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.

63. In and Out (The End)

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 63. In and Out (The End)

Heb 11:13-16   All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.  If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.  Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one.

Possibilities:  The thrust of these studies throughout is that God delivers us out of the bad into the good; that is what redemption is all about, but as I come to the end I am aware that the fact that we have been saying it is an ongoing process and that we are ‘works in progress’, means that for many things in our lives, there is still a sense of incompleteness, of not having been fully delivered out and fully delivered in. I am always aware of what the writer to the Hebrews says about the people of faith from the Old Testament in our starter verses above. There are some crucial things to be noted that impinge very much on this idea that we have been pursuing of ongoing redemption.

Unfulfilled Promises: “They did not receive the things promised.” That is a pretty honest statement, and one which can both be misunderstood and used by critics of God and faith – “See, you say God does this and that, but as I watch your life, so much of it doesn’t seem to be so wonderful in the way you talk about!”   Ah, but read on, “they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.” The Message version paraphrase puts it, “They saw it way off in the distance, waved their greeting, and accepted the fact that they were transients in this world.” I like that.

An Illustration: Those people realized that this world was purely an entrance foyer to eternity and they were simply passing through it. I like that picture I’ve just touched on. Imagine a cold, rough, harsh street in which you have lived, and in front of you is a great building and you hear a voice calling, inviting you to come in. As you peer in through the open doors you see an interior that is so different to this street outside. You realize you have tolerated this awful street for too long and you long to experience the wonder of what you glimpse inside. Yet you feel unworthy and so simply kneel on the steps, but a voice calls again and bids you enter. In humility you timidly pass through the entrance doors. Inside it is full of light and beauty. A servant comes up and offers you new clothing and you realise all you had worn previously was threadbare, torn and dirty. In a vestibule to the side you are able to change, and you emerge in splendor.

The area inside the entrance doors is enormous and glorious and splendid and there is so much to see. There are so many things to which your attention is drawn, and time passes rapidly as you enjoy and enter in to so much of what is before you. But then the voice comes yet again and invites you to ascend the stairs that lead out of this area, but you hesitate. There is so much here in this room that has become so familiar, there is so much that is good, and you feel there is still so much yet to explore, and so you hesitate.  But the voice is persistent, and you know it is a command which you cannot refuse and so you ascend the stairs and pass through the door at the top. Suddenly your breath leaves you because what is before you cannot be described as a room, it is a world, and you gasp at its beauty, and as you glance back through the door behind you, all that you had been experiencing simply looked grey by comparison to the wonder, the color, the brightness before you and, suddenly, you realize that the room below where you had spent so much time, yes, so much more wonderful than the street outside, was but the entrance foyer to this new world.

It is but an illustration, but an accurate one I believe. The street outside was our old life. Entering the doors was our conversion. The time spent in the entrance foyer was simply to start to prepare us for the reality to come. Accurate? But incomplete, for it is but a parable, and parables never tell the whole story. So back to our experience of this ‘entrance foyer’, a place of promises where some are fulfilled and experienced, and some are simply glimpsed at a distance as we gaze up the staircase and catch just a glimmer of what is beyond.

Past, present and future:If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.  Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one.” Do you see the three periods within this verse? The past – the country they had left. Surely this refers to Abram, delivered ‘out of’ his old life in Ur. The present – implied, the land where he now lived, Canaan, learning to experience God’s presence. The future – a better country, a heavenly one. His encounters with the Creator-God of the world left him with a yearning, for something better, but for years he had to live out his life on this earth, struggling with childlessness, struggling to believe the promise of God, struggling with trying circumstances, struggling with a wife who wanted to speed faith up, struggling with apparently impossible commands of God to give up the fruit of the promise, struggling to remain true to God’s calling and find a wife for the fruit of the promise, a woman who would not absorb the fruit of the promise (yes, Isaac!) into the life and the ways of Canaan. Yes, the life of this man of faith was so often a struggle, but that is how life is in this fallen world.

In and Out: But here is the thing, and let’s continue with Abraham as our example, having been delivered out of Ur (by the calling of God), as we watch his life portrayed in those many chapters of Genesis, the Lord is with him and is delivering him IN the land, IN his present life. The Lord is delivering him from himself and from his wife’s wrong notions, He is delivering him from enemies in the land and from the outworkings of the folly of his nephew, He is delivering him IN Canaan. But he, like the other faith-filled saints of Hebrews 11, catches a view of something better, something more, and so, like them, has now been delivered OUT of this present world into the land of promise, not Canaan but eternity in God’s presence, heaven.

And Us? We are just the same, for we too experience being delivered out of our old life, are being delivered IN this present life and will one day be delivered OUT of it into eternity. In this present world, we have to accept it is often a world of struggles, of trials and even tribulations and God will deliver us IN the midst of these things and then OUT of them. A crisis arises in life, and it causes us great anguish. We cry out to the Lord, but the circumstances don’t change, they cannot, they have happened – but peace comes, and we are delivered OUT of the anguish, even in the midst of the unchanging circumstances. “in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6,7) There are also times when the circumstances change as we pray, and we are delivered OUT of them; it is that simple. As we noted with Peter and James, we can never guarantee the outcome. James was executed by Herod (Acts 12:2) while Peter was imprisoned prior to a similar death but then was delivered out of the prison by an angel. James was delivered into eternity, while Peter was delivered into freedom, only later to also face martyrdom, being prematurely delivered into eternity.

Living in the incomplete and imperfect: So here we are in this present world. Satan’s greatest temptation is to try to get us to believe that this is all there is, and thus live a totally self-centred and godless life. All the while the Spirit of God reaches out to us to remind us of the truths we have been considering here today; we are living in the redemptive process of God. This world is but the ‘entrance foyer’ to eternity. However, within it, because it is a fallen world where sin prevails, it is often a struggle, and yet all the resources of God are there and are being employed by heaven to deliver you IN this world so that at the right time – His time – you can be delivered OUT of it and INTO your inheritance waiting for you in eternity.

This is the ‘big picture’ that we are called to live by, all because of God’s incredible love for us, manifested through the amazing work of the Son of God on the Cross at Calvary, and the ongoing working of His Holy Spirit.  See it, live it, rejoice in the wonder of the present and at tiny glimpses of the even more wonderful future that is still to come on this earth and then into an even more incredible dimension in heaven. Hallelujah and Amen!

34. Growth through Hope

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 34. Growth through Hope

Col 1: 5,6   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. All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth.

How Hope Works: Hope is a strong and sure expectation for tomorrow and when we have hope it affects how we live today. There is nothing special about this, it is not big and clever thinking but just ordinary, ‘this is how life works’ stuff. For instance, a gardener in Spring plans how the garden will develop through the rest of the year and cleans beds, lays out new ones, sows seeds, gets new plants in – all to achieve an end result. He or she has in their mind’s eye, a picture of what the garden can look like later in the year.

Or take a businessman running his company. Yes, he looks at how the company is running now but he makes plans how to grow his business and he takes steps now to create growth tomorrow. He sees in his mind’s eye what he could be achieving in a couple of years’ time and he works for that to happen.. Or there is a couple with a growing family living in a small house. They look at their finances and agree that they can afford to move to a bigger house. They don’t just sit back and do nothing. No, they start scouring the windows of estate agents, they start assessing different areas, they check out possible schools for their children, they start actually looking at specific houses. They are active because they see in their mind’s eye living in a bigger house.

Effect of Hope: Now Paul says that the hope that we have for an eternal future with God, generates faith and love for life today. The Gospel we have heard, he says, tells us that there is a better tomorrow promised us and as we have taken hold of that hope, it helps us as we live today. That hope stirs faith in us to live out today with that end in mind. That hope of God’s goodness poured out in eternity for us, in abundance, stirs love in us. But not just us; it does it wherever the gospel is preached around the world. The truth has set us free and the fulfilment of it in eternity anchors us and stirs us in the present today as we receive God’s grace for both now and then. That is what he says in our verses above.

Today and Tomorrow: If we let that truth settle in us, it can have profound effects for both now and the future. As we have considered previously, this hope is not only for that eternal experience, it is also for the days ahead of us in this life. Again, as we saw previously, when I came to Christ, that hope may have been in a very simple form – simply that tomorrow will be different, a better different: if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor 5:17) My past has died and there is a new tomorrow because I AM a new person, and I DO have the Holy Spirit within me, changing me and empowering me to enjoy today and tomorrow. My eternal destiny is there ahead, something to look forward to and while it is still future (and I am still here on this earth) future and present merge as far as expectations are concerned for it is the same Holy Spirit who will carry me into eternity who is in me now. So, very subtly (and I suspect many of us don’t ever realise this) our thinking is changed – tomorrow WILL be different and so tomorrow CAN be different.

Possibilities: Think about this. The word of God, the Gospel, told us that the end fruit, if you like, of our salvation is a wonderful eternity with God. So, yes, tomorrow – our eternal tomorrow – WILL be different. Now we do have an eternal future; there is a life after this. But part of the package, again if we may put it like that, is that the time between now and then, CAN be different. Now there is a sense whereby it WILL be different because He is in us, but there is also that truth that we are partners with God and we do have a say in how our lives are worked out.

Future impacts Present: Perhaps we are unsure about this future dimension, about its reality in respect of how it affects our present because, perhaps, many of us rarely think about it? But I wonder if that is actually true? Imagine the Gospel was: “believe on Jesus and your present life will be good and when you die, that will be the end of everything. You can be assured that you will not have to face God after death, it will just be the end.” Now if that was what you were told, I’m not sure it would have the same impact. A good life now is a worthy goal but for it to come to an end when we die? What is the point of such a life?

Deep down, it is this reality that in fact there is more than this three score and twenty (as it tends to be today in the West) years, that reassures us. That IS there, whether we think about it regularly (when you get older) or not. The reassurance is actually a very real one, maybe at almost subconscious level, but it is there – I have a destiny and it is more than simply living out today. Today is important, and I can have real hopes for today – that He is there for me and providing for me etc. – but that importance is strangely anchored in that hope of eternity; this is what subtly puts meaning to everything – there is more than just this life this side of death.

Assurance: Now there may be some of us who are not so secure in that eternal hope. Well, should that be you, think of that most famous of verses: “For 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) There it is in its simplicity. You believe in Jesus, you believe he is the Son of God who died for you? You believe that because the Bible says it is so, and you believe the Bible? Done! You have eternal life and that means a changed, empowered life now and an eternal destiny, a wonderful life with God for ever.

Transformation Possibilities: There is such an inter-connecting with all these things. What we believe about tomorrow affects our today. What we think about who we are and what God thinks about us, affects our today. If you are unsure of your future or unsure of God’s love for you, it will blight your present. I have been watching in recent months, the Lord blessing one little lady in our congregation who has been through a really tough time with an abusive, violent husband. It all ended in a bitter divorce and she was shattered. Her self-esteem was zero, and then the Lord very gently started rebuilding it. She got prayed for, she went out for prayer and every time the Lord reaffirmed her. Whereas she saw she had no future but a lonely, bitter, scarred and wounded one, that has been changing as she has started to realise afresh that she is a beautiful daughter of God – with a good new future! And she has been changing. There is still some way to go but she is changing. Now she is someone who prays for and over others; she is getting words from God for others, she is ministering to others. Amazing and beautiful!

We are what we are because of what Jesus has done for us, what he is doing for us and what he will do for us in eternity. All those thing impact on my life today. I don’t know what today will hold, but I know Jesus is there in it with me and will continue to be until that time when I move into the eternal dimension after death and, for now, that eternal reassurance encourages me in today and helps release faith and love, just as Paul said. Isn’t it great!

17. The End or the Beginning

Meditations on “The Big Picture” 17. The End or the Beginning

Rev 21:1-4    Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

The fact that there are various schools of theology in respect of the end times suggests that everything is not as clear as we might like to wish it to be. Time is coming to an end, the day of the material world that we know is rapidly coming to an end. History as we know it is about to be wound up. Apart from the return of Jesus again (see Acts 1:11, Mt 24:30,31, 1 Thess 4:15-17, Rev 1:7, 19:11-16) which is quite explicit, the details of what will happen at the end leave us with questions. Are some of the things figurative or literal?

The book of Revelation is almost our only source and it is prophecy which means very often the language used is figurative rather than literal. But what does it say?

  • Jesus comes down and subdues his enemies (Rev 19)
  • Satan is subdued for a thousand years (Rev 20:1-3)
  • Those who had been martyred will reign for that thousand years (Rev 20:4-6)
  • At the end of that period Satan will be released to deceive and war against God’s people but his followers will be destroyed (Rev 20:7-10)
  • Then will come judgment, all before the throne of God (Rev 20:11-15)
  • Then comes a new heaven and a new earth and a new Jerusalem (Rev 21:1-5)
  • Judgment is imposed on all unbelievers (Rev 21:6-8)
  • The bride of Christ (see Rev 19:7-9) is revealed as the new Jerusalem (Rev 21:2,9-26)
  • There is the throne of God (Rev 22:1-5) dwelling with His people

To summarise those things, Jesus is coming to wind up the world as we know it. There appears to be an interregnum, if you like, where the world continues but without Satan’s influence, then a releasing to show nothing has changed with him or with sinful mankind. This is followed by a final judgement where Satan is subdued and all created beings stand before God for an accounting. Those who have not received the Lamb go to judgement. Those who are his followers enter into a new experience, a new heaven and a new earth and they, as a people, will enjoy the Lord in their midst in a new unlimited way for eternity. Shortening it even more, the end of evil and an eternity for the followers of the Lamb in the glorious presence of God.

And that is it. The end of what is now and the beginning of the experience of eternity with the Lord. Everything has been working towards this. The whole history of the Bible has been about revealing God to His world and looking for response to Him by people. Many reject, many receive Him.  Those who receive Him have an inheritance in eternity that is really beyond our understanding or explanation. Perhaps that is why it is so limited in scripture. There is a plan. There is a beginning and an end to it and yet the beginning and the end refer only to the material existence part of the plan which is limited. It is the bit we are largely concerned with today and it is the bit that takes up 99% of the Bible, and yet it is only part of existence. There is also a spiritual dimension, another existence that somehow exists without time, outside of time, beyond time, and yet an existence that can be comprehended, understood (when you are in it) and communicated.

The present material world appears massive to us, in fact beyond our imaginations even as we try to comprehend millions of galaxies, billions of light years and so on, and yet in comparison to the real existence is so limited.  Solomon caught a glimpse of this: He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Eccles 3:11)  The psalmist also caught it: “The LORD reigns, he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed in majesty and is armed with strength. The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved. Your throne was established long ago; you are from all eternity.” (Psa 93:1,2)

There is a material world existing in time-space history and there is another dimension called eternity, and God is Lord over them both. In Proverbs, wisdom personified, revealing the Son, begotten of the Father, declares, “I was appointed from eternity, from the beginning, before the world began.” (Prov 8:23) The son stepped from eternity into material world existence as he stood alongside the Father creating the wonder of the world that we know: “I was the craftsman at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.” (Prov 8:30,31) Father and Son and Holy Spirit together from ‘the beginning’ but then eternity doesn’t have a beginning.

But this is their book, this is their history, in brief sketchy outline at least, this is their account and they are in it from the beginning when “God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light.” (Gen 1:3) through to the end: “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.” (Rev 22:12-14)  Amen! Hallelujah!

49. Faith for Eternity

Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 49.  Faith For Eternity

Titus 1:2   a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time,

I suspect that if we are honest, the truth is that most of us do not, on a day by day basis, ponder on the reality of eternity, or of eternal life. It tends to be older people with their aches and pains and even life-threatening disabilities who find themselves wondering about a better world free from pain and suffering. For the rest of us (as I said, if we are honest) we get taken up with just coping with the material world in which we have lived for so long and which is so familiar. In fact it may be the fact that we do not have a very clear picture about that life in eternity that means we speculate about it only a little.

“Before the beginning of time.”: Yes, this is the truth, that before God even started creating this world, He looked into the future, saw Sin and saw what needed to be done to redeem us, and finally saw the wonder of an eternity filled with redeemed beings, those who have been through this world, lived in sin, came to the end of themselves and when confronted with that which Jesus the Son would do at a specific point in time-space history, would turn to Him and receive all His love and goodness with the end game being living with Him in heaven in eternity. All of that God saw before He decided to make this world that would be perfect to start with, yet soon marred by Sin and the only reason He continued with it was because of what He saw could be achieved by the end, a redeemed people with Him there in eternity.   Have you ever seen this before?  You have been designed for eternity!

As Paul said to Titus, his calling was to bring faith to those God knew from the beginning would turn to Him, His ‘elect’. It is a case of faith responding to knowledge – the news of the Gospel that opens up salvation to us, and the possibility of lives revealing godliness, and just in case we think this was God’s list ditch stand, Paul reminds us of that which we have just been considering – that it was all part of God’s plan formulated before He created anything. This all comes to light when we hear the preaching of the Gospel and that knowledge stimulates faith which ends up bringing us into God’s kingdom now on this earth and in eternity with Him in heaven. Let’s just see those verses again but in their completeness: 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, and at his appointed season he brought his word to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Saviour,” (Titus 1:1-3)

Yesterday we finished with some words from 1 Peter. We focused on the fact that Peter spoke about us at the present having to “suffer grief in all kinds of trials” (1Pet 1:6) but let’s finish by looking at the words that went before that: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade–kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Pet 1:3-5)  Note how much of this has a future element to it: “living hope” and “an inheritance” and “kept in heaven” and “until the coming” and “to be revealed in the last time.”  All of that points forward. We have a hope of something yet to come which has been revealed to us when we have been born again through the new birth, confirmed by the resurrection of Jesus, a future inheritance waiting for us in heaven for all of us faith people that will be revealed to everyone in the last time.

Talk to your unsaved neighbour about this and it will appear pie in the sky to them, an unreality on the same plane as fairy tales but one day the reality will strike home – this world wasn’t all there is. Have you ever seen the film ‘Men in Black’ where we are eventually shown an entire tiny, tiny universe in a small glass ball around the neck of a cat – and then we are left wondering if this world that we inhabit is yet just another tiny existence inside another larger but still tiny ball. The writers of that film were wondering about the existence of reality and that leaves us wondering, I wonder if this present existence is like that first tiny universe in a glass ball in comparison to heaven, and on comparison to eternity?

The Bible keep on giving us hints about what is yet to come and the doorway to that future eternity is Jesus Christ (who did actually say “I am the door”). We may not have many insights about what it will be like, but we have sufficient to say there is another very real world, more real than this one even. As we suggested earlier the presence of this material world is so strong that that is so often all we can see. To believe in this future is an act of faith. Remember we considered the truth that faith can be strong or weak and that we can do things to strengthen it. As we read our Bibles, as we pray and worship, we will constantly be reminded of this greater reality to which we are coming closer day by day, and be reminded that this isn’t all there is. This should enable us to hold this present existence lightly and when loved ones pass out of this existence and into the next, we can be glad for them even if we mourn their loss. May the reality of the next world grow stronger and stronger in us day by day.

Well, we have come to the end of this series on focusing faith and I hope it will have left something substantial with you. Dare I even suggest you go back through the series and reread five a day, for it is, I believe one of the most significant that I have ever written.  I intend to go back though it and let it impact my life more and more for we are called to be a people of faith, and faith, we have seen can grow stronger. May it be so.

10. Enter the Light

Short Meditations in John 1:  10.  Enter the Light

Jn 1:9   The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world

There is something in the human race that we take for granted and yet causes a universal frustration. Solomon wrote, I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Eccles 3:10,11) There is something within us, perhaps a spark of eternity, perhaps the spirit within us, that seeks and years for something more, for meaning to life, for purpose, for a sense of fulfilment. It seems we are groping around in the dark to find this thing.

And then Jesus comes, we encounter him, accept him for who he is and what he has done, and suddenly it all makes sense, suddenly there is this meaning, sense of purpose and sense of fulfilment. Suddenly we ‘see’, suddenly it all makes sense and we see with new eyes – but we see because The Light is shining in us.

People try all sorts of things to achieve meaning; they go after Eastern mysticism, they go after self-help courses, they throw themselves into great projects and all to no avail for none of these things seem to satisfy that inner seeking and they still cannot ‘see’. None of these is a light that answers all the questions. Only Jesus is “the true light”. He is the only one who satisfies and brings these answers we have been speaking about.

And here is the remarkable thing, that light is available “to every man” (and woman!). It isn’t just available for clever people – in fact clever people so often stumble over The Light (1 Cor 2:22b) – or religious people, but he is there and available for anyone who is willing to humble themselves and acknowledge they need him.

Up until that point the light had been absent from the world but “the true light…. was coming into the world,” and he had existed in eternity with the Father and now he was coming into space-time history in the form of a tiny baby born to a woman. How amazing. This tiny baby was to grow into a man who would be revealed as The Light of the World who had come from heaven to bring light to whichever seeking, yearning, hungry and humble men or women would receive him so that they might be able to ‘see’.  He is there beckoning to any who will hear and respond.

114. A Can of Worms

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 114. A Can of Worms

Mk 6:16 But when Herod heard this, he said, “John, the man I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!”

When something unexpected happens in our lives, it often acts as a catalyst to reveal what goes on in us. A crisis brings out both the best and the worst in us. Herod has heard about Jesus. There is a man in the land – his land – who raises questions, and they have been asked and answers given. One of the answers was that Jesus was a resurrected John. Immediately in Herod, his guilt rises to the surface and the worst nightmare possible pours out – it is John come to confront him for his appalling behaviour. Suddenly his mind is pouring out fears like a can of worms. He is guilty! Has this man come back to haunt him?

We will deal with all the following verses in that terrible story in this one quick meditation. We will not give Herod any more space. John had preached against things going on in Herod’s family and people had been upset. Herod had John put in prison – but that was all. Then came the evening of that fateful meal and Herod drunk too much and, as drunken men so often do, he lost control of himself and started saying foolish things. As a result of that, to avoid appearing even more foolish before his guests, he had given way and allowed John to be executed. We will say no more of the episode for it is a scandalous one.

What we can observe is that a good and godly man was put to death by an unrighteous and foolish man who abused his power. We might question, could God not have stopped this happening?  The bigger picture is that our time here on earth is but a drop in the ocean of eternity. We see the present as so important and we want to cling on to it but there is a whole eternity yet to be enjoyed.

What we have here is a challenge to our perception of reality. So often we hear preachers preaching about heaven and the wonders of the world to come, but the moment death is mentioned, especially in respect of ourselves, we fear and show that all our talk of eternity is but words.

Sometimes God does step in and deliver His saints (e.g. Peter in Acts 12) but other times He allows the present evil circumstances to prevail to act simply as a doorway into eternity and we witness the death of one of His saints (e.g. Stephen Acts 7:59,60) or James (Acts 12:2). we must learn to rest in His sovereign decisions.


26. Jesus, life bringer

Jesus in John’s Gospel : 26 : Jesus, bringer of Eternal Life

Jn 3:14,15 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life

Today, on average, we live a lot longer than say a hundred years ago. Scientists say that better health and better food means we will live longer, but we still all know that at some point our body will stop functioning and we will die. In folk lore there are stories of elixirs, and in science  fiction there are tales of happenings, that enable a man to carry on and on and on. It is a strange idea but one that catches the imagination.

And then we come to the Bible and are presented with the concept of eternity – existence that has no beginning or end. God is so described: Abraham…. called upon the name of the LORD, the Eternal God(Gen 21:33). Moses declared, The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms (Deut 33:27). For references to ‘eternal life’ we have to wait until the New Testament. It is interesting to note that Matthew uses ‘eternal’ 6 times, Mark 3 times, Luke 4 times, but John who has contemplated these big issues of life for much longer, 16 times. Eternal life is a big issue with John, this life with  no end. Perhaps a similar word is ‘everlasting’ which is used quite often in the Old Testament but only 3 times in the whole of the New Testament. ‘Everlasting’ seems to mean time that goes on and on, whereas ‘eternal’ suggests timelessness. Thus God is described as both everlasting (e.g. Isa 40:28) and eternal. He goes on and on throughout time but He also exists outside of time and is not affected by it.

In Matthew, the first of the few references to ‘eternal life’  is: Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” (Mt 19:16). Our verses today are the first of a number of such references in John. What is clear here is that belief in Jesus results in eternal life, a new form of life without beginning or end. But surely if we receive it at some point in time, it has a beginning?  That is only true if we see eternal life as a state of existence, one minute we are in ordinary life, the next we have stepped into a new dimension where life goes on and on and on. However, that is not the heart of the meaning of it, for we saw above that God is eternal and in fact nothing else is eternal, only that which emanates from Him. Eternal life is the actual life of God. Jesus said,For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself.” (Jn 5:26). The Father has this life, this characteristic, and the Son also has it. What the Gospel declares is that whoever receives the Son receives God’s very presence into His life, and that presence is eternal. When we become a Christian we receive this eternal presence into our life and of course He has no beginning or end.

A little bit earlier Jesus said, 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.” (Jn 5:24). Our life before we became Christians was considered death. It was existence that was strictly limited. When we receive him, we receive his life and he in us, his Spirit united with our spirit, means that now we have moved into an eternal existence. Physical death for us is merely a releasing of the real us to live in God’s eternal presence eternally.  Without Jesus there is eternal death (Mt 18:8, 25:41,46), presumably eternal because spirit cannot end once created.  With Jesus there is blessing upon blessing which continues on without interruption – eternal life! That is the promise.

33. Eternity

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 33 :  Eternity

Eccles 3:9-11 What does the worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on men.  He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

Now in the previous meditation we pondered further on the question of work, or toil, or labour, because that is where verse 9 was leading us, and verse 10 speaking of a burden seems to naturally flow on from that, but when we add on verse 11 Solomon seems to do an amazing turn about which leaves us then wondering was that what he had meant by God’s burden? How do these verses knit together to make sense?

Well yes, he certainly starts from the point of talking about work and we’ve seen how he has felt frustrated about having to work with no ultimate meaning in it, and yes that does seem to be a burden that we cannot escape from without God. But then it is as if he says, but it’s not only work, for that is only one facet of life; there is this whole much bigger thing of meaning to life, which again we don’t seem to be able to make sense of.

Look at that amazing statement that he makes: He has also set eternity in the hearts of men, i.e. God has put within the hearts of every human being a sense that there is something more to life than just living out this material-based life for three score years and ten. There must be something more, something deep within us says. There must be ‘meaning’ to life!

This is the major thing that undermines the platform of the atheist, because they say that there is no God, life is just chance, pure blind chance, and yet deep inside us we know that that is not so. Why is it that countless generations of students have sat around contemplating the meaning of life, if there is no such thing? Why is it that it has even formed the heart of some humour, this contemplating meaning? Some philosophers have struggled with this and, excluding God from their equations of thought, have brought themselves to the edge of suicide. A world without meaning or purpose seems a terrible thing to us. Why? Is it because God has breathed life in to us and there is an echo of Him in every single human being and that echo is an echo of reality, of eternity, of Him?

So what is the burden of this feeling? It is that yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. Without revelation from God we cannot know what the truth is. Why is it that there are so many world religions? Surely it is because of this sense from within that there is something more, and all religions except Judaism and Christianity are in fact mankind reaching out for this eternity, reaching out for some deity to make sense of life. Judaism and Christianity uniquely declare that God has revealed Himself – Judaism through Israel, and then Christianity through Israel and then His Son, Jesus Christ and finally through the Church.

Without God’s revelation though, we are doomed to frustration, doomed to struggling to make meaning of it all by ourselves, and hence the many different world religions. We may not be able to prove God’s existence, but once we accept it, suddenly everything else makes sense. This is where the Bible as a complete entity is so exciting because when we see it in its completeness we see the completeness of the revelation that starts with God creating the world, and finishes with Him redeeming it and bringing something new into being at the end of the material phase of it.

Yes, that is the truth revealed in the Bible, that the material world as we know it is limited in time and space and there will come a point where it ceases in the present form. The Bible clearly states what will follow but our understanding of that is not clear (for it doesn’t give us every detail) and which is why there are a number of interpretations of exactly how it will work out. Yet the truth is clearly stated, there is more than finite material existence, there is eternity, time without end, or timelessness!

And yes, there again we struggle to understand. We can use the words but our understanding is limited to that which God gives us. We are more than finite material-based human beings; there is an eternal element about us, something that will continue on after the material ceases to function and we lie down and ‘die’.  That, as far as I can see, is the only reason for the existence of an eternal hell, a place where God’s presence is not known, a terrible existence. It can only be because there is an element of us that carries on after life here, and when we choose not to be in God’s presence (as many do choose) then ‘hell’ is the only alternative. Oh yes, the concept of eternity carries with it many repercussions. Yet God has sent Jesus so that we don’t have to end up in that God-less existence. Instead we can receive eternal life from him and that means life in all its fullness in God’s presence in heaven. That is the wonder of the glorious alternative that is given to us if we will receive it.