14. Raised?

Meditations in Colossians 2: 14:  Raised?

Col 2:12    having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.

We sometimes try to get over complicated with the simple picture language that Paul often uses. In the previous meditation we commented that it was sometimes unfamiliar Jewish language that needed thinking out, but our verse above has simple and straight forward language so let’s see what it says.

When he starts out “having been” it infers that what we now have before us actually happens before the things we considered in the previous verse.  The “putting off of the sinful nature,” (v.11) takes place after you have died and been raised again. It is something that took place at conversion but needs working out through the rest of our lives. So let’s take this verse bit by bit.

“having been buried with him in baptism.” Let’s paraphrase that: when we were baptized it was a picture of our old self dying and being buried, just like Christ died and was buried, so just as his body needed the power from the Father to be raised to a new life, so did we. He was dead, and we were dead.

“and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.”  Similarly, just as the Father’s power raised Jesus’ body from the dead, as we responded to Him in faith, so He imparts and gives us that same power, the power of His Holy Spirit, to enable us to live new lives. Paul taught the same thing to the Romans: 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 8:11)

To summarise, we died to our old life and God has now imparted His Spirit to us to raise up new lives in the likeness of Jesus with the same power that raised Jesus. Because this has happened the life we now live involves that “putting off of the sinful nature,” that we saw in v.11. There is a combination here of the work of God and our own activities. He provides the power but we have to exercise the will to purposefully put off self-centeredness and godlessness. When we purpose to fill and operate our lives with love and grace and truth, as we rely upon Him, so He enables us to do that. On a day when we may be feeling weak and incapable, as we turn to Him and ask for His supply, suddenly we find that we are coping, no, we are more than coping, we are being a blessing to others. This being raised to new life is enabled by Him but must be acted upon by acts of will as we work out our day by day lives. We have to determine not to lie, not to cheat, not to cut corners off integrity, not to look wrongly at a member of the opposite sex, not to speak wrong words that demean or put down, words that deceive or distort the truth. These are all ways of the ‘old life’, the ‘old nature’, ‘the sinful nature’ and they have no place in our lives today but it needs constant acts of will, and constant relying upon Him for this to be achieved.

We would do well to link in the next verse with all of this: “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ.” (v.13) Ah, there we have that Jewish flavour again.  The difficult phrase is “the uncircumcision of your sinful nature”.  For Paul there were Jews and Gentiles, the circumcised covenant people of God and the uncircumcised godless people of the rest of the world.

He is referring back there to how we were before we came to Christ and says that we were “dead in your sins,” meaning lifeless as far as God and true spiritual issues are concerned. We were living self-centred and godless lives that lead to unrighteous or sinful behaviour. That sinful lifestyle cut us off from God. When you are self-centred you cannot be God-centred at the same time. No, God seems a million miles away. If your life is a life being lived contrary to God’s design for us, then it is a sin life.

But when he says we were living in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature,” he simply means we used to be like Gentiles with no covenant relationship with God, still living in our old sinful ways – that is how it used to be!  But now? “God made you alive with Christ.”  We are what we are today – because God has put His Spirit in us and made us spiritually alive. The power is there, all we have to do is use it! And that is a matter of your will.

34. Jesus, first-born from the dead

Meditations in Colossians: 34. Jesus,  first-born from the dead

Col 1:18b   he is the beginning and the first-born from among the dead

The apostle Peter in his second letter commented of Paul, His letters contain some things that are hard to understand,” (2 Pet 3:16) and there are times when the lazy side of me wishes Paul had spelled out what he was meaning in much greater detail. He has just said, “he is the head of the body, the church,” and now says, “he is the beginning”.  The temptation is to think he is referring back to Jesus before Creation that we have considered in verses 16 and 17 but coming after the reference to the church we take it to mean that he is the beginning of the church itself. Let’s ponder on that.

Matthew records an interesting interchange between Jesus and Peter: “Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (Mt 16:16-18) Now we won’t go in to the clever word play in these verses but simply note that Peter made a strong pronouncement about Jesus which Jesus said came from heaven and this pronouncement will act as a foundation stone on which the ‘church’ (the ‘called out ones’ of God) would be established. The word ‘church’ appears only three times in the Gospels, and that in Matthew.

“The Church” is, as I noted above, “the called out ones” of God, those God has called to Himself to be redeemed by the work of Jesus. The Church are those who relate to God through Jesus Christ. There is a sense by which Jesus coming to the earth modeled for us what it was like to have a relationship with the Father. The difference between him and us is that he already was related to the Father as the Son of God and needed nothing to bring about that relationship; we need the work of his death on the Cross to bring it about for us. Jesus draws us to himself and collectively we are his ‘body’ the vessel through which the Holy Spirit will bring about the will of God, or express the kingdom of God.

On one occasion Jesus told the parable of the mustard seed which was a single seed which grew into a great tree (Mt 13:31,32).  Jesus himself has to be that mustard seed and his relationship with the Father grows to include many other people and we collectively become that ‘tree’. But he is the beginning. The Church, brought into being or reality by the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, is a new creation. It had not existed before that day. Now, by the working of the Holy Spirit, this body of believers is brought into being to grow and grow across the world. But Jesus is the beginning of it all.

But then comes this phrase, “the firstborn from the dead”. This leads us to ponder on a physical reality that pictured and brought about a spiritual reality that in turn was a physical reality. Let’s explain.

First of all the physical reality that is implied in these words: the resurrection of Jesus. The record is clear: Jesus died on the Cross and the Father raised him from the dead after three days: “you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead.” (Acts 2:23,24) Paul wrote, “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 8:11) it was the power of the Holy Spirit who raised the body that was Jesus from the dead.

Yes, Jesus has raised people from the dead (e.g. the young an of Nain,  Lk 7:11- and Lazarus – Jn 11) but they were raised with the same physical bodies they had before, to just carry on the life they had before. When Jesus was raised from the dead it is clear that he had a different body that could do things it previously couldn’t do. Moreover his resurrected life prepared him to return later to the Father. In that this was a work of the Holy Spirit, Paul speaks of him being the ‘first-born’, the first one brought about by the work of the Spirit bringing new life.

Now I said this physical reality (Jesus’ resurrection) pictured and brought about a spiritual reality – that is us. We were dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1, Col 2:13) and when we were ‘born again’ the Holy Spirit brought us new spiritual life: “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor 5:17). We too have been raised from the dead, but whereas Jesus’ “dead” was physical, our “dead” was spiritual. But I also said this spiritual reality was also a physical reality and what I mean by that is that although we have been transformed spiritually, we live out our lives in a physical body and so the spiritual impacts all of the material aspects of our lives. Thus Jesus is and was, “the first-born among the dead.” We were the dead and so he died so that he may be raised to life to challenge us and show us the possibility in the spiritual realm, and so it has been. Hallelujah!

26. The Resurrection of Jesus

Meditations in Acts : 26 :  The Resurrection of Jesus

Acts 2:23    But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.

So we come to the third of these three basics to the foundation of the Gospel. The first was the work of Jesus over three years, the second was the death of Jesus at the hands of wicked men but seen as part of a plan originated in heaven from before the foundation of the world, and now the third is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

For those of us who have been Christians for many years and have heard the Gospel again and again, we may have become dull in our appreciation of how incredible this was.  It is the declaration that in time-space history this ‘man’ had been put to death – and had died – but three days later rose from the death.

Over the years many people have come up with counter-claims to this truth but none of them stands against the details of the Gospels. Let’s very quickly run one or two of them. First, that he never died. This denies the fact that the Roman executioners did this every day almost and knew what death was like, and if they bungled it their lives too would be forfeit. The awful details of the execution by crucifixion plus a spear being thrust in his side, plus being buried for three days without any medication says this theory is untenable. The second one suggests that the disciples stole the body. For them to live the lives they did with the knowledge that they were living for and dying a scam for (because ten of the twelve were martyred) is again untenable. The third one is that it wasn’t Jesus on the Cross; it was a substitute. This flies in the face of everything we see of the character of goodness of Jesus who would never ask someone to do something so terrible for him. Moreover unless he conned the disciples (and it would have to be a perfect look-alike, because they were there at the execution) they could not have lived and died for that lie and thus again that is completely untenable. No, whatever you come up with, it flies in the face of the many details recorded in the Gospels.

The apostle Paul is insistent on the details of the resurrection: For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” (1 Cor 15:3-8) That is a powerful testimony. Note in the middle of it he appeals to the testimony of over five hundred disciples who had seen Jesus back up in those weeks in Galilee – “most of whom are still living.”  i.e. you can check with them if you like!

The resurrection is vital to the credibility of Jesus. First of all, he spoke about it in his teaching beforehand: “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Mt 16:21) and “As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”  (Mt 17:9) and “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”(Mt 20:18,19)  Oh yes, Jesus was quite clear in his mind that this is what would happen.

This teaching became fundamental to the Gospel: “You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.” (Acts 3:18) and “know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.” (Acts 4:10) and “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen–by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.” (Acts 10:39-41) and “Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people.” (Acts 13:28-31) Oh yes, this truth, this fact of history became a fundamental tenet of the Gospel; it proves or verifies Jesus as being the one he said he was, the Son of God, and as Peter preached, it is impossible for death to extinguish the life that is God. Hallelujah!

So what about it, preachers? Are you sold out to the fact of Jesus Christ resurrected from the dead? If you aren’t, you are not a New Testament preacher and you should stop preaching until you believe what you read in such detail in the Gospels. The credibility of Jesus Christ hangs on the resurrectio0n – as does your preaching!

17. Baptised into Death

17:  Baptised into Death

Rom 6:3,4   Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

The apostle Peter once wrote of Paul, His letters contain some things that are hard to understand,” (2 Pet 3:16) and I think that would apply to these present verses. When the wording is difficult the immature give up and the mature pray for revelation and insight. So let’s take this bit by bit and see what we can see.

When he starts the sentence, “Or don’t you know…..” he is flowing on from “We died to sin,” in verse 2, and so what is now going to follow expands on that simple sentence. We did cover it in large measure in the previous meditation but let’s see Paul’s argument or explanation now. His primary point that follows is that we “were baptized into Christ Jesus.”

Now there are several baptisms referred to in the New Testament. First of all there is baptism in water which John the Baptist did (e.g. Mt 3:6) and then Jesus and his followers did and the Church has continued to do since. Then there is being baptized in the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5). But then Jesus also used baptism to simply refer to entering into the same experience as him – “Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” (Mt 10:38) Yet again there is also Paul’s reference to being baptized into Christ: “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” (Gal 3:26,27) or being baptized into Christ’s ‘body’: “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body.” (1 Cor 12:13)

The Greek word for ‘baptise’ was used when referring to something being immersed in something (e.g. a cloth in dye), or being submerged in (as with a sinking ship). The concept of baptism when used as an analogy simply means to be put into something, so in the examples above we are put into water, put into the Holy Spirit and put into the body of Christ, the church.

The difficult bit of our verses above then follows: “were baptized into his death.”  What Paul is saying is that if we were put into Christ we were put into a body or Being that has already experienced death. The head of this body (Christ – Col 1:18) knows death because it has been through death. Christ knows that the way to life for mankind was by giving his life, i.e. his death. This body works on the principle of giving up the old life to release new life.

Then Paul comes up with another declaration that needs some thought: “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death.”   When we were physically baptized, it was a sign of what had already happened – we had died to our old life. Thus baptism by immersion (which it was in the New Testament period and still is in churches wishing to maintain the Biblical imagery) is a picture of being buried – the old life dead and gone (as you go down under the water) – and of being raised from the dead to new life by Christ (as the pastor lifts you up from under the water.)

But to take another of the baptism pictures – of being baptized into Christ’s body – you only became part of that body by dying to self and to the old life, and surrendering to God, letting Him raise a new life in you as you are born again by His Spirit. The qualification for the kingdom of God is death to self and surrender to God, accounting the old life as worthless, dead and gone.

Even within what we have just said, we have covered Paul’s closing words in these verses. Baptism portrays two things: death and resurrection. Every time someone is baptized in this way they are indirectly declaring Christ’s death and resurrection and then, secondly, their own death and resurrection.

Remember this is all part of Paul slowly working in to the thoughts about the nature of the lives we now live. In chapter 5 he had declared that God’s grace was big enough to bring change to every single person who came to Him and now, here in chapter 6 he is pointing out that the doorway to this new life and the power that goes with it is pictured in baptism – our own water baptism and being baptized into Christ. If all this is true – and it is – then there is no room for sin to prevail in our lives, for our old sin lives are dead and buried and the lives we are now living are empowered by God’s own Holy Spirit. This is going to come through Paul’s teaching again and again in the next three chapters, but we need to hear it again and again, until we take in the wonder of what has happened.

17. Jairus

People who met Jesus : 17 :  Jairus

Lk 8:41,42 Then a man named Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue, came and fell at Jesus’ feet, pleading with him to come to his house because his only daughter, a girl of about twelve, was dying.

Being a parent can be a mixed blessing. On one hand it can be one of the most wonderful things that can happen to you; on the other hand it can be a real heartache or a real worry. Yet as I weigh the pros and the cons, I know which side I come down on. I feel sad for those who choose to put career before having a family, and even more sad for those unable to have children. The truth is that children cost – they cost your whole being. As I watch my children with their children I wonder, oh my goodness, did I do this, did I lose my life for the sake of these as infants, for that IS what you do? Oh yes, there are those today who have children and then try to ignore them and then wonder why they have so many problems in the years that follow. No, having children is life giving; you give yourself for these new little people, and if you are wise, you keep on giving of your life and your time and your energy as it is needed for however long. If you are a real parent your heart will be totally knit with that of your child, which makes it all the more difficult when things go wrong.

And that brings us to Jairus. He is a respected member of the local community, one of the leaders in the local synagogue; he’s probably got a nice house and he has a daughter. It is quite probable (although we don’t know for sure if the practice had yet come about for Jewish boys and girls) that his daughter had recently, on becoming twelve, been welcomed in to the synagogue at her coming of age. He would, no doubt, have looked on his daughter with all the signs of her becoming a young woman in every sense. Yes, life had been good, and then suddenly something goes wrong. She is ill. He calls for the physicians but they seem to be able to do nothing. She declines. She is obviously very unwell. In fact, now, she looks like she is dying. The bottom is falling out of his world!

I can remember the times with our own children when we’ve had a crisis, when our son who was very young climbed (he was always climbing) onto the front gate and then pitched head first on to the pavement outside. In the rush to the hospital your prayer life takes a leap. At such times you feel utterly helpless. God, if you are there, can you turn up please for this little child. You pray and sometimes they get better – but sometimes it seems they don’t. You weep and you anguish. Jairus is probably at this stage – and then Jesus turns up in town.

Now he has a dilemma. He is a respected leader of Judaism as a synagogue leader, one who is supposed to be an example to the community. What does he know of this itinerant preacher who seems most unorthodox?  He’s heard that has upset a number of the teachers of the Law and seems to disdain the religious orthodoxy of the Pharisees. Yes, they say he heals people, but surely I can’t go to him. But then love kicks in, love for his daughter. At that point all the niceties of local social customs and expectations go out the window! My daughter is dying and no one here seems to be able to help. Maybe, just maybe, this travelling preacher might be able to help. The stories they tell of his ‘miracles’ are incredible. If half of them are true, then there is hope!

He goes to where Jesus is and, in desperation and anguish falls before him, pleading for him to come and heal his daughter. Jesus smiles and says, yes of course, and Jairus leads the way. The crowds are thick but Jairus only has his thoughts on the little woman back at home who looked so pale and weak when he left the house. We must hurry. But then there is some confusion and Jesus seems to have stopped. Oh no, what is going on? He’s looking round the crowd and asking “Who touched me?”  Jesus, there are hundreds of people here; dozens of people will have touched you. But a woman comes forward and he speaks to her, smiles again and then turns backs to Jairus. “Sorry, Jairus, just something I had to attend to.” Yes, I know it’s not there in the text of your Bible but surely that’s the sort of thing that probably happened.

They start off again, pushing through the crowd only to find one of the servants from his house pushing towards them from the opposite direction. He brings bad news: Your daughter is dead,” he said. “Don’t bother the teacher any more.” (v.49) His heart breaks. He was too late. If only I could have got Jesus to come earlier. As if reading his thoughts, Jesus reached out a reassuring arm and quietly said, “Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.” (v.50). What? But she’s dead! Didn’t Jesus hear what the servant said? But then as he looks into Jesus eyes he sees something there that makes him stop. There is total confidence, total assurance – and it’s catching! Can it be that he can even raise the dead?  He quickly leads them on. His mind is full of doubts and questions.

When they get to the home everyone is weeping and wailing for the loss of the little one. Jairus looks at Jesus questioningly. “She is not dead but asleep,” the preacher says. (v.52) Again there is total confidence, total assurance and it is believable. Jairus takes Jesus up to the little girl’s room. Jesus walked over to the body and tenderly took hold of one of her hands. “My child, get up!” Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up.” (v.54,55) Tears were now pouring down Jairus’s face. The disciples with Jesus were also weeping with big smiles. Jairus didn’t know what to do or say. Perhaps you might like get her some food, Jesus suggested. Jairus called for his wife and servants. Tears turned to tears. Tears of anguish turned to tears of joy. It was a time for celebration.

Now yes, I have made some assumptions in telling this story but I think they are all reasonable ones that just fill in the gaps of the simple Gospel accounts. This is a story of anguish that turned to joy. I have sought to get us into the mind and feelings of Jairus. When this sort of thing happens to us, we too know anguish. We too know the sense of helplessness and we too will take whatever help is there. Let’s make sure it is God’s help for nothing less will do. That surely has got to be one of the main and obvious lessons from this story. Jesus is totally in control and can be there for us in this Fallen World where things go wrong. But he’s not only there for the crisis times; he’s always there for us!

14. Made Alive

Ephesians Meditations No.14

14.  Made Alive

Eph  2:4,5 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved.

Here’s another of those link words – ‘but’! This word screams out to us, “Contrast!”  What follows in this verse is in direct contrast to what we have just previously considered in the first three verses. Consider again some of the things we were told about our old lives in those verses: We were dead, disobedient, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature, objects of wrath! That’s what we had been like, summarized if you like by three words – hopeless and helpless. Yes, we had no future and there was no way we could get ourselves out of the state. And then it came – “But“!

Something happened, something that was beyond us: “God… made us alive.” We were dead and when you are dead you have no abilities whatsoever and so it had to be God who had to come and change us and bring life, for there was no other way it could happen! How did He do it? He “made us alive with Christ.” How did He do that? By “his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead,” (1:19,20) that we have seen previously. Yes, He placed His Holy Spirit within us, His very own presence, for He Himself is THE power that energises all things and by doing that He linked us to Christ and made us one with him.

Now note one more thing: “even when we were dead in transgressions.” Never get the idea that God waited until you did something of merit, as a reward if you like. Even when we came to conviction, even when we were asking for forgiveness, right up to the point when we were ‘born again’ by God’s Holy Spirit, we were still living a life where we transgressed or strayed away from God in our own self-centred thinking. We had done absolutely nothing to merit our salvation. We were dead; we were sinners – right up to the point of being born again. NOTHING beyond that merited our salvation.

Now why do we emphasise this? Because there are two words in our verses today which emphasise what we have been saying: grace and mercy.  ‘Grace’ is simply (in this context at least) divine favour, God’s goodwill towards us that is not earned but given freely, i.e. unmerited favour. ‘Mercy’ is compassion or pity that is felt and given when there is absolutely no reason for it. When we ask for mercy we have nothing to bargain with; it is just a straight forward plea for Him to do good to us, almost without reason. The reason of course is because God is a merciful God – He looks to bring good to us even when He sees we deserve punishment (see Deut 4:31, Neh 9:31, Jer 3:12). God looks to be merciful but He still has to abide by justice; that is why it was necessary for Jesus to take our punishment on the Cross. Likewise He does not express mercy until He sees repentance. He wants to, but He has to wait for the right conditions to grant it.

What is it that binds grace and mercy together? It is the fact of God’s love. Love in this context may simply be described as a commitment of benign goodwill towards us. God’s love is a good feeling towards us which He is committed to, because it is part of His very nature. Now that nature desires our best and desires to bring us to a place where He can overlook our part sins because His Son has dealt with them and we have received that provision, not because we have worked for this approval of us, but because He has! Hence mercy and grace are expressions of His loving nature.

Note in passing, there is nothing hesitant or nothing partial about this. Paul speaks of God’s great love for us” and that He is rich in mercy” These are words of abundance. There is no half-heartedness about God’s feelings or actions towards us; He is all out for us, as proven by giving His Son on the Cross.

Now, if we go back to the beginning, we now see what we were (dead) and what God has done (made us alive) and why – because of His love expressed in mercy and grace. This incredible transformation was nothing to do with our efforts but all to do with HIS activity. How wonderful! Now, today, we are ‘alive’ to God because He has placed His Holy Spirit within us, and that was possible because Jesus had dealt with our sin on the Cross. All we are able to say was, “Yes, please Lord.” (essentially) and there we were, born again (Jn 3:5-8),  new creations (2 Cor 5:17), made anew by the Father (Jn 1:12,13).  So, if you thought you were a Christian by your good efforts, please think again. Your part was surrendering; all the rest was God’s. As Paul says elsewhere, that leaves no room for any boasting on our part  (Rom 3;27,28). Hallelujah, what a relief!

17. Confidence in God

MEDITATIONS IN ISAIAH – No.17

Isa 8:16,17 Bind up the testimony and seal up the law among my disciples. I will wait for the LORD, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob. I will put my trust in him.

When one observes the changes taking place in the world, and the signs of instability and insecurity that there are, it means that sometimes the world appears very confusing. Add to this the Christian perspective where we wonder what God is doing, and it becomes even more so. It is often a very unsettling and confusing place, this world in the early part of the twenty-first century. It was no different in Isaiah’s day.

Isaiah saw, with God’s revelation, that Assyria was about to come and invade the nation (8:7,8) but he was warned by the Lord not to think in the same way as the godless people of the land thought: The LORD spoke to me with his strong hand upon me, warning me not to follow the way of this people. He said: “Do not call conspiracy everything that these people call conspiracy; do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it.” (8:11,12). Conspiracy meant scheming and plotting, whether from inside the nation or outside it. The gossips of the land, possibly the travellers and merchants who travelled the lands, brought news that there was plotting in the north against the south. It’s all right, says the Lord to Isaiah, you don’t need to worry about the plots of men: The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread.” (8:13).

There is within this almost an implication that what is happening in the north is something instigated by the Lord. They will only do what the Lord wants done. He’s the originator of these things, the One to be feared. Because of this, those who are righteous can take comfort in that, “he will be a sanctuary.” (8:14a). If the Lord brings these nations from the north, He will also look after His righteous ones and be a refuge for them, but that isn’t necessarily so for everyone else: “for both houses of Israel he will be a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall. And for the people of Jerusalem he will be a trap and a snare. Many of them will stumble; they will fall and be broken, they will be snared and captured.” (8:14,15) i.e. The Lord will make these unrighteous ones stumble and fall and be broken, snared and captured. What a summary of what will happen!

It is at this point that Isaiah makes his own declaration: “Bind up the testimony and seal up the law among my disciples.” (8:16) i.e. my disciples will hold onto the scrolls that carry both the testimony and the law so that whatever happens to the land, this will be preserved for future generations. The ‘testimony’ refers to what the Lord has done for Israel. It started, as we noted previously, with the Ten Commandments: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” (Ex 20:2) and is found in many other places in the early books of the Bible. It is a record of the Lord’s dealings with His people. Most of Exodus, parts of Numbers and much of Deuteronomy, speak of the Lord’s dealings with His people. This is the testimony. The Law is that found in Exodus in small measure, Leviticus in large measure, some in Numbers and a large amount reiterated in Deuteronomy. All of this, says Isaiah we will hold on to and preserve, whatever happens.

Then comes his own personal testimony or declaration: “I will wait for the LORD, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob. I will put my trust in him.” (8:17). In other words, the Lord may be hiding Himself from this people so they know little of Him (because of their godlessness and unrighteousness), but I will seek to remain faithful to Him and will simply wait for Him to work out His purposes with this people. I’m going to trust Him. All that I know of Him means I am able to rest in His love and His righteousness, knowing that He will do right.

Do you see what we have here? Isaiah is an insider. He understands what the Lord is doing because he has heard the Lord. He understands the confusing things that appear to be happening between the nations and realises that it is really the Lord at work. Moreover, what he knows of the Lord gives him confidence to be able to just trust in the Lord, to trust that it will all work out for good in the long run.

He goes on: “Here am I, and the children the LORD has given me. We are signs and symbols in Israel from the LORD Almighty, who dwells on Mount Zion.” (8:18) i.e. I and my family point to the Lord and reveal His purposes for the nation today. We are part of the Lord’s great communication process. We stand out and speak to the nation of the Lord’s purposes; we are part of His plan to communicate to this people to seek to draw them back to Himself.

Look, he goes on, “When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?” (8:19). This people consult the occult. Whatever are they doing? They are the people of God; they should be consulting God. That is just a sign of their stupidity! Look, he continues, get back to your origins as the people of God, “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.” (8:20). Get back to the records of God’s dealing with us in earlier generations; get back to His design rules for us, measure everything according to this and (implied) if it doesn’t measure up, or if it contradicts the records, throw it out! If you don’t do this, he explains, you’ll end up in a mess (8:21,22).

You see what is at the heart of the lessons here: we have the records of God’s dealing with mankind in His word, the Bible. Read it, study it and understand what it’s about. There is no need to live in chaos and confusion, in pain and hurt, worry and anxiety. The Lord has made it plain. All we have to do is read it, and absorb it and we’ll realise that it is true and we can follow it. God HAS given us all we need already, because He loves us. Just pay attention to it, and come to Him and receive His blessing. That’s the lesson here!

4. Those who Mourn

MEDITATIONS IN THE BEATITUDES – 4

Mt 5:3 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

We do not look forward to mourning; it is not something we would consider as a good part of life yet Jesus, in only the second of these Beatitudes, says those who mourn are blessed. How can it be? Mourning follows death! Solomon seemed to have the same idea: “Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.” (Eccles 7:3,4). The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning? Whatever does he mean?

Having recently been to a funeral of a family member, I have recently been reminded of another aspect of death and of the mourning that follows: it sheds light on life, it makes you think about life and what follows it. Death brings a perspective to life that is often missing. Yes, there is grief there for the loss of a loved one, but in the midst of that is this inner reflection that goes on, what is life about, what follows it? That’s what Solomon meant.

Before we put any spiritual sense to today’s verse, let’s take it at its face value. Those who mourn will be comforted? Is that always true? Well time, they say, is a great healer, but does it bring ‘comfort’? I think ‘acceptance’ is probably the right word, the ability to come to terms with the fact that death has occurred and life must go on, but not ‘comfort’. Comfort suggests a positive, good feeling. For many people with no spiritual experience or no relationship with God, death is a thing to be feared, or even hated, as it is seen to have snatched a loved one away. No, mourners are not always comforted, so what was Jesus saying?

When we put it in the context of the previous beatitude, when we think back on the things we thought about in the previous meditation, we realize that part of the process that we referred to, of coming to an awareness of our spiritual poverty and our need, does in fact involve mourning. We realize that the life we have lived fell far short of what we felt it could have been. We come to an awareness of our own failure, our own shortcomings and we anguish for that life. Indeed, even though that life is still there, we mourn over it, we grieve because of it. It is this process that brings us to the recognition that we must get right with God, and if God have provided a way for that to happen, we must accept that.

In his letter to the church at Rome, the apostle Paul uses the language of death: “We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Rom 6:2-4), “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin–because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.(v.6-8), “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.(v.11)

What Paul was saying was that to become a Christian we have to die to our old life, we have to give it up and let God bring us a new one. Now we don’t mourn the old life after it has gone, that is the strange thing. No, we mourn for it, while we still have it. It is that mourning, that grieving over it, that brings us to Christ, that brings us to a place of surrender, where we are willing to let go our old life and let Jesus renew us. While we are in that state of mourning we wonder if indeed we are hopeless. Speaking of our old life, the apostle Paul said, “you were dead in your transgressions and sins.” (Eph 2:1). He then added, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved.” (v.4,5). That’s the life we had before we knew Christ – we were spiritually dead and hopeless and helpless, and then the Holy Spirit started convicting us and we started mourning that hopeless deadness. That was a vital part of bringing us right through.

So, the first beatitude shows us our need to come to an awareness of our spiritual poverty (dead in your transgressions and sins) and the second one shows us our need to realize the awfulness of that life, and mourn over it. These are the initial stages of us coming to Christ, the ‘bad news’ that precedes the ‘Good News’.