my own  mind has condemned me. I pronounced  my own sentence as I stood before the throne in heaven. As I stand before God with my head hung down, He makes me an offer. “You may remember the stories of how Richard the lion heart was ransomed from prison. You may have come across pawnbrokers who require money to redeem the articles sold into hock. In each case there was a person or an article that was lost to the world. The only way it could be redeemed was by the giving of money. One of your famous writers, Charles Dickens, wrote a book called a Tale of Two Cities and in it, one man gave his life to ransom or redeem the life of another man. He swapped places. If you will believe it, my Son, Jesus, when he as the eternal Son of God died on that Cross at Calvary, gave his life so that your life could be spared. If you will receive it, I will spare you and adopt you into my family.”  I nod dumbly and then whisper, “Yes, please.”  And I am redeemed.

Of course I pictured this as occurring at the end of the world and there perhaps will be re-enacted what took place, in my case, over forty years ago, for that is essentially what happens before we are born again. Jesus’ death earned my redemption. I was lost, guilty, condemned by justice/ I was helpless and hopeless and then this offer was presented to me and I took it and was redeemed. The work was done by Jesus two thousand years ago but it has to be appropriated by each person as an individual. We either accept it, or are left in the hands of justice.  What a choice!

8. No Murder

Meditating on the Wonders of the Ten Commandments:  8. No Murder

Ex 20:13   You shall not murder.

This sixth command is the first of the short and to the point ones that now follow.  It does not say you shall not kill; it uses the word ‘murder’, premeditated, purposeful killing of another person. It is what Cain did to Abel: Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.” (Gen 4:8) This sixth command does not spell it out and does not specify what should happen to a murderer, it leaves that to other parts of Scripture.

In the Law there is a distinction between murder and manslaughter: “Anyone who strikes a man and kills him shall surely be put to death. However, if he does not do it intentionally, but God lets it happen, he is to flee to a place I will designate. But if a man schemes and kills another man deliberately, take him away from my altar and put him to death.” (Ex 21:12-14) In a day where absolutes appear a thing of the past, these laws come with a refreshing clarity: You will NOT murder, i.e. murder is wrong!

We should perhaps note that the indicators of God’s attitude towards the taking of life came before the Law of Moses, which we are noting was instituted in Exodus and has been since the primary law source for Israel. For example: “for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.” (Gen 9:5,6)

Note:  i) A respect demanded for human life, ii) The reason for that is that humans are made in the image of God and iii) Whoever sheds the blood of a human being shall have his blood shed. The value of life thus seems a high priority and the reason for that is not some utilitarian reason such as ‘it makes for a stable society’ but that we are God’s design, made in his image and precious to Him. That creates a far deeper and more meaningful reason for the sanctity of life that anything else.

Thus, although modern society is easy going about abortions, killing of terrorists, going to war to repulse an invader etc. if we had the heart of God we would see every violent death (no doubt including abortions) as a tragedy. Sometimes they are necessary – as in the case of saving the life of an expectant mother, of shooting terrorists as the only way of saving possibly hundreds of others, and of going to war to repulse an invader – but nevertheless we should grieve over ever life lost violently. It may be that because generally we do not feel like this, we have opted to do away with the death penalty completely and we allow abortions for a variety of social reasons. ‘Tragedy’ is not part of our modern vocabulary unless it appears on stage.

I have commented in various places before that the stringent requirements of having at least two reliable witnesses and then the death penalty imposed by people who knew the guilty party by stoning, would make it such an horrific event that it would rarely happen.

Compare that society with ours today. Compare that society to London where the media have been excited that the murder numbers per annum in recent years appears to have fallen at last below three figures. Before that we were talking about well over a hundred murders a year in London. In New York they similarly rejoice over falling figures which are now down to a little over 300 a year. In 2011/12 there were 640 murders/homicides in the UK and this appears to have fallen to a little over 500 a year in subsequent years. In the USA in the middle part of the first decade of the 21st century murders fell from a total of over 15,000 to just under 13,000. That is still a lot of murders. And God says, “You shall not murder.” Murder, therefore appears a symptom of a godless society, a society that is not good at conveying moral requirements, a troubled society.

In these years when the media and authorities are focusing us on the start, progress and no doubt completion of the First World War, it is easy to get caught up with the story, the facts and the figures and, yes, in a measure the horror. Behind this sixth command is an inherent respect for human life that comes from heaven. When you study and read about the initial combatants of the First World War, and then later the Second World War, not only were the aggressive leaders guilty of mismanagement but above that they were guilty of a callous indifference to the death of men.

I have never heard of the Kaiser, or generals on both sides being accused of murder and yet the callous and thoughtless sending thousands upon thousands of men to their guaranteed deaths must surely in the courtroom of heaven be just that.  What did we say earlier was the definition of murder?  The premeditated, purposeful killing of another person.  The folly of sending the cavalry into the arms of death by machine gun has been possibly one of the greatest examples of wilful stupidity and callous indifference to the loss of life recorded in history.

The word ‘negligence’ cannot even be applied because that would almost give an air of respectability to it. Hitler’s use of the gas ovens even eclipses that and every person who joined in bringing that about was guilty of wanton murder. Today it is Jihadist terrorists. If a terrorist dies at the hands of interrogators who tortured him, it is still murder, slow, prolonged and possibly regretted, but still murder. All those people claimed they had reasons for it, but in the light of history and before the throne room of heaven, all such deaths are pure and simple murder and God says, “You shall not murder!” and all such people face the most serious accounting in heaven.

Why have I titled these studies, ‘The Wonder of the Ten Commandments’? Because they stand out like beacons in a sin-sick world and declare THIS is God’s will and if you disregard it – or try to excuse it – you WILL be held accountable. The clarity of these commands is simple and sharp and however much we wriggle to explain away our behaviour, unless it is the only option in a fallen world, we will be held accountable. Remember, Christian, Jesus said murderers will be liable to judgment – but so also will those who harbour anger against their brother (Mt 5:21,22). The inner attitude is wrong and it can develop from anger to revenge, to spite, to scheming, to who knows what. Don’t go down the slippery path. Get God’s grace not to go a further step down it. Do not murder – in reputation as well as literally.

12. Blood of Christ

Meditations in 1 Peter : 12 :  The Blood of Christ

1 Pet  1:18,19   For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

These verses are packed full of truths but some of the language is not that used in modern common usage. Moreover it covers a subject that receives the scorn and ire of modern atheists. We need to examine it carefully, therefore.

First it is all about redemption or about redeeming things. This is the language of the pawnbroker which only a small percentage of the population tends to know about. When you pawn something you give it to the pawnbroker for safe keeping who in return loans you money. When you pay back the money plus interest he gives you your article back and you are said to have redeemed it. Thus it is paying to get back something. In the Old Testament it was also used to refer to something being paid instead of another penalty. Coming out of Egypt Israel were told, Redeem every firstborn among your sons.” (Ex 13:13) i.e. give a lamb to act as a sign of their lives having being spared in the Passover. Within the Law we find in respect of a careless owner of a bull known to be dangerous that has killed someone, “the owner also must be put to death. However, if payment is demanded of him, he may redeem his life by paying whatever is demanded.” (Ex 21:29,30) i.e. the family of the person killed may spare the bull owner’s life by taking money instead from him.

The picture that Peter paints for us is of them having been redeemed or purchased from “the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers.” i.e. they were slaves to the Law and to the traditions of their forefathers which did little to help them and had not resulted in a good relationship with God. No, this isn’t the traditional picture of redeeming something using silver or gold or money. No, this is something very different, because we are talking about our lives being redeemed from Sin, from Satan and from hell. We deserved to be left to our own devices in our sin, a prey to Satan and bound for hell, but God didn’t leave us in that state.

No this redemption, even if we don’t really understand our own sin and our own need to be saved, stands out as something completely different and its very difference should speak to us about our need. Peter speaks about “the precious blood of Christ” and it is this sort of language that raises the ire of the atheist who sees it as bloodthirsty and primitive! Well, Paul did say that, “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.” (1 Cor 1:18) and that this was “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” (1 Cor 1:23). Of course it seems foolish to the natural mind yet, as a pastor, I have found nothing else that actually satisfies the person who is racked by their own guilt. Psychologists and therapists seem helpless but when they are told that Christ died for their sins, that and that alone brings gratefulness and peace!

References to Christ’s ‘blood’ come again and again in the New Testament: “In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Lk 22:20) and “Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28) and “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.” (Rom 3:25) and “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!” (Rom 5:9) and “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.” (Eph 1:7) and “now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” (Eph 2:13) and “For God was pleased to…reconcile to himself all things…, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Col 1:19,20)

If that language is too familiar to you, substitute the word ‘life’ or ‘life poured out’ for blood in each of those verses so we have, “This cup is the new covenant in my life and so on. It is all about Christ giving his life for ours. Think on it, wonder about it and give thanks for that wonder that God’s love should be shown to us in such a manner.