40. God of Death (& Life)

Getting to Know God Meditations:  40. God of Death (& Life)

Gen 2:17  you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

Rom 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Eccles 3:2 (There is) a time to be born and a time to die

Eccles 7:2   It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.

Heb 9:27 people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment,

Mt 20:18 the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death

Death? Death is one of those things that postmodern man tries to reject.  Some speak of science extending and extending life and maybe even eventually denying death completely. How terrible a picture! In Ecclesiastes 7 Solomon confronted death declaring, “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.” (Eccles 7:4) Both there and in the earlier verse above, he is saying that a wise person thinks about death because it helps bring a right and better perspective to life. It is often the person who has been confronted with their own death who truly appreciates the wonder of life.

Death at the Beginning: However we view the early chapters of Genesis (fact or parable) there is a challenging picture portrayed because when God warned Adam against taking the fruit of one particular tree else they would know evil (which happened), He warned that that evil would produce death which implies that up until then the potential for Adam and Eve was that they could have everlasting life. Now the separating of the couple from God (by being banned from the Garden) suggests that the life of God was what conveyed life to them and while they were in close relationship with Him, they would have that same life source. Being separated from Him meant being separated from that life source and so physical death would follow eventually.

Death Now: The testimony of Scripture accords exactly with reality: death comes to every living being without exception. It is the only thing of which we can be sure. Solomon, in the Old Testament,  testified to it – “There is a time for dying” – and so did the writer to the Hebrews in the New Testament – “people are destined to die”.  Why? Because of the presence of Sin – “the wages (or payment or consequence) of sin is death.”  And yet for us today, that need not be the end for there are numerous references to eternal life, a life that will continue on after physical death.

Eternal Life? Let’s let the truths of Scripture sink into us:  they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Mt 25:46)  Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.” (Mt 10:29,30) God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16) “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.” (Jn 3:36) “whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (Jn 4:14) “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” (Jn 5:24)  “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day….. Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life.(Jn 6:40,47) “Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (Jn 12:25) Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (Jn 17:3) When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honoured the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.” (Acts 13:48) “To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honour and immortality, he will give eternal life.” (Rom 2:7) “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 6:23)

There are just some of the references to eternal life but even from these we can see that this is not some periphery doctrine but something that is at the very heart of the Christian Faith. We see it set off against eternal punishment (a punishment that is always there waiting for unbelievers and which cannot be withdrawn only replaced by eternal life). Eternal life, these verses add, is the life yet to come for us, the life that follows this one, or continues it! The message is quite clear, it is granted to those who believe Jesus and believe in Jesus.

Death at the End: Death was not there at the beginning; it only came with the Fall. Having come with the Fall it is now the experience of every single human being. Yet in the present age for those who will believe in Christ it is supplanted by eternal life, the continuation of the life that has been granted here on this earth, a life that goes on and on, a life outside the limitations of time. But what about death? “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.  The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Cor 215:25,26) Jesus is now reigning in the midst of his enemies (Psa 110:1,2) and will continue to reign until he returns in triumph (see Rev 19). As we read on in Revelation we see an ultimate judgment before God and then we read, “Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Rev 20:14,15)

Hades?  Sheol, a Hebrew word used in the Old Testament, is normally simply defined as ‘the state or resting place of the dead.’  When the Hebrew scriptures were translated into Greek, ‘Hades’ was substituted for ‘Sheol’.  Hades is similarly ‘ the state or resting place of the dead’. However we view this Jewish belief of ‘the place of the dead’ at the end, any place, location or existence (apart from the Lake of Fire containing the banished spirit beings) is utterly removed so death or any other potential area of concern is removed. Fire, as I have commented previously is always seen as a means of complete destruction. The fact that ‘death’ is consigned to the fire means the end of it.

Death appears the end but ‘the first death’ is merely a doorway out of this existence on earth. The ‘second death’ (Rev 20:14) is the end from which there is no return. This leaves us speculating further about Hades, ‘the resting place of the dead’. Our problem when considering these things is that we cannot comprehend the absence of time. Possibilities appear to be that the redeemed pass immediately into God’s presence (“Today you will be with me in paradise.” Lk 24:43) but all others pass into a timeless zone, ready to be raised again later (Rev 20:5,13) for final judgment.  Don’t think in time and space.

The Beginning of the End? After this, all that is left is the New Heaven and the New Earth and the New Jerusalem (see Rev 21:1,2) This is the dwelling place of the people of God with their God for eternity. (Rev 21 & 22)  The past experience of time-space history, of limited-term-lives, brought to an end by death, is now all past. Material life is past and now all  (all?????) that is left is timeless eternity and the wonder of all that means, that will only become clear when we experience it. A word we have avoided but which arises a number of times in the above contexts, is ‘resurrection’ and so we will consider that in the next study.

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!

2. A Sure Foundation

Meditations in Titus: 2 :  A Sure Foundation

Titus 1:1,2   Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness– a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time.

In the first meditation we saw the apostle Paul explain his ministry as awakening faith and then providing truth to enable God’s chosen people to live godly lives, but as he goes on in his introduction he gives us a foundation on which that faith and knowledge of the truth rests. It is the hope of eternal life. Now if that was all it was, as amazing as that might be, someone would say that it was just Paul’s wishful thinking, but he denies that; it is eternal life which God promised before the beginning of time.

In other words God declared this before He even brought time-space history into being.  Of course with our finite minds we cannot conceive any existence before material time and space came into being. All we can grasp, and that very lightly, is that God has always existed  and being Spirit (Jn 4:24) existed uniquely and independently of anyone or anything else, Father, Son and Holy Spirit existing and communicating together and then at some moment in His existence, He said, “Let there be light.” Yet before that, according to the revelation given in the New Testament, the Trinity considered the possibilities and realised that if they made mankind with free will, at some point that free will would be exercised contrary to the dictates of the godhead and when that happened, it would have a series of consequences, bad consequences, and the godhead would have to take further action to win mankind back but without violating their free will.

The plan was to befriend Abram and then later establish a nation through his grandson, a nation that would reveal God to the rest of the world, and reveal their own inability to break free from that sinful expression of that free will. When that inability was clearly revealed, the Son would leave heaven and come to earth to live within that nation and to reveal the love and goodness of the godhead to mankind through that one life. But there was still the problem of the guilt of mankind’s sin and justice demanded that that needed dealing with. The only way to achieve that was for God Himself, in the form of His Son on earth, to take the punishment due – hence the Cross. When the truth of this became clear it would win many back to God and in being reunited with God they would receive His Holy Spirit, who is also eternal God, and thus brings eternal life.

Now all of this was decreed by the godhead before those incredible words, “Let there be light.” In fact according to the revelation that Paul has, when God declared this before He made anything, His declaration of intent was tantamount to a promise. When God says something is so, He does not lie, He sticks to it and so His declaration of intent before anything else was the equivalent of a promise that it would be so. Thus the promise of the possibility of receiving eternal life was made right back then.

We find references to this decision before the start of the world in all the following verses: Jn 17:24, Eph 1:4, 1 Pet 1:20, Rev 17:8, Rev 13:8, 2 Tim 1:9, Tit 1:2. They all refer back to this decision, this promise, made before anything else.  THIS is the foundation, this is the surety for all else that follows. Thus when Paul, as an apostle, awakens faith in this people, this people that God knew before He made anything else occurred would turn to Him in time-space history, we see that faith is belief in a plan that had its origins way back then. When Paul, as an apostle, goes on to teach new believers how to live godly lives, the design of those lives had its origin in the plan formulated before God made anything else.

The strength of this faith and this knowledge is not in the fact that Paul says it but simply that he is conveying God’s plan decreed before anything else came into existence. The Gospel is not an accident, it is not an add-on, something God had to think up because everything was getting out of control; it was the plan agreed by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit before they brought this material world into being. The plan of salvation was as clear cut in the mind of God as His plans to create a material world. The two cannot be separated. The material world was perfect and yet to give mankind free will was almost guaranteed at some point to bring about Sin – which is simply self-centred godlessness.  Without free will love could not exist and as that was the prime characteristic of God, it would be the characteristic of all He made, it is all an expression of His love.

If we are to be able to love, it has to be a free expression by definition. Love is not something forced or imposed. Thus, if we sinful human beings are to be able to love God, it is because our hearts are won by His love. When we comprehend that, we receive it and receive the Spirit of love, and it becomes our expression as well, and the first object of our love becomes God Himself. We couldn’t have dreamed this up, but He did – even before He spoke a word and brought this world into being. How amazing! And now faith and our knowledge of the truth flows out from this truth. Everything flows from it in fact, everything! Hallelujah!

35. Life or Wrath

Short Meditations in John 3:  35. Life or Wrath

Jn 3:36    Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.

As we come to the end of this chapter, having passed through a number of verses speaking of Jesus as the unique Son of God who had come down from heaven, now the one true witness because he had come from the Father, we now come to the purpose of that coming: to create believers who can inherit eternal life in harmony with God.

Note how it starts: “whoever believes”. Now this is very important. Life with God starts with belief but it is a belief that has actions. The apostle James understood this when he wrote, You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder.” (Jas 2:19) Demons believe in God but they don’t have a loving relationship with Him. They know about Him but they don’t interact with Him. No, this ‘believing’ is a believing that creates a response, i.e. creates action.

This believing is of the sort that when it hears of Christ, finds something inside reaching out for more but realises it is in a state of need and so falls before God in surrender and receives His forgiveness and His cleansing and His adoption and His Holy Spirit’s presence to dwell within. This believing creates action than enables God to see our heart is true and reaching out for Him and so He gives us His Spirit and thus He gives us eternal life.

The word ‘believe’ occurs over fifty times in John’s Gospel. It is the Gospel all about believing and John is very candid about that: “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (Jn 20:30,31)  This Gospel, says John, should act as a foundation of belief in Jesus and when you see him as he is and believe you will receive a new life as you give yourself over to the Father.

But every coin has two sides and so on this particular one, on one side is belief and eternal life, and on the other unbelief and God’s anger. Please distinguish angers from hostility or revenge. Righteous anger is simply an objective emotion that responds rightly to wrong. Anger is instinctive. Anger is passionate displeasure that rises up in the face of something awful, something wrong. So what is so wrong about unbelief? Well unbelief is always wilful. If we wanted we could respond to that thing within us (see Eccles 3:11) that wants to seek for the truth – but we don’t. The evidence is all there but we either refuse to go looking for it or we refuse to believe it, as obvious as it is. This wilfulness is wrong, stupidly wrong and incurs God’s anger. Rightly!