75. Explaining

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 75. Explaining the Kingdom

Mk 4:30 Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it?

Possibly because it is familiar for many of us and perhaps we take it for granted, but we can miss the focus of Jesus’ teaching.  Again and again we find he uses parables to illustrate something about the kingdom of God.  Yes, we have noted something of this before, but because it comes up so often we need to refocus on it again and again, otherwise we are just seeing words and miss what they are saying.

Basic fact: God reigns over everything in existence because He made it.  He is above it and distinct from it and His power can do what He likes with it.  The fact that he has given mankind free will does not detract from that.  He is sufficiently great, sufficiently wise and sufficiently all-knowing, that He could outclass us and sort us as a Grand Master chess champion outclasses a mere beginner. We are just not in the same league whatever we think of ourselves. The fact that He does not destroy us the first time we sinned in childhood, is merely His mercy. The fact that he gives us chance after chance to repent and to turn to Him is all mercy and grace.

He has designed and brought this world into being and He knows how it (and that includes human beings) ‘work best’. Because of sin we have decided that we know how we work best and that is so often contrary to God’s design and so we bring destruction upon ourselves. But that doesn’t stop God loving us, because He is love (1 Jn 4:8,16) and because He continually loves He continually wants the best for us – but He knows that we can only experience the best when we come back to His original design, and that involves living in relationship to Him.

Talk about the kingdom of God first means coming back under the rule of God so that He can restore us to experience something of that original design. Yes, this side of heaven we will still be tainted with sin and can never be perfect, but we can, because of the wonder of what Christ has done on the Cross, live in relationship with Him.

Now the kingdom refers to something more. It refers to the very existence within the presence of God. Wherever God is, there is peace and there is goodness and there is love, because all these things are expressions of the One who is Lord of all things, and as we live in relationship with Him we experience something of this experience. The kingdom is also an environment, and existence with Him. Enjoy it!

 

37. Like Animals

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 37 :  Like Animals

Eccles 3:18,19 I also thought, “As for men, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. Man’s fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal. Everything is meaningless.

When you lose contact with God, you lose contact with reality and when you lose contact with reality it means you lose contact with the truth. You may still retain partial truth, but away from God you are prey to negative thoughts, half truths and utter deception. Three dangerous little words: “I also thought.” How different from the strong words of the prophets who were able to say, “God said…. and God showed me….” It is a sad thing to watch an elderly person lose their grip on reality. Solomon was never a prophet but he was known to be the wisest man in the world – while he stuck with God, but once the deception of idolatry entered the royal palace it was a downward slope, and he’s left thinking his own thoughts, not God’s thoughts!

We have to be careful here for indeed all Scripture is inspired (see 2 Tim 3:16) but sometimes that means God inspired or nudged the writer to write, not that what they wrote was absolute truth. We see this in the arguing of Job; some of it is distinctly off the rails – but it is still useful to teach us! What Solomon says in these verses is basically true, but the sense of it is negative and it is only half truth. Let’s explain.

As for men, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. In ONE sense this is true. In many others it is false. It is the one sense that Solomon is focusing upon. So what is he saying? He is saying that when pride takes a turn and we think we are so great, we need to see that we are just on the same level as all animals. Why? Man’s fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal. There is it; we are on the same level as the animals in that both we and they are all going to die. That is a common feature of every living creature.

See how he continues: “All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?” (v.20,21) There he moves in the same thinking – we’re all going to die and what is worse, we don’t know what is going to happen then, so like the animals we don’t know our eternal future.  Well of course this was Solomon speaking without the revelation that we now have in the New Testament. Don’t join in Solomon’s ‘Doubt Club’ for that is not where we are today. The New Testament is quite clear that when we receive the Lord Jesus Christ into our life we receive eternal life and that means a life that goes on after death, a life in heaven with God.

But look at the negativity that Solomon is left with: “So I saw that there is nothing better for a man than to enjoy his work, because that is his lot. For who can bring him to see what will happen after him?” (v.22)  Just try and get some enjoyment out of your work today because you don’t know what will happen when you leave this earth. That indeed is what many people are left with – godless people, unbelievers. Try to get the most out your work; that all you can hope for. Well fortunately there is much more we can hope for.

In the beginning we are told that God made us in his own image (see Gen 1:26.27). Now what does that mean? What characteristics or abilities do we see in us that makes us anything like God and which differentiates us from the animals?  We have the abilities to communicate, think, reason, invent, create, write, work, order, purpose and plan. Put another way, He has given us self-consciousness, imagination and conscience, and ability to grow and develop. Go back over these things and catch the wonder of who He has made us to be.  So this doesn’t just leave us with mundane work; this opens up a panorama of possibilities of doing things for pleasure and to please others that means far more than struggling for survival.

We are fortunate to live in a part of history where these things are beginning to come to fullness and we have opportunities to do far more than only work. Meaning in life comes with a sense of fulfilment as we allow God to lead us to become the people He’s designed us to be. Yet there does need to be a warning. We can do all these creative things and yet still not find meaning for that only comes when we are in harmony with God. That IS how He’s designed us to work best and anything less than that means we struggle for meaning just as Solomon did in his latter days. Let’s ensure we avoid the ‘aged-Solomon syndrome’!

16. God’s Qualities

Meditations in Romans : 16 :  God’s obvious Qualities

Rom  1:18-20 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

Often in Scripture one little word provides the clue or makes sense of what is being said. In the previous meditation we considered the wrath (or ‘anger-in-action’) of God but remaining in verse 18 we didn’t see the reason for it. Now we have verse 19 which starts with the simple word, ‘since’. An alternative word might have been ‘because’. God is angry because His character should be able to be seen by people because it is obvious when you look at the world.

The design argument for God was brought into focus by William Paley who, in the latter part of the eighteen century brought forward the idea of the watch and the watchmaker. He simply suggested that if you come across a watch and opened it up and looked inside it you would automatically conclude that there was someone who had made that intricate design. It doesn’t prove God but suggests, along with Paul, that if something is clearly designed then there is clearly a designer. God is such a designer. Now atheists have subsequently sought to punch holes in this theory but the word of God still stands.

As Paul says, God is angry at stupid people who insist on being blind to the obvious. To the simple and straight forward, it should be obvious when you look at the incredible world that we live in, that there is a wonderful Creator behind it because, says Paul, “God has made it plain to them.” It IS obvious to the open-hearted seeker. It doesn’t matter what YOU say, God says it is obvious and if you refuse to see it, that is an act of will and that raises His anger against you!

Even the most famous of the modern crusading atheists uses words like “has an appearance of being designed’ when referring to the world, while at the same time denying God’s existence. To the Corinthians Paul said, The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Cor 4:4) Satan has whispered into the minds of unbelievers and reinforced their willful blindness. They are blind because it pays them to be blind. If they cannot see then they can deny the One who made all things, but it is a willful blindness.

In more recent year these crusading atheists have realised how dull and sterile they appear to the rest of us and so the strategy has been to wax eloquent on how wonderful this world is – but not made by God of course! We know how the world works, they say, so we don’t need a Maker of it. Of course this is just another form of their blindness. It is like looking at a Ford car, examining it in detail and coming to an understanding of how the engine works and saying, “Ah, now we understand. There is no need to postulate a Maker of this car because we know how it works.” It ignores Henry Ford who designed it originally and as such is just another expression of this willful blindness. Oh the efforts these men go to, to try to deny God’s presence!

Note that Paul doesn’t say it proves God’s presence but simply that it points to His presence and it has done so ever since “the creation of the world”. The modern atheist struggles with his own inconsistencies. On one hand he puts up a scientific theory that says that nothing can come from nothing and then puts forward the ‘Big Bang’ theory and says it was something from nothing but, as Francis Schaeffer used to say, you can’t get something from nothing-nothing. If you can imagine absolutely ‘nothing’, nothing at all, not even a single particle of energy, first of all we can’t imagine that and second our logic says that it is absolutely impossible for something to come from absolutely nothing on its own – unless we are an inconsistent modern atheist of course!

So, says Paul, God’s invisible qualities, His power and divine nature are, and always have been, patently obvious to anyone with an open mind. Everything about this world says it wasn’t an accident, everything says it was designed by an all-powerful, all wise Supreme Being and this is the God who is revealed in the world and in the Bible. So obvious is it, says Paul, that men don’t have an excuse.  You can scream and shout about it as much as you like, but God says you don’t have an excuse and so your willful rebellion raises His righteous indignation and displeasure. As we go on we’ll see how that indignation and displeasure is expressed.