71. Tragic Truth

Short Meditations in John 6:  71. Tragic Truth

Jn 6:71  (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.)

In the previous study we considered what it meant to be chosen but we did not get to the final part of that verse: Yet one of you is a devil!” In this present final verse of the chapter, John explains what Jesus meant by that, with the hindsight that comes from having lived through the unfolding circumstances.

Now what is remarkable about these two verses together is that we have two apparently conflicting things. First, we have this idea that we have been pursuing that each of the twelve had been chosen by God the Father and Jesus the Son, as committed believers, true followers of Jesus – and that included Judas.

Consider that more fully: Judas who was one of that inner twelve for three years and must have been included in those Spirit-anointed times of evangelism when Jesus sent out the twelve and then the seventy and they had done the works of God. Oh yes, Judas had been used by God in exactly the same way as the others, for three years. The Synoptics give no prior clues as to what would follow and it is left to John to give us a little hint as to the underlying conflict.

In the last days Jesus had been at Bethany and was anointed by Mary and we read, “But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray Him, said, “Why was this fragrant oil not sold for [b]three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it.” (Jn 12:4-6) Wow! That’s a bit of an eye-opener, that Judas, one of the twelve, was actually a thief and, as their treasurer, used to help himself to their money! In Jesus’ presence????? Did he think that this Son of God would not know what was going on in front of him?

But let’s not get wrapped up in the extent of his failures because all of the disciples showed their humanity; Peter by his brash declarations, James and John by the partisan self-concerns and competitive and divisive spirit, and so on. Oh yes, when you come to think about it, none of them were perfect. Yes, Judas is going to betray Jesus, but Peter was going to deny him three times.  The one would facilitate the taking and crucifying of Jesus, the other would bring about the death of his own self-assurance, equipping him to become an even more significant leader of the Church. Yet, we each have free will, let’s never forget that, and after a tumultuous chapter, let’s let these closing two verses remind us that we are all vulnerable to making a mess of things. Let’s try and avoid that with His help. Amen? Amen!

35. Jesus’ Work

Meditations in 1 John : 35 : Jesus’ Work

1 John  3:8,9   The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.

There is a constant link that keeps appearing in John’s writings here, that of the believer’s behaviour being linked directly to Jesus, and it appears here again, in these two verses. However, before John brings the behaviour part, he refers to Jesus but we need to see it in context because, as is so often the case in the letters of the New Testament, the thought pattern flows on from one link to the next.

John in the previous verse has just referred to Satan: “He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning.”  Jesus, challenging some Jews who had appeared to believe but then had doubts, said, “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire.” (Jn 8:44a)  In their thinking had arisen thoughts of rejecting Jesus. Left to itself that thought develops into wanting to get rid of Jesus (modern atheists try and ‘destroy’ Jesus intellectually) Jesus continued, “He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (Jn 8:44b) Satan wants to get rid of Jesus and he lies in his efforts to do it. (Modern atheists similarly want to get rid of Jesus and unwittingly speak untruths about him in their efforts to do that).

The truth is that those who are led by Satan express Satan’s thoughts and ideas. Satan is both a liar and a murderer; and so he tries to deceive people into believing untruths and his ultimate aim is to bring about the destruction of people, still separated from the love of God. There is this same link in the apostle Paul’s teaching. In respect of the magician, Elymas, he declared, “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord?” (Acts 13:10)  Those who are led by Satan express Satan and work in his ways.

Now we come to the first verse above: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” Near the end of this letter John writes, “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” (1 Jn 5:19) It’s that same contrasting style of teaching and he contrasts us who are in God’s family and the rest of the unbelieving world who are under Satan’s sway. Paul made a similar contrast: “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.” (Col 1:13) Satan holds ‘dominion’ (sway) over people’s lives while God seeks to draw us into the realm of His rule where we can be freed to receive His blessing. Satan rules over spiritual and moral darkness. It is no coincidence that John refers again and again to light versus darkness

So Jesus has come to deliver people out of Satan’s darkness, out of the place of self-centred and godless unrighteousness. He does it by forgiving their Sin on the basis of what he achieved on the Cross, and in bringing that forgiveness he opens up the way for them to be reconciled to the Father in heaven, free from guilt and shame, and he sets them off on a new path that is love-filled and Spirit-energised where we are no longer striving to achieve acceptance but just ARE accepted by God. No longer do we have to strive for meaning and purpose because God puts new meaning and purpose into our lives.

Then comes this cast iron logic again: If Jesus is working to set us free from Satan’s lies and deception and free from sin led by him, then “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.” (v.9)  No, says John yet again in a slightly different way, we’ve been born again by God’s Holy Spirit and are new creations and the seed of God’s Spirit and God’s word lives in us, and as word and Spirit grow in us there is less and less opportunity for Satan to come back on us and lead us astray again. Note that same word again – “continue” – which refers back to the life we previously had where sin energised by self-centred godlessness means that we were continually sinning. Now, however, we have new lives, new purpose and we are new beings for whom sin is alien.

Do you remember the apostle Paul said the same thing: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor 5:17) We are new creations and the old life has gone and a completely new life has come that is diametrically opposed to the old life. No, we may occasionally trip over our feet, so to speak, and get it wrong, but sin motivated by self-centred, godless living, is no longer part of our equation. We are free and it has been the work of Jesus that has done it. Hallelujah!

65. Resist the Enemy

Meditations in 1 Peter : 65: Resist the Enemy

1 Pet 5:8b Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith

Now we come more fully to the reason Peter says be alert. We have an enemy and it is important that we understand who he is, how he works and his limitations. In some ways he is slightly mysterious, and in others he is obvious and clearly described in Scripture. In fact he is mentioned so many times that we would be foolish to deny his presence. So what can we find out about him?

Scholars note two particular passages of prophetic Scripture which, they say, speak of a figure who must be far more than a mere man and thus, they suggest, Satan is being described in the prophecies.  The first is Isa 14:12-17 which notes:

–          the being referred to in these verses seems to have come from heaven,

–          he was cast down on the earth (see also Rev 12:9),

–          he was overcome by pride and wanted to be greater than God.

The second set of verses is Ezek 28:11-19 which note:

–          this being was created perfect,

–          his task was a guardian over Eden, he was made sinless, but he turned,

–          because of his sin he was expelled from God’s presence,

–          his perfect beauty became the cause of his pride and for this he was expelled.

Thus it is suggested that he is an angelic being whose origin is in heaven. Now let’s note his various designations. In a number of places he is described as “Satan” (see Job 1:6 / Zech 3:1 / 2 Cor 11:14) but Satan simply means “the accuser” (Rev 12:10). He is also referred to as “the tempter” (Mt 4:3), and “the devil ….. a murderer ….. the father of lies” (Jn 8:44), sometimes just “the devil” (e.g. Mt 4:1-11), once as “an angel of light” (2 Cor 11:14), and at the beginning he was seen as “the serpent” (Gen 3:1).

As “tempter” he seeks to lead people astray, as “the devil” he is the leading demon, as “the serpent” he deceived and was a liar, seeking to kill (a murderer), as a deceiver he comes in disguise as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14) to lead astray. In Rev 12:9 he is referred to as “The great dragon … that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan” and so we see he also comes as a “dragon” or “lion”, (1 Pet 5:8) indicating his intent to create fear. In Eph 2:2  he is referred to as “the ruler of the kingdom of the air” and in Jn 14:30/ Jn 16:11 he is referred to as “the prince of this world”. In 1 Jn 5:19 he is simply called “the evil one”.

It is important, so that we do not get over-awed by him, we need to know:

  • he is merely one of God’s created beings,
  • he can only to go as far as God permits. (See Job 1 & 2),
  • his end is decreed by God (Rev 20:10),
  • he is used by God.

So Peter identifies him first as our enemy. An enemy is one who is against us, possibly out to get us and destroy us. He calls him “the devil” as he would no doubt have heard his Master refer to him as he would have later shared his experience with his disciples, with him in the wilderness (Mt 4:1-11). He describes his activity as being “like a roaring lion”, again one who is dangerous and who seeks prey. Indeed, he goes on, he is “looking for someone to devour”.

So how does Satan ‘devour’ someone? He takes them over and takes them into himself, or rather, gets them to let him into them (see Lk 22:3). It starts in the mind. He seeks to deceive by speaking lies. When the person receives those lies they become vulnerable to temptation and so give way to sin. The more they allow this to happen, the more the enemy holds sway over them, introducing them to the ways of the occult until eventually they are completely under his sway, oppressed or even possessed – they have been devoured!

But that is not inevitable. He cannot force himself on us. “Resist him”, says Peter. We CAN do that. James had the right order: Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (Jas 4:7) when the enemy comes, turn to the Lord. Make sure your life is fully submitted to Him. Call on Him for strength, and rely upon His word (as Jesus did in the desert). Resist him in God’s strength. Declare the truth, praise and worship the Lord and the enemy will flee. In all those ways we’ve just described, we will be “standing firm in the faith.” Hold firm to the word of God and holding fast to our relationship with the Lord, we resist the enemy by faith and he will flee.

Remember, earlier on, we said God uses him? So why is the Lord allowing him to come against you? So that you will learn to resist his lies, so that you will learn to declare the truth, and so that you will learn to be strong in the Lord!  May it be so!

 

41. Spiritual Warfare

Meditations in James: 41 : Strategy for Spiritual Warfare

Jas 4:7    Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

It has been said that Christians, in respect of Satan, tend to veer towards one or other extremes of belief. The one extreme is to see demons in every situation, and the other extreme is to ignore Satan and even deny his existence. Jesus put it in perspective in the so-called ‘Lord’s Prayer’ when he instructed us to pray, deliver us from the evil one (Mt 6:13), but that came late in the prayer and was only one small part of it. A balanced perspective is to acknowledge the existence of Satan but to keep him in his right place. Let’s examine this verse as it stands.

Submit yourselves to God. Isn’t this the primary call of the whole content of the Bible?  Isn’t this the call to a right perspective, which sees and recognises God as The Lord, the One who is over and above everything?  If, as we read the Bible, we start to catch a picture of who God is, then our only response is to bow before Him and submit to Him. Paul declared that God’s ultimate purpose was 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.” (Phil 2:10,11). Awareness of greatness, ultimate greatness, causes a response of submission and worship. That is our starting place.

Resist the devil. There is first an implicit recognition of Satan’s existence here. He’s given no great fanfare; we’re just told to resist him. There is also an implicit recognition that he requires resisting, which means he comes to us to do wrong. Now that wrong, the Bible tells us elsewhere, may be to tempt us into doing wrong, or it may be to sow doubts in us, or deceive us with lies, or even to come against us with physical hindrances. So, says James, don’t let him tempt you to do wrong, don’t let him sow doubts in you or deceive you to believe lies, and don’t let him bring illness or infirmity upon you. We have repeated that list of things that he does to ensure you take note of his strategies which we are told to resist. Why are we to resist them? Because God is jealous for us and is zealous to help us overcome anything which would draw us away from Him.

And he will flee from you.” Have you seen the certainty of that? He will flee! It’s not he might flee, but he will flee.  Now in saying that, we have to point out the order of things here to ensure that. There is no question of you going against Satan on your own, because on your own you are not big enough or strong enough to deal with him. No, the order is submit yourself to God then resist the devil. You need to go to God and re-establish contact with Him, to put yourself in His hands, and to know His grace and strength before you stand against Satan. It is God’s presence and God’s grace that will enable to you resist him. It is when he sees God’s presence in you that he will flee for he knows there is no point coming against you now.

But there is one little important word that we have left out so far: then.  Did you see it?  Submit yourselves, then, to God. This means that this verse is a direct follow on to what has gone before. The full meaning of it, the full significance of it, can only be seen when we see what has gone before.  Remember what we have recently considered in this chapter. A call to take sides, to side with God against the ‘world’, because God is jealous for us, and is zealous for a relationship with us, and so He looks for us to crucify pride and come in humility to Him to receive His grace. How do we do all this? Submit yourselves, then, to God. This verse sums up all that has gone before it. We come to God, we side with Him, we reject the ‘world’, and we kill off pride and come humbly to God in submission, for he is our Lord. As we’ve said numerous times, it is the natural response to all this, and as we do it, we resist Satan and his works, for he only seeks to bring things that will pull us down, that will pull us away from God.

God’s objective is to bring us into relationship with Him, and when that happens and we ‘see’ Him, then our natural response is going to be to submit to Him. Part of submitting is to be open to the Lord for whatever He wants. A beautiful expression of this was seen in the case of Isaiah. He recorded, In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted.” (Isa 6:1). He had an awesome sense of the Lord’s presence and holiness and was ministered to by the heavenly creatures (v.5-7), but then, I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” (v.8). He didn’t need to think about the response; it was automatic. In the presence of the Almighty, Holy God, there was only one response possible: I said, “Here am I. Send me!” (v.8) In God’s presence there can only be that one response that basically says, “Lord, whatever you want I will do it.” That is submitting to God. In doing that we reject all the ways of the ‘world’ and we reject Satan’s overtures. In doing this we put ourselves in the most secure place possible – right in the centre of the Lord’s will.  May it be so for each of us!

49. Warfare

Ephesians Meditations No.49

Eph  6:10-12 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Finally? When preachers say ‘finally’ they usually go on for another quarter of an hour! But this letter is drawing to a close and this is a key and crucial issue before Paul finishes. Remember the context has been the unity of the body of Christ, the church, and Paul has worked through a number of practical issues in the Christian life, things that should not be there and things that should, concluding with thoughts about family life and life working for another, all very practical stuff. Now, in the concluding paragraphs he wants to cover and remind his readers about spiritual realities, about the warfare that is constantly being waged and, as a good pastor, he wants to teach them how to overcome.

The overall call in the coming verses is a call to overcome and he tells us how to do that: “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.” It is God’s presence and God’s strength that will help us overcome, not our own strength. This is the wonder of the Christian life, that God’s strength is available for us. However it is not like receiving an injection and suddenly feeling full of energy; very often God’s strength is there but until we get on and do what we are called to do, we’re not aware of the ability He gives us, His strength that always matches the need. That is the truth, His strength always matches the need that He gives us to do, and so we’re not aware of overflowing power, just power to do what needs to be done!

But then Paul uses the language of analogy. It is possible that he is in prison and in chains or at least (and I think this is more likely) that there are guards in the vicinity who wear armour and he likens the things we have from God to pieces of armour, as we’ll see when we move on in the next meditation. For now he gives us a simple instruction, which he will soon enlarge on: “Put on the full armour of God.” Note the word, ‘full’. Not just odds and ends, but the full covering that God has provided. When you put on armour you cover all parts of the body. God doesn’t leave us ‘uncovered’ in any way. He provides full protection for us in the things He has given us. Now comes the reason for this need of this armour: “so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.”

Yes, this is the truth, that we have an enemy, an adversary.  In many places the Bible testifies to the fact of this fallen angel called Satan, the Accuser, or the devil. His activities are most clearly seen in Genesis 3 where he challenges the truth and tempts Eve and Adam to disregard God’s words.  He tempts, he deceives, he accuses and he attacks (see Job 1,2). He schemes to bring us down, he plots to get us to stop following God and he sows discord and discontent and seeks to get us to lose our perspective. We will see as we go on that our call is to stand, and the picture is of us having being given ground to hold – the truth, the truth about ourselves, the truth about God and the truth of the Gospel. In the fight our enemy seeks to push us off this ‘plot of ground’ so we give up believing the truth and from then on we are vulnerable and will fall.

If we are uncertain of our perspective, Paul spells it out: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” We may think that the troubles we have, the situations we struggle against, are to do with people, but people are only the means that Satan uses to come against us outwardly. He also comes against us inwardly in our minds. This is a spiritual battle and the main part of it is fought in our mind. It’s not just people, it is all those who are ungodly and unrighteous, whether they be human or demon. When people come against us and challenge and oppose us with atheistic arguments, the origins for that are in the spiritual realm from our enemy, who rules their minds.

We need to be quite clear of this before we go on to consider the armour and the battle in detail: this is a spiritual battle, an unseen battle and therefore the answer is with THE Spirit, God Himself.  He is with us and He is for us and He will provide all we need. Remember, part of what we call the Lord’s Prayer says, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Mt 6:13). Do you see the need to pray that on a regular basis?  There is a very real need and we ignore it at our peril.