17. A Guaranteed End

Meditating on the Gems of the Bible:  17. A Guaranteed End

Phil 2:9-11    Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The problem with these verses is that they are on the end of verses that seem even more attention-getting and so I think we almost take these amazing verses for granted. Many think that verses 6 to 11 were part of an early Christian hymn or even one of those famous ‘sayings’ that crop up in Paul’s writings, that the early church used to teach new believers.  Together they are full of immense significance  and I wonder why I haven’t picked them up before in this series – except for the reason I’ve just given of taking them for granted.

Verses 6 to 8 are staggering enough – that Jesus who is and was God, put aside all his glory and came and lived as a human being with little or no glory and gave his life for us on the Cross. That in itself it staggering enough to be worthy of a meditation on its own, but then you come to our three verses above.

Because Jesus did that, the Father raised him from the dead and then took him back to heaven (see the remarkable event in Acts 1:9) where He seated him at His right hand – “the highest place” (Check it out – Mark 16:19 / Acts 2:33 / Acts 5:31 / Acts 7:55 / Rom 8:34 / Ephes. 1:20 / Phil 2:9 / Col. 3:1 / Heb 1:3 / Heb 8:1 / Heb 10:12 / Heb 12:2 / 1 Pet 3:22 – reference after reference to Jesus being exalted at the Father’s right hand. It is of major significance in the New Testament!)

And there He “gave him the name that is above every name,”  a recognizable identity of which there is no doubt, a name that is now exalted above EVERY other name. There is no figure in history who – claimed to have come from heaven – who lived out a life and ministry that used the miraculous power of heaven to bless humanity – who gave his life to satisfy justice with its demands on our sinful lives – who rose from the dead – who ascended visibly into heaven – who empowered his church to do the miraculous and transform millions of lives with love. NOBODY from any other faith, belief system, political persuasion or whatever has ever done all this. No wonder Paul could say this name was above every other name.

But it doesn’t end there. Because of who he is and because of what he is done, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”  Now I used to read this wrongly as, I suspect, a lot of us do, because it doesn’t say “every knee will bow”. Now I believe that every knee will eventually bow to Jesus as the picture in Revelation 19 of the conquering King of Kings and Lord of Lords shows, but this verse doesn’t say that. It says that they should bow (one of two versions say ‘shall’ but most say ‘should’) and that ‘should’ suggests ‘ought to’ rather than ‘will’. Commentators often suggest that there is little difference in meaning or outcome but the word is there.

Now why this particular way of putting it? I suggest it is because of the context. Paul starts out, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus,” (v.5) and so he is teaching attitude or outlook. He’s saying, follow Jesus example who put aside his glory and became nothing, and leave the outcome to the Father, as Jesus did. He has been exalted by the Father to a place where he is now worthy of worship – and that including from us. It ought to be but it isn’t always and we too can be remiss and not be part of that worshipping company, but that just puts us in the wrong because Jesus deserves our worship.

But this verse with its ‘should’ shows us that is conforms to the reality of the world which often doesn’t worship Jesus. The truth is that it should and in its failure to, it will be held answerable to God. Jesus is the bench mark of the wonder of heaven. He reveals the wonder of the grace and goodness of the godhead. Failure to realise this and respond in worship is an indication of spiritual blindness and willful self-centred godlessness. Yes, there will come a time when every knee will bow before Jesus and confess he is Lord, as we’ve already indicated that Revelation 19 shows, but in the meantime there are those who go against what should be happening.

This is significant because it explains what is going on in the world today. There is coming a guaranteed end when Jesus will reign over all but the reality of the present is that many fly in the face of that ‘should’ and will be judged precisely on that one thing. They may appear to be allowed to get away with it in the present moment, and that is true, but the truth is there, and they will be judged according to it, and that WILL happen in a day ahead of us.

These verses elevate Jesus above all else and set the level of expectation. Failure to reach that level is the bench mark against which all will be judged. That is why these verses are so amazing. They not only show what Jesus has done, but they also establish the measure against which every person will be judged. As a Christian, I have already bowed the knee and confessed that Jesus is Lord; that was an essential part of the process that brought about my conversion, that opened the way for me to be born again, and so it is for every believer.

But the measure has been clearly displayed in the New Testament and in these verses in particular – Jesus IS Lord and we SHOULD bow before him and declare him as Lord. If we have not already done that, we stand before God judged. We have whatever time we have left on this earth to remedy that; the only problem is that we do not know how long we have left. You dare not leave it if you have never bowed before him and surrendered your life to his lordship. Action now is the only sure way. Do it.

24. Rising or Falling

ADVENT MEDITATIONS No.24

24. Are you Rising or Falling?

Luke 2:33-35 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel , and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Some people look at Scripture and say, “Oh, it’s difficult to understand” and so shut the book, and so reveal the weak state of their heart. Seekers turn to God and say, Lord Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law(Psa 119:18). They recognize that all Scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16 ) and so seek the giver of it for understanding.

What do you think the falling and rising of many in Israel means in our verses above? It is a description of the effect this child is going to have. In the verse before, that we have not read, Simeon had prophesied, that Jesus was a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel (v.32) or as the Message version puts it, A God-revealing light to the non-Jewish nations, and of glory for your people Israel.” This baby, says Simeon under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, will reveal God to the world and bring the glory of God back to this nation of Israel.

Now you might think that was good news but you might have forgotten an aside we made in Meditation 22: “The teachers had differing views of the sort of person this One would be. Some said a conquering king, other said a suffering servant, because the prophetic scriptures seemed to indicate both, and they couldn’t see how he could be both, so they opted for one or the other.”  In other words people in Israel had differing but specific views of the Coming One and, as you’ll see if you read the Gospels, some people looked at Jesus and didn’t think he conformed to their expectations of him. He may have been a sign from God, but in the case of many he was a sign that will be spoken against. Jesus probably revealed the hearts of people, by their responses to him, more than any other person who has ever walked the earth.

There would thus be two main responses to Jesus. First there would be the oppressed and unloved who were accepted by Jesus and who found themselves being lifted up – the rising of many. But there would also be many who thought a lot of themselves and who thought Jesus didn’t match their expectations and these persons fell before God. They were revealed for what they truly were – less than the great people they thought they were.

How have you been responding to these meditations? How did you come to them? Did you come feeling in need of God, have you found the wonder of all the elements of the Christmas story warming and comforting; have you been lifted up? Or have you come feeling strong and self-confident and have you felt affronted by the talk of your needs? Have you felt you were being pulled down, and so felt defensive?

You see, it is just a Simeon said it was. The truth about Jesus reveals our hearts. The way we come to the Christmas story and the way we respond to it, reveals the state of our heart. Those who come seeking, find – and are lifted. Those who come self-confident and critical, go away despondent and still critical and are pulled down in their estimation – they fall. How has your heart been revealed? We pray that you will be lifted and blessed as you realize who you are, one who is inadequate but much loved by God. May it be so!

God who is King

God in the Psalms No.7

Psa 5:2 Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray

In the second of these meditations we saw God enthroned (Psa 2:4). In this psalm we see reference to God being King. Many nations of the world do not have kings today and so perhaps we lose the sense of what this means. In Old Testament times, the king was sovereign. The king ruled and what the king said, happened!  In the book of Esther, King Xerxes, the Persian king, was probably a good example of this. He ruled over a massive empire (Es 1:1) of 127 provinces stretching from India to Egypt. So great was his authority that no one dared come into his presence without being called by him otherwise they would be put to death (Es 4:11).

In the book of Revelation we are given a picture of Jesus returning to the earth as a conquering king (Rev 19:11 -15) and he is described as King of Kings and Lord of Lords” (v.16). Jesus is the King of Kings – the king above all other kings, yet he is but the Son who, when he has finished his work, will hand back the kingdom he rules over to his Father (1 Cor 15:25 ,28). God Himself is THE King, THE Supreme Ruler.

Sometimes, when we look at the awful things that are going on in the earth, we might wonder about God’s ‘reign’. Yet the truth is that it is Jesus who is now ascended back to heaven and is reigning at the right hand of his Father (Acts 2:33-35, Eph 1:20-22) and, prophetic Psalm 110 tells us, is ruling in the midst of his enemies (v.1,2). So yes, for this time God allows men freedom of will to think, say and do what they please, but that doesn’t stop Him exercising His will in the midst of all they do, to bring about the things He has decreed. He IS working out His purposes (Eph 1:9,10, 2:10), because He IS the King. The Bible declares it long and loud!

When Jesus came the first thing he declared was, Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand(Mt 4:17). In other words, put your lives right for God is about to manifest His presence through me to exercise His rule as king!  Now Mark’s Gospel adds, The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news(Mk 1:15). The coming of God’s reign through His Son was good news. Why was it good news?

Well start with Jesus’ declaration in the synagogue, reading Isa 61: He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Lk 4:18,19), That was surely good news. See also Jesus’ words to John’s followers: Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. (Mt 11:4,5). See Peter’s message to the Gentiles: You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached– how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. (Acts 10:37,38). This is God ruling as a King.

Does that leave us fearing God as the Supreme Ruler? It shouldn’t do for it shows us that everything He does is for the blessing of people. He comes to restore them to Himself through the work of His Son, He comes to bring goodness to their lives, He comes to pour out His love on whoever will receive it. What should be our response to all this? Surely it must be, Lord, come and be Lord over my life, come and rule over my life. Amen.

6. The Messiah?

SON OF GOD MEDITATIONS 6 of 20

Luke 2:8-12 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Today’s verses, our friendly sceptic will soon notice, doesn’t actually proclaim Jesus as God’s unique Son, but we include it for another reason. Yes, this passage does speak more about the Messiah or Christ but we should consider what that reference to Jesus meant, and also take note of what was happening as recorded in the events surrounding his birth.

First of all let’s consider the question of Jesus as Messiah or Christ. They are simply Hebrew and Greek terms for the same role, that of “the anointed one”, for that is what both words mean, one anointed by God to perform a special task. Jews today will naturally deny that Jesus was their Messiah and still expect their Messiah to come. This is somewhat natural because they, as a people rejected him two thousand years ago and were part of the partnership (Jew & Gentile partnership – the Romans being the Gentile partner) that rejected, falsely tried and crucified him. This together with a desire for righteousness by good deeds has produced what the apostle Paul, a Jew himself, called ‘a hardening’ (Rom 11:25) which continues to reject Jesus as Messiah. We should always remember that this is them as a nation and not individuals, because the whole of the early church was initially made up of Jews and still today Jews become ‘completed Jews’ or Christians.

Throughout the Old Testament period there had been disputes about the nature of ‘the Coming One’. The prophetic Scriptures clearly indicated there was going to come one from God who would save His people, but the nature of this ‘Coming One’ was unclear. Some Scriptures seemed to describe him as a suffering servant, while others described him as a conquering king. The academics never realised that he would, in fact, be both and that Jesus perfectly fulfilled all of these prophecies of which there are over three hundred in the Old Testament.

So there might be a case to be made that Jesus was simply to be the Saviour of the Jewish people. Indeed Matthew, recording the dream Joseph received, seeing an angel come to him, records Joseph as hearing the angel say to him, “you are to give him the name Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.” (Mt 1:21). Jesus is the Greek form of ‘Joshua’ which means ‘the Lord saves’, so they could have understood that Jesus just came as a deliverer, to save the literal people of Israel, and only them, but therein there is a problem! He didn’t. When he died the people, as a nation, were unchanged. They were still under the occupation of the Roman oppressors. So if he was to be a Messiah who delivered the nation of Israel from under the hand of Rome, he certainly failed!

But this also ignores another key point that comes out in the Old Testament, that Israel were supposed to be a light to the rest of the world. Again and again we come across this, a declared intention on God’s part to reach out and reveal Himself to the rest of the world through Israel. Surely, if there was to be this ‘Coming One’ he would further that desire and bring about a revealing of God to the whole world, not just to one small nation. Seen like that, the word to Joseph we saw above, becomes a reference to all God’s potential people from around the world, a promise to deal with the ‘sin problem’ (we are separated from God by our sin).

But then we are confronted with an even bigger problem: how could a mere man deal with the sin of the whole world? The answer that the New Testament gives us, is that the man was God in disguise; only God Himself is big enough to deal with this problem – but we’ll see more of that later. The point that we would make here is that references to the Christ or Messiah were, in fact, references to One who had to be far more than a mere man. Jesus is either a failed Messiah or a Messiah for the whole world and who has achieved the plans of heaven. The testimony of the rest of the New Testament and of subsequent Church History, is that he gloriously achieved God’s purpose, and countless millions have since been brought into a wonderful relationship with God because of what Jesus did.

There is one other small (!) point to be made in passing, about the events surrounding the birth of Jesus. There are three facets of what happened that make his arrival on earth a clearly unique event, and one has to ask why this is so if he was just an ordinary man? The first facet is the past prophetic aspect of it all. Matthew, writing particularly for the Jews, points out how everything that was happening, was fulfilling Old Testament prophecy. This was all very specifically working out a divine programme, declared centuries before. The second facet is that of present divine guidance that is involved in the accounts. There is the communication from heaven with the main participants – John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah, then Mary mother-to-be of Jesus, and Joseph, guardian of Jesus, not to mention the shepherds in our verses today, the Magi who we’ll consider tomorrow, and two godly people in the temple. In all of these cases there is amazing guidance in a variety of forms that means that these are people who are motivated and energised by God to play their parts. The third facet is the supernatural nature of all that was going on: an elderly lady conceiving after decades of inability to conceive, a young virgin conceiving without male help, angelic appearances one after another and incredible guidance of clearly divine nature.

For the materialist this must be one of the most upsetting areas of Scripture, so full is it with divine appearances and happenings. Why, we have to ask again, should there be all this incredible heavenly activity if Jesus was to be merely a prophet – no other prophet has ever received this attention? If, on the other hand, this is the Son of God, coming from heaven (which Scripture says it was), then it makes perfect sense. Not conclusive evidence but a strong piece of the puzzle that ‘fits’ the big picture – this IS the Son of God arriving.