Snapshots: Day 151

Snapshots: Day 151

The Snapshot: “but Ruth clung to her…. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die.” (Ruth 1:14,16,17) If you want to know what that word ‘commitment’ (that is so often bandied about in Christian circles) means, this is it. Ruth demonstrates commitment that flows out of love. It is love not law that gets her to respond like this. It is love that should bind us one to another in ‘the church’, not rules, not requirements, not membership rolls, but love being worked out and demonstrated and when the world sees that they will be moved and challenged because there’s not much of the real stuff out there these days.  Let’s work on this love thing and shock the world!

Further Consideration: It may seem a strange place to start this continuation section, but there is a place where the apostle Paul says we, “are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory,” (2 Cor 3:18), referring to the natural work of the Spirit who is changing us into the likeness of Jesus.

I would like to suggest, although I’ve never heard it preached, that Ruth’s words, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die,” actually are expressions of the attitude that you and I are called to have when we come to Christ and follow him as a disciple. It was Thomas who, when Jesus is talking about going to raise up Lazarus, says, Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (Jn 11:16) Whether he meant, let’s go along on this hopeless quest with him, or whether he was inspired to refer to Jesus’ coming death, is uncertain, but whatever it was, it expressed the true calling of a disciple to go wherever the master went – wherever!

Ruth has been moved by the love and concern of Naomi for the two Moabite girls; why should she be concerned for two foreigners, especially ones who appeared unable to bear her any grandchildren? But she was, and perhaps it was that realization that moved Ruth to make this declaration. Should not Jesus’ demonstration of love for us – dying for us, accepting us just like we are – move us similarly, and if not, the simple realization of what it means to be called to be a ‘disciple’ of the Son of God, into whose likeness the Spirit of God is changing us?

If it was a TV series, this would be one of those emotional, “Aaaah,” moments that perhaps release a tear, but in the word of God it comes as an example of the calling and required response that we find in the New Testament for all those who would say they follow Jesus and, in that sense, it comes as a tremendous challenge that might evoke in us that response, “Lord, I do believe, help my unbelief.” (Mk 9:24)

44. What happens after Death?

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 44. Q.6. What happens after Death?

Heb 9:27,28    And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

The Question:  Death is the cessation of physical life, and many not only fear the way of dying (which can involve a painful and prolonged disease) but also what might happen after death. Moreover it might be helpful to add, what does the Bible teach about the future, beyond physical death? The one thing it does teach is that physical death is not the end. There is existence and experience beyond physical death. Let’s consider the content of our two verses above:

The Fact: “And just as it is appointed for man to die once.”  Death is the one certainty we have; it will happen, we will all experience it.

Followed by: “and after that comes judgment.”  Judgement means assessment and accountability. Now the one thing we cannot say is exactly ‘when’ this occurs. Does it occur the second after our life here ceases, or does it happen, according to our present measuring of time, at some yet future time after a number of other things indicated in scripture happen, and for the person who has died, is there no sense of time passing so it is literally the next thing they experience? (check Rev 20:11-15, 21:27) For the ‘Lamb’s book of life’ see also  Phil 4:3, Rev 3:5, 13:8, 17:8, 20:12.

Salvation Provided: “so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many.” Because Christ died on the cross for our sins, there is forgiveness for all who receive him. Thus those whose names are in the ‘book of life’ referred to above, who God knew from before the foundation of the world would respond to Him and turn to Christ, these people have nothing to fear from appearing before God.

Second Coming: “will appear a second time.” Christ’s coming a second time, prophesied by the angels at his ascension (see Acts 1:11), brings to an end the present dispensation. When he came the first time it was to reveal the Father and to become our Redeemer. Each time he comes he comes to do what no one else can do. When he comes a second time it is for a different purpose.

Receiving Salvation: “not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” The picture of the end of time in this present age is one shown through Revelation where there will be a faithful remnant living in the midst of an ungodly and unrighteous world. He comes, the second time, to bring an end to that ungodliness and unrighteousness and to save his people there on the earth still, from it all. The picture that the writer to the Hebrews brings is of a Saviour who came the first time to bring in the kingdom of God but who comes a second time to wind up the initial expression of that kingdom. Wherever we find ourselves in history and in the economy of God, we can be secure in the love and the sovereign purposes of our God that are established, being worked out and will be brought to a conclusion in our Redeemer, the Christ.

Uncertainties and Questions: There are certainties at the end which we will return to but it is a foolish person who says some of the end of Revelation is quite clear. Uncertainties abound! There are ‘events’ that are spoken of quite clearly, but whether they are to be taken literally or as prophecy to be taken figuratively, is unclear. (The philosophical idea of ‘alternate realities’ existing at the same ‘time’ may be nearer the truth, even though it blows our minds!) There are schools of interpreters who take differing views and so we will not join in but simply note the things John brings to us:

– Christ will come as a conquering king – the Second Coming (Rev 19:11-16)

– he will war against his enemies of evil and will triumph (v.17-21). Note the beast and the false prophet are thrown into the lake of fire (v.20) while all their followers are killed by the sword (word of God) (v.21)

– Satan is bound for a thousand years (20:1-3)

– during this time believers reign with Christ (20:4-6)

– Satan is then released, deceives the nations and they come against the people of God at Jerusalem, fire falls and destroys all his followers but he is thrown into the lake of fire (20:7-10)

– Then comes the final judgment (v.11-13) and unbelievers are thrown into the lake of fire to be consumed. Note there is no mention for them (only the previous three) of it being eternal.  Fire elsewhere in the Bible destroys unless otherwise shown (The burning bush, the disciples at Pentecost, the Beast, the False Prophet and Satan – these latter three being spirit-beings.) The rest of unbelieving humanity is thus destroyed.

– Following this(??) we are shown a new heaven and a new earth (21:1) When he says the first have ‘passed away’ that doesn’t need to mean destroyed but simply moved on from. It is not that the present heaven is inadequate, more likely that the new heaven is simply heaven with a new flavor, if we may put it like that; it is filled with the redeemed and there is sense of conclusion to the initial salvation or redemptive purpose of God. The ‘new earth’ – still distinct from ‘heaven’ is thus presumably still a physical existence for the redeemed people to enjoy. Whether there are dual existences available for the people of God to enjoy, in both heaven AND earth, only time will tell us.

– This new existence is free of suffering (21:4) where God dwells with His people (21:2, 22-26) and all sin has been removed and destroyed (21:8,27)

– Further it is a place (existence) of life and light and abundance (22:2-5).

Certainties: We have already noted that physical death (the ‘first death’) is the cessation of physical life and is the destiny of every single human being. Yet there will be a resurrection of all the dead (Rev 20:13) to stand before the throne of God in the Final Judgment (20:12). Only Believers’ names are written in ‘the Lamb’s book of life’ (Rev 3:5, 13:8, 17:8, 20:12,15,  21:27) and they alone are saved for eternity. The rest, who refuse to believe and so live an ungodly and unrighteous lifestyle (21:8, 22:11,15) are consigned to ‘the second death’ (Rev 2:11, 20:6, 21:8).

We may thus summarize all this, these certainties, as:

–  all godly believers are saved and saved for a glorious eternity,

–  all ungodly and unrighteous unbelievers will be destroyed.

And So?  The offer is clear in Scripture – eternal life and a wonderful existence with God for those who will turn to Christ – but so is the warning – rejection and death for all who reject God’s offer.  Rejoice in the wonder of the offer; tremble for those who disregard it. Amen.

33. A New Uncertainty – Ascension

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 33. A New Uncertainty – Ascension

Acts 1:9   After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

Whaaat?  I don’t know if it’s just my imagination but the ascension of Christ rarely seems to be preached today, but that is a shame because it says something vitally important. Is it because the thought of a human body going up into the sky to disappear in a low cloud seems to stretch modern credulity to breaking point? It shouldn’t any more than Christ’s resurrection or any miracle for that matter.

Historically Accepted: It is strange if we seem to be unhappy with proclaiming it because historically Creeds, Catechisms and Confessions all made a point of including it: The Apostles Creed – “who ascended into heaven”, the Nicene Creed – “he ascended into heaven”, the Athanasian Creed – “rose again from the dead, ascended into heaven”, the Heidelberg Catechism Q49 “Of what advantage to us is Christ’s ascension into heaven?”, the Westminster Shorter Catechism Q28: “Wherein consists Christ’s exaltation? A28: Christ’s exaltation consists in his rising again from the dead on the third day, in ascending up into heaven,” and even the wordy Westminster Confession of Faith, “which also he ascended into heaven “. There it is declared again and again.

But Scripture? Our key verse here must be out starter verse in Acts 1 but note how each Gospel writer concludes their Gospel.  Matthew, we noted previously, in his kingdom-focused Gospel concluded with the Great Commission and went no further. For him, that was the important point with which to finish. In Mark, the add-on we’ve seen before, included, “After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.” (Mk 16:19) Luke concludes his Gospel with, “When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God,” (Lk 24:50-53) and then picks it up in his continuation in Acts. John makes no mention of it, obviously feeling the others had covered it adequately and he didn’t need to confirm the points he was making about Jesus ministry time, that this aspect added to it.

In Acts, in his sermon on the day of Pentecost, the nearest Peter gets to it is, “Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.” (Acts 2:33) In this and subsequent preaching his big emphasis is on the resurrection that vindicates the work of Christ. The apostle Paul speaks of how God, “raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 1:20) but numerous times speaks of how Christ is seated at the Father’s right hand in heaven (e.g. Rom 8:34, Phil 2:9, Col 3:1)implying he has ascended there. But it is the writer to the Hebrews who spells it out most clearly: Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.” (Heb 4:14) He also refers to Christ beside the Father – Heb 1:3, 8:1, 10:12, 12:2 – and Peter makes a similar declaration in his letter – 1 Pet 3:22. We’ll expand on this in a moment.

The Event:After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.  They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them.  “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:9-11)  From these verses observe the following: i) Jesus ascended bodily, ii) the angels declared that this would be the same way he will return – seen in the sky. But why did it happen like this? Forgive me if I take three paragraphs from a previous series, “Focus on Christ”:

Visible Ascension: Look at the language of the verses surrounding this event: “After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes , and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee ,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky ? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (v.9-11) Five times there is reference to the fact that the disciples SAW Jesus leave. There is surely significance to this. It is as if Jesus wanted there to be a number of witnesses to his departure. He wanted them to be able to say, he has definitely gone – we saw him go!

Leaving the Earth: There is a second thought that follows on from this. It is the fact of him going up into the sky away from the earth. Now of course we would say that heaven is not “up there” but another dimension, but the fact of him “leaving the earth” says his time on the earth has come to an end and so don’t ever go looking for him. He’s not an eternal, ageless man who continually walks the earth. He has left and gone back to heaven. In other words, the period or time for his earthly ministry has finally come to an end. His activity on earth will continue, but now by his Spirit in his followers. His person now exists in heaven as many references in the New Testament testify to.

Ascended to the Father’s Right Hand:  We should also note that not only was the Ascension about leaving the earth, it was also about arriving back in heaven, where we are told a number of times Jesus sat down at his Father’s right hand. But first, let’s note that there are 13 mentions of this fact: Mk 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   Note the things these verses say about Jesus in heaven. He:

– has a place of honour at the Father’s right hand

– he is there as Prince and Saviour

– he pleads for us there

– he’s been given a name above all others

– all angels and authorities bow before him

To Conclude: I would also add as a summary that he is there to oversee and administer the kingdom. One of my favourite set of verses that I believe clarifies the day in which we live is, “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. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Cor 15:24-26) See it clearly: he IS reigning in heaven over the earth and will continue to reign until he has finished his present work that is to rid the earth of everything that was not there when the Father and he first created it, i.e. all forms of sin and its effects. I always link this with the prophetic Psa 110:1,2 – “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 sceptre from Zion, saying,  “Rule in the midst of your enemies!”

When Jesus ascended it wasn’t just to terminate his earthly ministry, it was to return to heaven to sit beside his Father, and in a few earth weeks pour out his Holy Spirit, and then through Him administer the coming of the kingdom through his body, the Church, for as long as the Father decreed until the end. Without the ascension we have the great uncertainty – how did the story finish on earth, where did he go, what did he do? No, we have none of that uncertainty because we know he returned to heaven to continue his work from there, but in and through us. How amazing! Worship him and rejoice in your part in all this.

7. The Laodicea Experience: Half Heartedness

The Church Kaleidoscope Meditations:  7. The Laodicea Experience: Half Heartedness

Rev 3:14 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write” 

Speaker: Jesus comes to this church as, “the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.” Amen tends to be a word, meaning “so be it!”, that is put at the end of a solemn statement to strengthen or guarantee it. Jesus thus comes as the One who brings truth to all we know of God, the One who confirms the revelation of the Old Testament, the One who is the “faithful and true witness”. To his disciples he said, If you really know me, you will know my Father as well …. Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (Jn 14:7,9) To the crowds he taught, “I know him because I am from him and he sent me,” (Jn 7:29) and, “he who sent me is trustworthy, and what I have heard from him I tell the world.” (Jn 8:26) Later the writer to the Hebrews was to write of Jesus, his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” (Heb 1:2,3) This is the Jesus who comes to this church, the Lord of the earth.

Assessment – Half-Hearted: The one who walks among the church and who sees and knows all things declares, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (3:15,16) Neither hot nor cold? Must be tepid, half-way, half-hearted, lukewarm, and because they are neither one thing nor another, he warns, “I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” Wow! This is serious.

Self-Deceived: “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” (v.17) I suspect the bigger the church (building) the more likely this is true today. Ours is not massive but it is beautiful and therein is the danger. We sit there week by week and we feel good about ‘our church’. We are well-dressed and well fed, and we have such a nice environment that we feel so good. If you worship in a great building, ponder on this deeply. Jesus said of this church that they were, “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” Check those words out: wretched – shameful; pitiful – pathetic; poor – weak and feeble; naked – undressed. Consider their opposites, what we should be: wretched – glorious; pitiful – glorious; poor – rich; naked – clothed. Can we say we are a glorious body of Christ (revealing the glory of God), rich in all the spiritual attributes, graces and gifts, clothed in the glorious robes of righteousness that distinguish us from the world round about us?

The big issue here is not only their state, but that fact that they don’t realize it. They are deceived into believing that they are all right, even more than that, that they are rich. Simply because we are well off, more affluent than any previous generation, does not make us spiritually rich. A spiritually rich church is one that is alive with the presence and power and activity of God by His Spirit, where life and vitality, where fellowship and friendship, where power and authority, pour through the congregation, through this hopefully wonderful ‘body of Christ’, bringing constant life transformation, with conversions, deliverances and healings being a regular feature of their life. We may think we are rich but if these things are absent, we are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.

The Threefold Answer: Jesus may be on the verge of spitting them out but he still brings them counsel to enable them to change: “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.” (v.18) First, buy from Jesus (with your obedient, loving, sacrificial lives) refined gold – real faith formed through suffering (1 Pet 1:7), faith that stands out in its reality, its expression, lives that truly respond to the living word of God that continues to come. Faith is what makes us rich in Christ. Second, white clothes that reveal the work of Christ. When we are naked we are seen in all our weakness, our vulnerability, but when we are clothed with the robes of righteousness that God provides for us (see Zech 3:3-5 for a lovely picture of this) all that is seen is his work in us, and he is glorified. Third, salve to cleanse our eyes. Surely this must be truth, that clears out the deceptive muck and allows us to see reality as it truly is.

Hear Me!  “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” (3:19,20) What an amazing offer. First of all, you repent. That has got to come first always. But then, second, hear my knocking, I want to come into your lives in a new way, I want to eat with you, sit and fellowship with you, hear your lives and share mine with you. This is a staggering approach of the Son of God, the Lord of all things.  This is the equivalent of the way he dealt with the apostle Peter when he had denied him three times. If we had been onlookers we would have been watching for Jesus to shred him to pieces but instead, he commissions him to lead the Church. Incredible grace! And now here, can we see this same thing? He has thoroughly condemned them and shared that he had even been thinking of spitting them out, but what do we now find? He is offering to come to them afresh to enter into a new time of intimate fellowship. Unbelievable! Well, not really, but yes it is incredible!

The Overcomer: Again he is not writing them off but offering a possibility that is mind-blowing, well certainly if you are a wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked and motley crew. Get it sorted, he says, and then, “I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.”  Note NOT stand or bow before him in abject surrender of the vanquished failures that they are, but to SIT ON HIS THRONE with him, i.e. to share in the role of ruling over all things! It comes through death to self, just as it did to him who had to pass through death on the Cross, but the reward is this mind-blowing offer that probably defeats our understanding so incredible it is.

I think we need to reflect again on each of these visions of Jesus and on these churches, their good points and bad, so let’s move on to do some summarizing of these two amazing chapters in the next studies.

Lord of the Church Introduction

The Church Kaleidoscope Meditations:  Lord of the Church Introduction

Rev 1:10,11   On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet,  which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches

Why? God’s guidance comes in many different forms. I have recently, by accident I would have said, found myself reading a book in which a pastor tells his story and it involved the book of Revelation. Just a couple of words he said grabbed me and nudged me back to the familiar first three chapters of Revelation, and so here I am with a heart hooked and wondering what is coming. It had better start with the feel that I have. I have studied this book again and again over the years and marveled at it, but I fear sometimes that we analyze in such a measure that we fail to grab a sense of the reality of what was going on.

As I glimpsed into chapters 2 and 3 this morning it struck me what a kaleidoscope of experiences and challenges with find here. No two churches are the same for the Church comprises people and people all have their own life experiences and experiences of God, and so every local church, although it may have similarities to many others, will have their own struggles, and that I believe is what we will see here, that is the sense I have here.  We will first of all go through the seven churches individually in each study, and then will conclude with 3 recap studies; first focusing on how Christ portrays himself, second on different ways the struggles against the enemy are seen, and finally on the possibilities that are offered to over-comers of those struggles. That’s the plan!

To Whom: After the prologue of verses 1 to 3 in chapter 1, we see straight away the direction of what is about to come: John, to the seven churches in the province of Asia:” (v.4a) The ‘Asia’ here was just one province in Asia Minor. If you have maps in the back of your Bible, possibly showing Paul’s journeys, you should see it there, together with the seven cities that are soon to be mentioned: “I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.” (v.10,11)

The Greeting: As with many such letters in the New Testament, he starts his letter to them with, “Grace and peace to you.”  i.e. may God’s provision be yours and may it bring you peace. He speaks as a messenger from God: “from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the sevenfold Spirit before his throne.” (v.4b) i.e. God who is eternal, God who is Spirit, God who rules on high. But this blessing to them also comes, “from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.” (v.5a) i.e. the Son who has faithfully testified to the Father in his ministry on earth, who was raised from the dead and who now rules over the earth (see Psa 110:1,2 & 1 Cor 15:25). John comes with all the authority of the Godhead.

John’s Testimony: Pastor John seeks to draw alongside those to whom he is about to write.  We’ve just said he’s come bringing the blessing of the Godhead and he comes with the authority of God, but that authority also comes because of what has happened to him and what is happening to him: “I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus.” (v.9a) He stands with them, he is a brother in Christ and he has shared in the suffering that believers so often experience, a suffering that requires endurance to ‘just hang on in there’. But there is more. He, “was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” (v.9b) Patmos was a prison island and he is there because, as a faithful pastor, he was a thorn in the side of the authorities who banned him there. I have heard it said from the underground church in China, that a qualification for being a pastor there is, have you been in prison?

From Whom: After the instruction we saw in verses 10 and 11, he explains to his readers how this message came that he will shortly be passing on. In the vision he heard the voice speaking to him, turned around and, “saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man,” (v.12,13) a term used by Jesus and seen in Dan 7:13 referring to the one coming from heaven, the Messiah. He appears, not as the one John had known on earth but as a priestly figure (v.13) of great wisdom (v.14a) but penetrating eyes (v.14b). He also appears as one who has been through the testing and trying of the furnace of life and yet who now speaks with immense power and authority (v.15).

He holds seven stars in his right hand (the hand of authority), he speaks with cutting authority and his face shines with the glory of God (v.16). His appearance petrifies John, because he is so unlike the one he knew before, so that he just falls before him lifeless (v.17a). The Son reassures him (v.17b) and John declares, “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” (v.17,18) The description is of eternal divinity in human form, a form that had died but had been raised. He explains that the seven stars are the angels or leaders (unclear which) and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

And So? So we have seen how John came to be writing: in exile on Patmos he gets this vision and in it he hears a voice and sees this figure who has to be Jesus and he is shown to be the one who has all authority over the seven churches amongst whom he walks. One might wonder why these seven churches and no other? Two main reasons are usually given. First, it may be that these were seven churches over which John had apostolic authority. It is thought he was an elder in Ephesus and perhaps it is significant that Ephesus is the first one mentioned. Second the number seven occurs many times in the book and seven is considered (for a variety of reasons) to be the perfect number that signifies completeness. Thus, it is reasoned, these encouragements, exhortations and challenges to these seven churches might be considered to be God’s word to the whole church. It is likely that these words would get spread over the whole area and so any church might read what was said to these seven and wonder how they stood before the all-seeing eyes and challenging voice of the ascended Son of God, the head of the Church, the Lord of all the earth.  In that sense these words should be a challenge to the whole Church.

However, from our point of view, the sense that I have is that as we meditate on what the Lord says to each church, we will see the variety of experiences that confront church life and within that we will find encouragement, exhortation and challenge. To keep these studies simple I am going to avoid going into detail about each of the places, for the place does impact on what was happening, but I am simply going to take at face value the things said, as things that can face any church anywhere.  For the same reason I am not going to get into any of the various schools of interpretation about possible ‘bigger meanings’, we will simply see the church in that day and see what it says to us for our church today.

44. God of the End Game (2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

42. God of Resurrection (2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

41. God of Resurrection (1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. The Mysteries of God (1)

Christmas Threads Meditations: Thread 3: The Mysteries of God (1)

Gen 3:15   I will put enmity  between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel

Mixing Metaphors:  I’m afraid I’m going to be mixing metaphors in this study, having started out talking about threads of a tapestry, I want to suggest that the next thread is the idea of the trail of breadcrumbs, because it seems to me that that is exactly what we find in the Old Testament. The idea of a trail of breadcrumbs comes from the children’s story of Hansel and Gretel, in which the two children drop breadcrumbs to form a trail to guide them back to their home. In modern website design, designers refer to a breadcrumb trail being a navigation tool to allow users to see where the user’s current location is in the whole website. In detection books, authors carefully drop breadcrumbs along the way, little clues that give the reader speculative thoughts towards who the murderer is.

The Mystery: In some senses the Old Testament is as much a mystery drama as any modern writing. When Paul spoke of the mystery of Christ (Eph 3:4, Col 4:3) or the mystery of the Gospel (Eph 6:19) or this mystery more generally, (e.g. Rom 16:25, Eph 1:9, 3:3,6,9, Col 1:26,27), it was a mystery that had been there for centuries but was now being made known: the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him.” (Rom 15:25,26)

The truth is that there are numerous prophetic words in the Old Testament about the coming of the Son, but they are dropped into the text like breadcrumbs to lead us ‘home’ and home is the arrival of Jesus. All of these ‘breadcrumbs’ show us that, as we saw in Thread No.1, God had a plan from before the foundation of the world and that plan involved His Son leaving heaven and being born on earth, i.e. Advent is the door into the execution of that plan. Each of these ‘breadcrumbs’ points to that truth in some way or another.

Breadcrumb No.1. Conflict: There in the Garden of Eden, following the Fall, before the couple are banished from the Garden, God addresses Satan and says, “I will put enmity  between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Gen 3:15) or, as the Message paraphrase puts it, “I’m declaring war between you and the Woman, between your offspring and hers.” This is strange talk. Who is the woman? Is it Eve, all women, or Mary, the mother of Jesus? Perhaps it is wise not to be too specific but certainly the protective heart of every woman is to desire the best for her child and to protect it from harm. In this sense every woman would be against Satan’s intents to harm. His offspring would be everyone who surrenders to his leadership (every unbeliever according to 1 Jn 5:19).

But her offspring? Surely not every human who follows, surely it must be one specific one? There is coming one who will war against Satan, crushing his ability over humans, but in the process will himself be harmed? Who else can this be (we say with the insight of hindsight) but Jesus? The Son of God will leave heaven, come to earth, battle with Satan, and triumph over him through the Cross. And there it is in the third chapter of the Bible, this clue for the avid reader of detective fiction, the follower of breadcrumbs, the seeker of the mysteries found throughout the Old Testament.  But before we pray, just one final thought here about this verse. Even in declaring this, how do you think the Father felt? He is saying, ‘My Son will come to the earth to wage warfare against you, Satan, and he will disarm (Col 2:15) you, but in the process, I know he will have to die, to give up that wonderful life he will have on earth that will bless thousands, in order that he might save millions.’   As necessary as it was, how would you feel as a father, facing the fact that that had to happen?

Prayer Time: Thanks & Request: “Father, thank you that you have laid out these ‘breadcrumbs’ throughout the Old Testament to show us the way to Advent and on to the Cross. Lord, please open our eyes to the wonder of this, your heart that just kept overflowing from time to time so that these clues were dropped, all of which pointed to your master plan. Thank you for the plan on your heart from before the foundation of the world to save us, that was fulfilled in these events, for Advent, for the Nativity, Amen.”

6. God of Interaction

Getting to Know God Meditations:  6. God of Interaction

Rom 5:6   You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.

Questions?  We concluded the last study by saying we would see how the purposes of God, that are revealed in His activity throughout the Bible, are weaved into the activities of mankind. I believe this is something that is very important for us to understand because I often hear questions being asked that start with, “Why didn’t God…..” and go on to ask why He didn’t explain more, or why He do more to bring changes that we can see now needed to come – and yet He didn’t. Why didn’t He?  I’ll answer that in a moment but can we note that even in asking such a question we are implying we believe in a God who can interact with this world, who can speak into it and act into it.

Why didn’t He tell more? That is one of the frustrations I hear people expressing.  Why didn’t God explain to Abram what He was doing, tell him who He was, and so on? Well I’ve already answered that in two ways: first, relationship doesn’t need definition, second, to do with this ‘doctrine of divine accommodation’ that I spoke of in the previous study, that God communicates with humans at a level which they can understand at their present stage of development. The funny thing is though, that sometimes, contrary to what we’ve just said, He seems to reveal more than the person needed at that time, for example, in Abram’s case we find God telling him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions.” (Gen 15:13,14)

The plan for the family: So why did He tell Abram that? I suspect there are two answers. First, to encourage Abram with the knowledge that God had an ongoing plan for his family that stretched way into the future and, second, for the sake of those future generations who would have this passed on to them down through the family tree, as an encouragement to them that everything was going according to the Lord’s plan.

Combination of Factors: But note two additional things in all this: first, that God did not make this happen – Israel ending up in Egypt needing deliverance. It came about as a consequence of two things, a natural outworking of the Fall, the world going wrong, a famine, and also by human choice – Israel chose to stay in Egypt in their lush surroundings after the threat from the famine had passed.

The Time Factor: The second thing to note, is the time factor in all these things. Years would pass, families would grow and change, there would be human interactions that were good, bad and indifferent, i.e. life would go on with no apparent big changes. But then He shared something else with Abram: “the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” (Gen 15:16) which no doubt at the time meant nothing to Abram but in the fulness of time it would be seen that those things going on in the land where he now was, would so deteriorate morally and spiritually.  The Amorites, one of the tribes who lived in Canaan – and thus shorthand for the occupants of Canaan – were a part of this and if God did not intervene to halt the downward spiral it might spread further abroad infecting more and more people with the superstitious fear-based occult activity that even drove the occupants to worship ‘gods’ and sacrifice their children on altars to these gods. God would take the need to deliver Israel out of Egypt and take them back into Canaan and combine it with the need to bring an end to all this pagan horror by driving those nations (tribes) out of the land. Only after that four hundred year period of time had passed would the nation of Israel be strong enough to achieve that.

Revelation & Timing: So we see that God holds back on handing out too much knowledge that will not be understood by the people of the time, yet gives an indication that He knows all that will take place in the affairs of mankind and what will happen on the planet, and will weave His purposes into all of that. I hope we have started to see that God works into human affairs but does not make them happen but will use what is happening to continue His purposes which we will soon go on to start considering.

Spreading the Gospel: the ability to spread the good news about Jesus Christ and what God had done through him, is a classic example of this same thing, God pursuing His purposes (in this case to spread Christianity). Christian writer and evangelist, Michael Green, in his book, ‘Evangelism in the early Church’, suggested nearly half a dozen things about the world that made the period two thousand years ago, following the death of Christ, almost certainly the best time for the spread of the Gospel.  The fact of pax Romana, ‘a time of peace unparalleled in history’, the fact of the amazing road system that the Romans had created, the wide common use of the Greek language, the existence of many false religions in existence that people were only to eager to abandon, the spread of Jewish culture which Christianity flowed through first, a culture found all over that area, all of these things contributed to the amazing spread of the Gospel and the growth of Christianity that say this was not by chance, this was by design, this was God working into the human activities of that time to ensure the news of His Son were spread so easily, so quickly and so widely.

The Conundrum of Slavery: There is a question I often hear, the answer to which fits in with this particular study and which I would thus like to mention briefly; it is the question of slavery. Why, say some people, didn’t God condemn slavery. The answer is not stated specifically, but I believe from what is stated clearly we can deduce the following. First, God does not force the world, force nations or force groups or force individuals to act in specific ways, and therefore, if He was to work to change slavery activities, He would have had to impact many if not most primitive nations because slavery has always been worldwide. Yet, His revelation as we have been noting, was to and through one nation, Israel.

When we see his laws for Israel in respect of slavery we find that the Law given to Moses regulated what was an existing practice in the world but forbade Israelites to be slaves or make slaves, to accept slaves from other countries but to treat them well. A slave fleeing to them was to be given refuge. Contrary to much that is spoken about slavery in the Old Testament, there is a caring and concerned element in the Law that helped slaves coming from the surrounding world. Those who worked for another within the society were cared-for servants. In the New Testament, although slavery is seen in the world, when a specific believing slave returned to his Christian master, that master is put under severe pressure to accept him as a brother. (See the book of Philemon).

We might suggest that slavery was just one of many practices that God did not approve of in the world, but He recognized that He would have to wait until the time was right when a group of Christian believers would arise who would hold sufficient positions of power that they could speak into government and change the law and abolish slavery. (What is tragic is that in the world at large today, slavery is as prevalent as it ever has been). This subject, like other similar ones, hinge on this doctrine of divine accommodation and God’s refusal to force mankind to comply with His wishes. We must also recognize that, as we have said before, God does not force His will upon humans having given us free will so, yes, there are many things going wrong in the world, but that is the cost of free-will that enables us to be what we call a human being.

And So? To summarize, we have been noting that:

  1. God speaks at a level that mankind at any particular point in their development can understand. Historian Rodney Stark comments, “As St. Gregory of Nyssa wrote in the fourth century, God is so “far above our nature and inaccessible to all approach” that he in effect speaks to us in baby talk, thereby giving “to our human nature what it is capable of receiving.”
  2. God interacts with humanity, weaving into our activities His plans and purposes. He does not force us to act as we do, but He works into what we do to bring about His end objectives.