16. God of Eternity

Getting to Know God Meditations:  16. God of Eternity

Titus 1:1-3   to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness— in the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, and which now at his appointed season he has brought to light

Continuation:  In the last two studies we have considered something of the variety that we find in the Bible, but variety is not the only wonder that the seeker of truth finds in the Bible, it is the depth or intensity or almost unbelievable wonder that so often comes out of simple reflection of what is before us. We noted in the previous study that part of the New Testament is made up of letters from various leading apostles of the day. Perhaps we have taken a lot for granted here. An apostle was ‘a called and sent one’, a man called by Jesus, called by God, to take the message of the gospel and establish and build what was to become, ‘the Church’.

Meet Paul: Paul, or Saul as he was originally known, was a Jew but a Roman citizen of some standing, a leading Pharisee, part of the conservative group of upholders of the Law of Moses, and in the midst of his self-appointed calling to hunt out and imprison these Christian heretics who were upsetting Judaism after Jesus had died, he had been apprehended by Jesus from heaven and had his life completely turned around. From then on he became the greatest advocate of the Christian cause, the greatest proclaimer of the gospel message and became probably the primary leader for taking the gospel into other nearby lands.

To Titus: See our header verse today. What would happen was that while he was travelling or maybe at a particular location, Paul would write either to colleagues (Timothy & Titus) or to churches he has already established to further encourage them. Titus was clearly another apostle who traveled with Paul but Paul has left him on Crete (see 1:5) when they had been there, in order to continue the work of building the Christian groups established there. Now Paul wants to write to Titus to encourage him in his teaching (see 2:1-) and to get ready to come and join Paul, helping others along the way (see 3:12,13). These letters always come in an historical context and we do well to remind ourselves of these with each letter to enhance understanding.

The Bigger Dynamic: Yet apart from the purposes of the various letters, what we find again and again are what seem like little glimmers of light, of revelation, that seems so simple at first sight, but which bursts forth into our consciousness to provide the most staggering challenges of revelation.  So here we have this letter about teaching and encouragement, but the dynamic bursts upon us even in the greeting at the beginning of it.

Paul starts off the letter, as he so often did, declaring his own credentials, if you like: “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ.” (v.1a) That is who he is, how he sees himself, a servant of God, called by Jesus to be an apostle. Whether he says it for his own benefit, or Titus’s or ours, doesn’t matter. The point is that what we have before us is because in time-space history this man had an encounter with God that transformed him (see Acts 9:1-19). It is clear that it is not just the initial encounter that convinced Paul, but the ongoing events when he reached Damascus and then the amazing things God did through him in the years that followed. He knew the power of God working in his life that took his testimony way beyond the intellectual level. This was a very bright man, but his testimony and his ministry could not be explained in any other way than he had encountered the living God and knew His ongoing life-changing power in his ministry (see, for example Acts 19:11,12).

The Explosive Panorama: But see the words that follow that initial description, that we have as our header verses:   to further the faith of God’s elect – i.e. to strengthen and build up the faith of the Christians on Crete –  and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness – i.e. but not only their faith but also their understanding of the truth in Christ that leads to godly living — in the hope of eternal life, – i.e. that is accompanied by the hope of eternal life, life with God after life on this planet – which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, – wow! Where did that come from??? All of this has been promised by God from before this material world and existence came into being! God has planned this before he bought the world into existence!

Before Time?  This salvation through Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was planned from before time began??? Well in Paul’s writings I usually quote seven references that are specific to Christ that say that everything about his human life and ministry were planned before Creation, before anything material was made.  Again and again this same concept comes through Paul’s writings, for example, “we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began,” (1 Cor 2:7) and, “he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight,” (Eph 1:4) and, “This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time,” (2 Tim 1:9).

Believable Paul? Ah, says the skeptic, but this is just one man. Well, no. Jesus himself referred to his life with the Father before time began (Jn 17:5,24), the apostle Peter declared the same thing (1 Pet 1:20), and the apostle John saw it in Revelation (Rev 13:8). In the midst of the writings of Paul we get hints about the time Paul had with God and the revelation he received from Him (Many think his words about such revelation at the beginning of 2 Cor 12 referred to himself indirectly). Revelation, wisdom, insight, understanding, call it what you will, this comes to the believer who experiences the presence of God, who waits on Him and knows a flow from heaven.

We referred in the previous study to the apostle John who, in his old age, reflected back on all he had seen and heard in those three incredible years earlier in his life when he had walked with Christ, ending with being able to give the testimony, “From the very first day, we were there, taking it all in—we heard it with our own ears, saw it with our own eyes, verified it with our own hands. The Word of Life appeared right before our eyes; we saw it happen! And now we’re telling you in most sober prose that what we witnessed was, incredibly, this: The infinite Life of God himself took shape before us. We saw it, we heard it, and now we’re telling you so you can experience it along with us, this experience of communion with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ.” (1q Jn 1:1-4 Msg version paraphrase)

Paul hadn’t been there, although we don’t know if he had watched from afar so to speak, but after he encountered the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus and was transformed, he entered a life of revelation, a life with a heart open to listen to God. What was amazing was that Paul immediately started preaching about Jesus and the gospel, without having been taught it by any man and was thus able to testify,  I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.” (Gal 1:11,12) and one can only say that it matched that which was being preached by the other apostles. Moreover, the Lord clearly supported and inspired his ministry for he was the cause of many turning to the Lord and many churches being established. More than most, we can say the proof of his beliefs can be seen in the fruitfulness of his life. To conclude our starter verses, they go on, “God…. has brought to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Saviour.” i.e. my preaching and its effect prove the truth of this.

And So?  So we have seen a further expression of the variety of this Bible but in it we have seen the extended revelation about God and His purposes. We said in an earlier study that it is impossible with our finite minds to really comprehend ‘eternal’ or ‘everlasting’ but here in this study we have been told that God’s plans originated outside of time as the Godhead saw the consequences of giving us free will and what needed to be done to save us from those consequences. More of that in the following studies.

68. The Truth Declared

Short Meditations in John 6:  68. The Truth declared

Jn 6:68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 

Peter was either a walking disaster or the most amazing receptor of heaven; he was either constantly putting his foot in it or coming out with amazing revelation from heaven, and so perhaps we should not be surprised that it is Peter who speaks out on behalf of the other committed disciples – notice his ‘we’.

In his reply there are two things of great significance. This is one of his ‘revelation from heaven’ times. The first thing is that simple question, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” Now think about in the light of the life they were living with Jesus. We cannot be quite sure how far through the three years of Jesus’ ministry this was, but even if it was quite early, even the things that have recently happened have been like a roller coaster. One minute they are in the crowded area of Capernaum, next they are on the other side of the lake in a lonely place where Jesus feeds five thousand from virtually nothing. Next minute they are struggling in a storm on the lake and Jesus comes walking on the water to them and Peter also walks on the water. Then they are back at Capernaum and Jesus is fielding hostility in the synagogue. That’s not to mention the healing of crowds of sick people and casting out demons, turning water in wine at Cana, and so on. If fishing on the changeable seas of the Sea of Galilee had been an often-exhilarating job, it paled into insignificance in the light of the incredible life of travelling with Jesus. So yes, purely from a practical level, where else or with who else could they find a life any way comparable to this one? This was a blinding revelation understood by few.  And us?

But then there was that second part, a straight forward declaration, almost a testimony if you like, “You have the words of eternal life.” The JBP version paraphrases it, “Your words have the ring of eternal life!” I quite like that; but I wonder what Peter actually meant by that, or was it one of those ‘off-the-top-of-the-head’ things that come as revelation beyond the intellect? Was it, your words come from another dimension and bring a sense of another dimension, something far beyond this ordinary mundane physical or material world? You transport us into a realm beyond anything we’ve ever known before, somewhere that takes us way beyond the world of fishing or tax collection administration, you have shown us another world beyond our limited material world, a world of divine encounter, a world of divine provision that enables us to join in and do things we would never have dreamed about  few years back, this is a world that has transformed us, and we don’t know where it will end – if it ever will!  Wow!

54. The Formula Repeated

Short Meditations in John 6:  54. The Formula Repeated

Jn 6:54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 

When God says the same thing more than once you can be sure He really wants you to take in what He is saying. It is a sad thing that we are so often so slow to listen, so slow to hear and then so slow to remember. Is that why Jesus actually instituted Communion, the Last Supper, call it what you will, as something to be done again and again? “And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ (Lk 22:19)

In the same way in the Old Testament, Joshua instructed, “Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, “What do these stones mean?” tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord.” (Josh 4:5-7) The twelve stones would act as a reminder of what God had done miraculously for them as they entered the Promised Land.

So here yet again we find 6 times reference to ‘flesh’, (v.51-56) and 3 times linked with the word ‘eats’. There are 3 references to “drinks my blood” (v.53,54,56). As I said before, I don’t know of any other passage with such repetition in it as we find here. So we’d better note yet again (just in case we have not yet taken it in fully) the three key essential parts of this verse:

Eating and drinking: the requirement of us, that we are to take Jesus fully into our lives.

Eternal Life: the effect of this ‘eating and drinking’, taking Jesus into our lives – we will live for ever with him in eternity.

Last Day Resurrection: whether we see this as the last day of our physical life or at the Final Judgment, there is the promise that passing through death is just that, a process through which we must pass to reach the life on the other side. Death and resurrection go together and the end product of that resurrection for the believer is that eternal life.

So a resource – Jesus; a process – death and resurrection; an end product – eternal life. Now if we really and truly do believe this then I would suggest there are two outworkings of this. First, the things that we consider so important today – working for achievement, success and fame, are all transitory and not so important as we think they are. Second, we need to live with the recognition that this life is transitory and it not all there is, so when a threat of death comes, it comes simply as a reminder of these truths. May that be so.

47. Belief & Life

Short Meditations in John 6:  47. Belief and Life

Jn 6:47 Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life

Go into any good bookshop (and a few remain) and you will see shelves whose books can only be described as ‘self-help’. Thirty years ago those shelves would have been virtually empty. Those shelves today tell us there is a small industry catering for the need that people have to improve themselves, to take control of their lives, make something more of them than they are at present. In some ways it is a healthy sign, that people recognize their present inadequacies. In other ways it is very unhealthy, this belief that if only I can ‘do this’ I will improve and change my life and that is enough.

How short-sighted that thinking is. For some, to give up smoking is a major achievement. For others to control their temper is a great accomplishment. In business to find a new profitable purpose and direction sets goals and gives a sense of achievement. But all these are tiny in comparison to the big questions of life. How can I truly become ‘good’? What will happen when I die? What meaning or purpose is there in this life today?

If God’s plans had slid what happened back two thousand years so that Jesus came into the world today, what would he find? Some enthusiasts energetically following him, but many not. If he spoke today and said (as he still does), simply believe in me and I will give you a new quality of life that will have no ending, yes, that will continue on past death, many would reject him a) because their jaded cynicism of having lived in the twenty-first century and tried it all has left then believing there are no real ‘answers’ or b) because they would prefer to work at it themselves so that they can see clear goals, have clear things to work for and remains masters of their universe.

And so this present verse has two essential components to be understood – belief and eternal life. We have considered a little already recently what believing in Jesus meant, believing that his is the unique Son of God etc., but the big question is, how do you measure someone’s belief? Surely it must be by the effects it has on their life. Surely it must mean that of a person is truly a believer in Jesus Christ, their life will start changing immediately, to conform to the goodness that God has revealed through His design for us seen through all the teaching of the Bible, the Law in the Old Testament, the apostles teaching in the New. Goals become God orientated, God directed, and a new life is revealed, a Spirit indwelt and thus Spirit-empowered life and because of His presence in us, we receive and live NOW this eternal life, a life that started when we came to Christ and will continue on into eternity, believing in Jesus, living with Jesus and for Jesus. Amen.

24. Jesus, bringer of eternal life

Short Meditations in John 5:  24. Jesus, bringer of eternal life

Jn 5:24  I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life

The end of the story is eternal life but of course by definition that means it is a never ending story!  It is difficult to comprehend life that goes on and on and when we do start thinking about it we start finding people saying things like, “But what will we DO all that time?” but of course it will be timeless (I think). As far as trying to tell the Gospel story, eternity with God is as far as we can go and all the Bible suggests is that it will be a wonderful existence.

Now perhaps we should backtrack because Jesus has just been talking about judging people and imparting life – this eternal life – and so the thought of being condemned hangs in the air, so to speak, and so Jesus clarifies it by saying that those who believe in him will not be condemned and they will be the ones who will receive eternal life. Yes, there it is clearly stated – it is belief in Jesus that is the key to being forgiven, not being condemned and receiving eternal life. But believing what about Jesus?

That a) he is the Son of God, that b) he has come and died to take our punishment so that c) we may receive forgiveness of sins, and d) be adopted as God’s children, and e) receive the Holy Spirit, all because f) he died and rose again and ascended into heaven where g) he rules at the Father’s right hand. Belief has to have content and those things are, I suggest, the basics of that content. Having said that I am sure that most new believers don’t have that full content, more a general sense that Jesus loves them, died for them and wants to come into their lives as Lord and Saviour. The truth is that God knows when we ‘believe’ and how real that is; He knows that His Holy Spirit has done sufficient work in the would-be believer to bring genuine conviction and belief. None of us can say what is the exact extent of belief required but the Father knows what is real and what is not.

Did you see what it said? Who heard his word. At some point this content has to be conveyed and received. Someone passed on these truths or we read them directly from the Bible, and the Spirit convicted us.

And then there was, “and passed from death to life.”  That is the wonder of what happens. We didn’t realise it before, but we were spiritually dead and the end of our human lives on earth were destined for death; that was going to be the outcome of our lives. But then we heard, we believed and suddenly all that changed. We were brought to life – spiritual life – by the Holy Spirit and through Him received eternal life where there was no place for death. Hallelujah!

10. The Word of Truth

Meditations in Colossians: 10. The Word of Truth

Col 1:4-6   we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints– the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you.

We are familiar with understanding the word ‘Gospel’ to mean Good News but here Paul also calls it “the word of truth” and it is worth pondering on the meaning of that. In prophetic circles we speak of someone receiving “a word”. We don’t mean that they have received a single word but that they have received a collection of words – from  a sentence to a whole collection of say ten paragraphs – that form a message from God. But note also that when Paul describes this word he calls it “the word”. It is not just a word which would make it just one among many but it is a single unique message from God and there is no other message like it. But more than that, it is the message of truth which implies that it is a unique message that somehow encapsulates all that is vital in and for life.

Truth? That which conforms to reality, which is exactly true and does not in any way deviate from that which is. So here, says Paul, we have this unique message from God that conveys or sums up the will of God, the reality of the plans and purposes of God. You want to know if there is a God? Ponder on the Gospel message, Could this just be the planning of human beings or has it got an origin that goes beyond us?  What sort of God is there if there is one?  Ponder on the Gospel and see a God of infinite compassion, a God of love and mercy who plans from before the beginning of time to redeem mankind that has abused its free will and got into slavery to this thing called Sin, this inescapable propensity of godless self-centredness.  You wonder if there is any escape from this self-centred godlessness that seems to lead to unrighteousness and self-destructive thinking and behaviour?  After you realise that our state is helpless and thus hopeless, we hear the Gospel and grasp for it like a drowning person.

This word tells the truth? Listen to Paul elsewhere: Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved……  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.” (1 Cor 15:1-4) There was the Gospel encapsulated.

It is all about Christ who the Gospels reveal is the unique Son of God who came to earth from heaven. Here he lived, growing from a baby to an adult and then at about the age of thirty started three years of the most remarkable ministry that the word has ever seen. The apostle Peter described him in his first sermon to the Jews on the Day of Pentecost, first in human terms: “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.” (Acts 2:22) Later he said the same thing to the Gentiles in the house of Cornelius: “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 10:38).

That is all implied in Paul’s summary and is a prerequisite to the fundamentals of why Christ came: “Christ died for our sins.” Peter spelled it out again and again: “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 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,” (Acts 2:23,24 to the Jews at Pentecost) and “Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead….. Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:10,12 before the religious leaders) 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….. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:39,40,43 to the Gentiles)

But the outworking brought so much more. We have seen the facts (the truth) of what happened – Jesus came, revealed the Father, was crucified and rose from the dead, all, we are told, the means to bring about the forgiveness of our sins. That is what HE did but then there is OUR response and then what HE does as a response to us! Our response, to the conviction by His Holy Spirit, is to surrender to Him, believe in Jesus (an early act of faith) and receive what he then imparts – forgiveness, cleansing, adoption and the impartation of what becomes the indwelling Holy Spirit in our lives. Thus we are ‘born again’, made new, and He reveals a plan and purpose for our lives that we live out in our remaining years here on earth.  But it doesn’t stop there. We have received eternal life and the guarantee of a glorious future with Him in heaven after life on this earth. This is the package that we call the Gospel. This is what has happened to Jesus (it is true!) and this is what has happened to us (it is true!)  This is the word of truth.. Hallelujah!

3. In Due Season

Meditations in Titus: 3 :  In Due Season

Titus 1:3   and at his appointed season he brought his word to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Saviour,

The simple word ‘and’ brings us a continuation but a contrast also, if you like,  from what he has just been saying. He had started out speaking of the way his ministry was expressed, by awakening faith in God’s chosen one (the ones He saw from before the foundation of the world would respond when Hs word came to them), and then of imparking knowledge of the truth to enable the new believers to live godly lives. All of that was based upon the promise of the end product of God’s salvation, eternal life, which God had promised before He even started this material world off, before, in Paul’s words, “the beginning of time.”

So there we have God’s strategy, formulated between the members of the Trinity, outside of time, before time-space history was brought into being by them. Nothing else had happened (to our knowledge at least) but that the strategy had been decided upon. Then they created this world and everything we know of as existence. Time passed by, millions and millions of years if you believe modern scientists (but they might be wrong, time will tell).

Human beings appeared on earth, civilizations formed, a man named Abram found he was being spoken to by an unseen Being. This Being turns out to be the God who created all things. A relationship is formed. Abram has a son called Isaac who has a son called Jacob who is renamed Israel and from his children a nation is formed who find themselves in slavery in Egypt, but are then miraculously delivered by this Creator God. Centuries pass by and this new nation is ruled by judges and then by kings. From the first king, Saul, to the last king, Zedekiah, some five hundred years or so pass during which this Creator God has dealings with kings and princes, priests, prophets and people, and then there are some four hundred years of silence.

Then comes a new prophet called John who baptizes people as a sign of their being washed clean before God and starting a new life. Shortly after John starts his ministry Jesus of Nazareth appears, who claims to be the Son of God and performs signs and wonders to justify his claim. After three of the most wonderful years in human history, he is taken and crucified but on the third day rises from the dead. For a month and a half he remains with his followers, teaching them, and then he ascends in to heaven. A little while later the Holy Spirit is poured out on the believers in Jerusalem and the Church comes into being. A year or so later a zealous young Pharisee named Saul has an encounter with the reigning Lord Jesus from heaven, on the road to Damascus. This young man becomes a major church planter and as he writes to the various churches the fuller understanding of the Gospel is unravelled.

This latter phase is all summarized in our verse above: “at his appointed season he brought his word to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior.” This was the ‘season’ or the time appointed by God for His salvation of mankind through His Son to be fully revealed. At least a dozen times in his other letters the apostle Paul refers to this Gospel being a ‘mystery’ revealed. Yes, it had been there on the heart of God from before the beginning of time and He had been working towards this time throughout history. Now it had come, now the mystery of God’s will was revealed and was no longer a mystery.

To the Romans he spoke of, “my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known.” (Rom 16:25,26). To the Ephesians he spelled it out: “the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” (Eph 3:2-6) Explaining further aspects of it to the Colossians he said, “God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory,” (Col 1:27) and “the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” (Col 2:3)

What does this tell us? It says that God is incredibly patient, that He had this strategy on His heart before He created anything and patiently worked with mankind until it became patently clear that sin was so ingrained in humanity that even with God alongside them, they would still fall to its wiles. Only a radical dealing with the root of it, the guilt and shame of it, and by providing a new ‘in-house’ power source, could change be truly brought.

How he must have yearned for centuries to bring this to light, but had to wait until the circumstances on earth were just right for the plan to be fulfilled. One of those circumstances was that people were so desperate to be delivered from their sin that they were ready to follow the deliverer, Jesus Christ, and when they did, they found themselves face to face with this incredible thing, this mystery, this plan of God to bring about reconciliation, and this is what Paul now preached. Hallelujah!