9. Faith Expectations

Ways of Seeing Meditations: 9. Faith Expectations

Acts 12:5 Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.”

Recap: We have been considering how we view impressive buildings or impressive people, and then how we view ourselves. We have rejected doing good or performing spiritual acts as ways of gaining self-esteem or building our self-image. In the previous study that took us on to considering how we pray, but now we want to consider another aspect of the way we view prayer. Yesterday it was seeing it as a spiritual activity to be done as part of our relationship with God, but now I want us to face the uncomfortable question of how we see what we speak. Do we just utter words or are we declaring words that will change the world, change the circumstances?

Jesus’ Example: I first observed the significance of how we pray when I noted something in John’s Gospel. At the feeding of the five thousand, John records, Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated.” (Jn 6:11) Later, after Jesus and his disciples had gone back across the lake, John records, Then some boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks.” (v.23) He doesn’t say, “the place where Jesus had performed the miracle,” for it seems he has something else in mind. He doesn’t even say “where Jesus had broken the bread and fed the crowd.”

The strange words that almost seem out of place are “after the Lord had given thanks.” Before a meal the head of the family would have given thanks for the food. John doesn’t record the Last Supper words about bread and wine (the other three Gospels have covered it adequately). Luke includes that (Lk 22:17,19) but also the account of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus and it was only when Jesus gave thanks and broke bread that they realised who he was. It almost seems as if there is something significant about the way Jesus gave thanks. What could it be?

Watch how leaders, for example, pray at the beginning of some Christian activity. There are those who just instantly plough in with words, and that is all they are, and ‘pray’. There are others who pause to acknowledge the presence of God, the One to whom they are speaking and only then do they speak. There is far more of a personal sense, a sense of intimacy, of relationship, with this latter group and I think, in that, they emulate Jesus. Prayer was not formality for Jesus, it was a time when he spoke personally, intimately with his Father in heaven. Giving thanks was no mere formula, it was a sacred act of Son to Father, the Son of God to the Almighty One, ruler of heaven and earth.

Expectancy: How do we view prayer? We have just suggested prayer as a time of intimacy with the Father, but how do we see what we are praying? Is it simply uttering words and hoping for the best – but not having too high hopes?  In our starter verse, the church was surprised when Peter turned up, while they were still praying. No, it can’t be Peter, that would require a miracle. But it is. You prayed, you asked, and God did it. Why be so surprised? Because we don’t believe it can be that easy. Sometimes it’s not, and we need to keep praying and persevering as Jesus taught in his parable of the unjust judge, to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” (Lk 18:1) but I also believe the truth is that God loves to bring us to a place of simple believing where we pray and rest and rejoice, like little kids trusting DAD.

Intimacy plus Expectancy: Little children expect answers when they ask. When Christmas or a birthday approaches they may come out with a list of things they want. Money permitting they may well get them. As they get older they come to realise they don’t always get their demands. But the childlike faith of small children is challenging. When prayer is indeed an intimate experience with the Father we find that we start to catch Father’s heart, and prayer is not so much a shopping list, as a list of things we believe the Father wants to bring about.  It’s fine to be childish as we grow in faith, chattering stuff at the Father, but as we grow, we can learn something deeper.

The apostle Paul taught, pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests,” (Eph 6:18) or as the Living Bible puts it, “Pray all the time. Ask God for anything in line with the Holy Spirit’s wishes.”  The emphasis is on being led by the Spirit. When we combine this with the Father’s love, this intimacy inspired by the Spirit, focused on the Father, coming in line with the rule of the Son reigning at the Father’s right hand, we may expect faith to rise in us, a sign that we’re on the right track and we may expect to see what we are praying coming about. If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!(Mt 7:11) or as Luke records it, no doubt on another occasion of Jesus’ teaching, If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” And Us? Can these things thus mature our praying to have an intimate element which in turn develops a higher level of expectancy so that when we pray for someone to be released from prison (of whatever sort), we will not be surprised when they turn up at the door, delivered.

35. Hearing leads to Action (2)

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 35. Hearing leads to Action (2)

John 2:5   His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

We are pursuing a fictitious example of a listening prayer group and the revelation that came. We need to move on to see what happened and then draw some lessons from it.

(The office junior)

When Alan went onto the office the next morning he went with a slight sense of apprehension. What should he say or do? The easy answer was nothing but just watch. In his interactions with his junior over the next couple of days, he was particularly careful to be open and friendly and gracious. Nothing happened. It was on the third day that things started to change. As he happened to be passing the young man’s desk, he noticed he was just sitting there staring ahead and doing nothing.

He paused. “Kev?”

No response. He pulled up a chair. There was no one within listening distance. He tried again, very gently. “Kev, what’s up?” Kevin seemed to suddenly realise he wasn’t alone. “Oh, sorry Alan, it’s nothing.”

“Are you sure? Do you need to talk about something?”

“No, not really, no it’s fine, it really is…. well …. I don’t know what to do. My wife’s has been diagnosed with cancer. We’ve known about it for a number of months, and it’s the bad sort and now at the hospital yesterday they say it will be touch and go, and…” his voice trailed off as he fought back tears.

Alan found he had tears running down his own face. “Oh Kev, I am so sorry. Is there anything I can do?”

“There’s nothing anyone can do. Anyway why are you crying, you don’t even know her!”

“Well that’s right but I just don’t know how I would feel in your shoes. I am so sorry. Look you’re not going to be able to concentrate on some of this stuff you’ve got on your desk at the moment. Let me get one of the others to lighten your load. What can I take from you?”

They discussed the possibilities and Alan took several files to redistribute round the office without saying why to the other staff.

“Do you need some time off? Is there anything you can be doing for her?”

“Well not really, but I suppose I need to arrange for the kids to be picked up from school in the days to come. Oh, what are we going to do?” He fought back the tears as a floodgate looked like it was just ready to burst.

“Look let’s not worry about that for now. Take one day at a time. Look, the other stuff you have here is not urgent. Go home now and just come in when you can. Kev, would you mind if I asked my church to pray for her?” Kev just nodded. “What’s her name so we know who we’re praying for?

“Marianne, but we call her Merry. Alan, I just don’t know what to do, and I know my work’s been going to pot, and I’m struggling with some of this stuff anyway.” He looked miserable.

“Look Kev, let’s not worry about that now. Let’s see how this works out and then perhaps in the future I can get you on that training course that is up on the notice board.”

“Yes, I’d like that. Thanks.”

“Come on, let’s go and get a coffee into you then you get back home, and we’ll take it from there – together.” The two left the office for coffee.

Back in the office, Alan thought to himself, “well that was an answer to prayer I wasn’t expecting!”

I am tempted to follow on with the other two things the group had prayed about, but this is all about bringing in the kingdom of God on the earth and there are some things in the story above that bear thinking about.

New Expectation: Because the group has prayed. and revelation had come, Alan is now in a state of expectation about an outcome. He doesn’t know what it will be, but he is on the lookout for something to happen. He is looking for the Lord to move, but that isn’t always in ways that we might expect.

New Concern: We may say (being really pious) that as Christians we should always be loving, gracious and caring for those around us, but the truth is that in the mundane ongoing-ness of daily life, especially life at work, it is so easy to stop making an effort to be a blessing to all those around us. However, now Alan is in a new state of expectancy, that has caused him to be particularly alert to those around him, and especially his young subordinate. It is because of this, that he spots the young man looking down, and needing some help.

New Compassion: Something different has happened and, because he is on the watch for such things as maybe part of God’s moving, he pauses up and gives the young man time, care and consideration, expressed in a variety of ways to help him with his present situation.

Spiritual Input: Don’t rush here, for there will be time to go further, yet Alan does gently ask him if he may share this with his prayer group. Don’t be surprised or cynical about the response because very often people may not be ready to hear the Gospel and certainly not be ready for church, but they will very happily receive prayer.

Conclusion: Perhaps the most important change here has been that in Alan himself. He has suddenly gone on the alert because someone dared to say they thought they had heard from God and he is now watching to see how God will open the situation up. As we said before, don’t prejudge how the Lord might move, but just be open and available to Him and, working with Him, you prepare the way of the Lord, for Him to come more fully into this situation: In the wilderness (of the office) prepare the way for the Lord.” (Isa 40:3) Tomorrow, we’ll see what else happens to Alan

36. All about God

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 36. All about God

1 Pet 1:20,21   He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.

Time to draw a close: Because the word hope come up so many times in the New Testament, we could keep on and on  with this subject, meditating on the individual verses, but instead we will draw this series to a close with the two verses above that really sum it all up for us We have considered this subject of expectation through individuals in the Old Testament and then as it pertains to Jesus. As we have just said, these two verses sum up or summarise the origins, at least, of our hope, and they are in Jesus.

The Gospel Encapsulated: The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not a recent fiction of the last two thousand years, but has its origins, we are told over half a dozen times in the New Testament, right back before the creation of the world. It was then that the Godhead, with the recognition that giving mankind free will would mean that we brought Sin into the world, decided that the Son of God would step into history at a given point of time to act as one who would carry our sins and thus our guilt in his death on a cross. This Peter says, “was revealed in these last times.”  Through what happened to Jesus, we are focused on God. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection our attention has been grabbed and we focus it back on God.

It’s all about God: We realise that it had to be a work of God, as Peter himself preached, Men of Israel, listen to this: 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. 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.” (Acts 2:22-24) Four is said to be the number of divine government and four times there he spoke about God’s involvement in all that had happened. Twice it was God providing the miracles Jesus did, once it was all about God’s set plan and purpose and once, it was God who raised Jesus from the dead.

Faith & Hope: The whole of the events involving and surrounding the coming of Jesus were about God bringing about the possibility of you and me being able to have a genuine relationship with almighty God, and that immediately puts before us the thoughts about our future, our future here on the earth and our future after death. How we live out today is all about faith, because it is about how we respond to His word in the way we live now, but the fact that we are constantly looking forward to tomorrow means we are living in hope, with the expectations His word generates in our hearts and minds.

Did you see that? From our vantage point, how we respond now is about faith, but how we view tomorrow is about hope. Faith is doing now; hope is about expectations for tomorrow. When we arrive at ‘tomorrow’, whenever that is, we will be living out that day in faith, but as we continue to regard the future, we do it with hope, this confident expectation of what God will do or how He will respond in respect of us.

A Question: But, someone might ask, if hope is constantly about the future, does it really matter? If, when we get to ‘tomorrow’ we are acting in faith, isn’t that the key thing? Well, in one sense, yes, but as we’ve seen in past studies, the fact that we have this hope acts almost as a stabilizing foundation for our lives today. Without it, life and the ongoing years is really an exercise with a big question mark over it. The fact that we can say tomorrow the Lord will be with us to bless us and after death we will continue to be with Him, means that we can live today with purpose – not only to capture the blessings of today, but to ensure we keep going to capture the blessings of eternity that God has promised us.

To Summarise: In this sense, ‘hope’ is a very real factor in our lives. It encourages us in today and energizes and motivates us towards tomorrow. Remember, the origins of our hope lie in the fact that we have been, as we said in the previous meditation, justified, adopted and empowered (and all that by the work of Jesus) and the content of our hope for tomorrow is that our understanding and experience of these three things will deepen and enlarge and will continue to carry us through the years until we pass off this present existence and are carried into eternity where it will just get better and better.

I think I will draw it to a close here. We will have a final recap tomorrow, but in the meantime, I hope that these studies will have put some content to your understanding and added some strength to the foundations of your faith. Amen.

35. Confident Expectations

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 35. Confident Expectations

1 Cor 15:14,17-19   if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith …… And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

A People of Hope? As I have working through this series on ‘expectations’ I have come to realise (or just see more clearly) that hope, or confident expectation, is everywhere, especially in the New Testament and so, we are called to be a people of hope, a people of confident expectation. Thus, when I suspect that a large majority of Christian do not live with this expectation, I conclude that it must be because they do not read their Bible or take in what is there.

Back to Basics: Very often with such studies we start out with some complexity but then find ourselves going backwards it seems and becoming more and more simple, and so, as we must be drawing nearer to the end of this series, let’s see if we can be absolutely basic.

The Resurrection: If we have this hope, this confidence, we have emphasised again and again that it is to do with the future, but why can we have this confidence? On what is it built? Well, very obviously, it is built upon Jesus, upon what we read of him in the Gospels, but even more it is built upon his resurrection. If Jesus had just come with good teaching and did a variety of miracles and healed a lot of people, we could say he was just a good man, but he stands out in history as having died by crucifixion and then within three days as having risen from the dead. There is also the small matter of his ascension! The fact that this happened to Jesus, not only marks him out in history, but it also indicates God’s approval of him, as well as setting down a foundation of believe in a power that is there available for our lives also, a power we have already observed that will take us through death and into an eternal life with God.

Our Salvation Package: So, when the ‘salvation package’ is laid out before us, we find it includes us being justified (because Jesus has taken our guilt and shame), us being adopted (because Jesus has taken away any barrier between us and the Father) and us being receivers of his own Holy Spirit (because Jesus has redeemed our lives from the enemy and his way of living). All of these things, I have just shown, we have because of what Jesus has done. Thus, our confidence for these things is in Jesus, and our confidence in Jesus is because of what we see of him in the Gospels, and especially his death and resurrection. Because we are sure of these thing, we can be confident about tomorrow and especially the ‘tomorrow’ that includes our death and what comes after it.

The Ingredients of Tomorrow: Thus, seeking to be as simple and obvious as possible, if we can backtrack over these things, as I look into the day ahead of me and the many days, weeks, months or years I may have left to me, I can look forward to such times that will be free from guilt or shame because I have been justified. Even more, I can look forward to such times being those when I am aware of being a son of God, a child of God, part of God’s family, part of His household (Eph 2:19), and thus a receiver of all of the love and goodness that flows in that relationship with the Father. And underpinning all this, is the glorious and wonderful presence of His Holy Spirit who indwells me and equips me and empowers me to do the work of Jesus.

All of these things, I have with complete confidence and it is a confidence that they will be there, just the same, every day of my life that remains. There will not be a day when I have to feel guilt and shame, there will not be a day when I do not know the love and provision of the Father, and there will not be a day when I will be devoid of the Holy Spirit and His power and enabling. THAT is the confidence, THAT is the hope we have for this day, and tomorrow and every day after that.

Holding Firm: In case this sounds too good or too easy, let me balance it with the following that comes earlier in that same chapter as our starting verses: By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.” (1 Cor 15:2) Now there is a faith element to all this. Why is it that so many are not living in this threefold expectation I have just laid out? It is because of lack of faith to believe God’s word, the Gospel that Paul said he had preached.

Please, if you need to, if you recognise that you do not live with this daily threefold recognition (and we could add more things to those three), then go back and reread the paragraphs above until you take them in and absorb them and are able to say, “Yes, that is the basis upon which I live each day!”

The Unacceptable Alternative: And to go back to the beginning, we can say these things with a certainty, with this sure and confident expectation – this hope – because of Jesus and because Jesus died AND rose again. I do like the way Paul puts it, “if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith … your faith is futile …… we are to be pitied more than all men.” We either believe it and live it, or we pack our bags and go and join the miserable atheists, materialists and humanist. Trying to settle somewhere in between (“well you ask too much of me”) means we incur the strong words of Jesus: you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! …. you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold” (Rev 3:15,16) We don’t want to be that; we don’t need to be that. All we need do is go back over and over those three sets of truths above – justified, adopted, empowered – and get them well and truly settled in our lives, and then live them!

These things we should be able to be completely confident about, and when we are we can live every day with this confident expectation, and the wonderful thing is that when we do, it opens a door for God to move in and through us and who knows what the outcome will be? All I can say is that a) it will be change and b) it will be good! As you finish, dare to pray: “Lord, thank you in anticipation for this day and this week ahead, that I can live it in the knowledge of your love, live it as your child and live it with your power. Thank you, Lord. Amen!”

33. The Need for Vision

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 33. The Need for Vision

Rom 8: 24b,25   Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently

An Expecting World: Sometimes the Bible says the very obvious but it is the very obvious things we need to take hold of, things that we may ignore just because they are so obvious. In Romans 8, the apostle Paul has been speaking about the state of the world: We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all.” (Rom 8:22-24a) There is a sequence of truth here that needs noting. He says we know that “the whole creation has been groaning… right up to the present time.” He portrays the world as being in a state of expectation, “as in the pains of childbirth” which suggests that the world as it was, is not the world that will be; there is something being formed that is yet to be revealed.

A Frustrated World: To make sense of that we have to go back into the prior verses: “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.” (v.19) That’s interesting; his starting place is the sense that the world waits for Christians to be revealed. Why is that so important?  “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it.” (v.20) Because of the Fall, God laid certain limitations on ‘life’ – see Gen 3 – relationships would be strained, childbirth hard yet desirable (v.16), working the earth will be hard (v.17,18), man excluded from the tree of life (v.22,23) and from the presence of God.

Nevertheless Hope: And so it had existed, ever since. And yet, there was this feeling ever since, that there is something more. Relationships with the Lord did spring up – Abram, Isaac & Jacob, a people were formed to relate to God (Israel), and yet even that didn’t work well as Israel failed again and again. Nevertheless, as God spoke through His prophets there was this hope of something better, one who would come who would change things, who would bring peace and harmony with Him.

But, Paul goes on, when God ‘subjected it’ to frustration it was in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (v.20,21) i.e. that there would come a time when the world could be changed by the presence of those who could be called “children of God” which brings us back to our starting place – this world was groaning in expectation of some change which, says Paul, is the revelation and bringing about of a new people, brought into relationship with God through the work of Christ.

Yet not yet: But when we come to our starting verses again (v.24b,25) Paul says we still have this ‘hope’, this expectation of a future ‘something’ and thus implies it has not yet come to full fruition, implying a future fulfillment which he speaks about in v.23: “Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” Note, ‘first-fruits’; we’ve already received part of the package. Back in v.11 he said, “if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” 

Already there has been a measure of this for we have received the Holy Spirit who now indwells us and in ways that are not always clear, His presence in us, can even affect us physically. But back in v.23 he also spoke about how we “wait eagerly for our adoption as sons.” Now we have already been adopted into God’s family the moment we were justified and saved, but the clear implication is that there is yet more to come, more behind this meaning of being ‘adopted’ and that has yet to come.

More? Right, hold on to your seat, for this where it is going to get mind-blowing and challenging. In Paul’s writing here in chapter 8 there is this clear declaration that we have a hope of something yet more to come. In our lives before us, they will be two phases: first, the rest of our life on this earth before we die, and then, second, a future dimension in eternity, certainly involving heaven, but also involving a new heaven and a new earth (see Rev 21). So, hold on to those two phases. Yes, we have that post-death phase that we are clear about because Scripture talks about it so much, but how about the pre-death phase? How do we view that?

Living Today? Do we, perhaps, live with the sense that we have ‘arrived’, that we have everything right now that Christ has for us, or is there something more? Well, I believe we do indeed have the potential for everything that Christ has for us but that we may not have entered into it all or appropriated it all yet. The New Testament hints at the idea that we are to grow up or mature, both concepts which convey the idea of change and development. If you are a Christian of say thirty years standing, hopefully you will have considerably more knowledge and understanding than you had when you first came to Christ. Hopefully you have also experienced much of him, have known the filling and gifting and leading of the Spirit and have experienced him teaching you many things.

Example: Let me give the example of the life of prayer, if we may speak about it as such. Many young Christians just pour out wishes, desires, even complaints to God, often with little understanding and certainly with little thought about whether God wants those things for them – and then they feel bad or doubt when those things don’t happen. As they mature, hopefully they learn that prayer is actually about listening to God and speaking out the things God wants for us, to bring us in harmony with His will. Instead of demanding our answers we, as we mature, ask Him what He wants for us and then as He conveys it, we may pray it with authority and see it coming about. If we have learned that, we have learned that there is more to life, more to praying, more to our relationship with the Lord, and as we enter more fully into those things we become more open and available to Him and find Him leading us into things we have perhaps never previously considered.

Hope for Today: This is the hope Paul is now speaking about in these verses, not only in receiving something wonderful AFTER we die, but having a life of openness to the Lord whereby He is able to teach us and train us and lead us into paths we perhaps had never dreamt of. Take, as another example, the apostles. When Peter first encountered Jesus (Jn 1:41,42) at the Jordon, Jesus changed his name. Later when Jesus went up to Galilee and called him (see Lk 5:1-10) he completely changed Peter’s perception of who he was, and called him to become a fisher of men (Mk 1:16-18). Until then Peter had been ‘just a fisherman’ and happy with that. Now he is changing. Watch him on the day of Pentecost and you see a leader. Traveling around the country (Acts 9:32 on) we see him ministering, just like Jesus; it is almost uncanny. When we first saw him at the Jordon he would never have guessed that’s what he would end up doing. This side of death we have a path that is rolling out before us as the Lord leads us, into ever greater things. Do you and I live with this ‘hope’, this expectation? May it be so.

31. Copying Jesus

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 31. Copying Jesus

Acts 2:25-27    I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.  

Following Jesus: Jesus is always to be the one we follow, the one we copy, and this is as much true about expectations as it is about anything else.  I have always been slightly worried about the “What would Jesus do?” campaign of a number of years ago because it has the potential for legalism and of ignoring the Holy Spirit’s inner leading, but nevertheless Jesus is indeed to be the one we follow and seek to imitate.

Resurrection Hope: It was the apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost, under the anointing of the Spirit, who took the words of David from Psa 16:8-11 and declared them prophecy that spoke out the heart of Jesus in respect of the resurrection. Now when it comes to expectations these words are worthy of our consideration, so let’s check the quote first of all.

Verse 9 of Psa 16 says, “Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure,” but Peter changed it to “my body also will live in hope,” Perhaps David when he first wrote it did not dare to take that final step about a resurrected body and yet he clearly hinted at something akin to that as he continued, “because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay,” and if that wasn’t enough he concluded, “you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” (Psa 16:11) There is definitely a thought there about living in God’s eternal presence after we die. Peter, and we must remember, under the anointing of the Spirit, extends this in respect of Jesus to suggest that he knew the reality, he (Jesus) had known he would be resurrected.

Jesus Sureness: Now this, of course, is quite true because we have read, “Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Mt 16:21) which was reiterated by Jesus in Mt 17:22,23 and Mt 20:17-19 as well as more oblique references in Mt 17:9 and Mt 12:39,40 and Mt 26:31,32 which also became obvious public knowledge (see Mt 27:62-64).

Two Applications: Now that was Jesus and we just said that we are to walk in his footsteps and when it comes to his resurrection there are two ways this applies to us: first in respect of the life we now live and, second, the fact of our bodily resurrection. These are both the hope (expectation) that we have today. Let’s consider them both.

First of all, our lives today. The apostle Paul taught, “just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.” (Rom 6:4,5) Christ’s resurrection is to be symbolic of our lives today.  But this isn’t merely symbolic, it is about the power within our lives today which will take us on after physical death, which takes us on to the second application, life after death.

A little later he wrote, “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” (Rom 8:9-11)

Now this take a little explaining. When he says, “your body is dead because of sin,”  he means, as the Message version puts it, “you yourself experience all the limitations of sin” and the Living Bible helpfully adds, “your body will die because of sin” i.e. the fact is that, humanly speaking, each one of us will physically die one day because of the ‘sin thing’ since the Garden of Eden, but, nevertheless, because the Holy Spirit indwells us and enlivens our spirit, there is yet a further existence for us after our physical death whereby we will receive new resurrection bodies.

Before we came to the Lord, the Bible speaks about us having been ‘dead to Christ’ or ‘dead to God’ but when we receive the Holy Spirit and are born again, our spirit is brought alive, resurrected if you like, and alive to God. As the apostle Paul said in that earlier argument, “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 6:11) So it is a very real and very practical application for our lives today – Him in us, gives us a new resurrected life, and who knows where He will lead us tomorrow.

But it is also life after death: “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” (1 Cor 15:20-22) So there it is, but it is not simple and obvious. When, is a question asked. Paul continued, “each in his own turn: Christ, the first fruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.” (v.23)  i.e. when Christ returns. How, is the next question. Paul replies, “So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” (v.42-44)

What is ‘a spiritual body’?  Clearly a body that is imperishable and does not rot as a physical body does. Did Christ’s own body after he was raised from the dead give us a clue, a body that did not seem to be limited by time and space, that appeared to be able to pass through physical matter?  Again Paul wrote, “just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.” (v.49) A ‘body’ is clearly part of the package for our eternity and perhaps we will just have to wait until after death to experience the reality of it. In the meantime, we have this expectation: there is a life beyond death, a life that involves a body. In the meantime, there is a ‘life’ that exists now which includes spirit, His Spirit linked to my spirit and that may be the clue to our eternal future as well. Amen.

30. Expectations of Peace

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 30. Expectations of Peace

Matt 12:18,21   “Here is my servant whom I have chosen….. In his name the nations will put their hope.”

Hope of Justice: Jesus has been healing the sick and so Matthew adds a prophetic quote suggesting that all that had been happening was a fulfilment of God’s word through Isaiah and he quotes Isa 42:1-4, referring to the ‘servant’ of the Lord whom He loves and who will come to “the nations” (v.18) and who will bring justice, so that people from every people grouping around the world will put their hope in him.

Now that is an interesting phrase, and a very significant one for this series of studies: they will “put their hope in him”. When we hope for something we are talking about future expectations, we are talking about something we anticipate will happen in the future, in the days ahead. So why is this so significant?

A World at War: Stop and consider the state of the world. Back in study 22 I spoke about human history and how one historian has spoken of the history of the world is the history of wars, or of human upheavals. This is the truth of human mankind, as much as humanists and atheists would like to pretend otherwise as they speak about how we have been developing. The sad truth is that in the world in which we live TODAY, there are still wars, still national struggles, still religiously motivated struggles, still fears of nuclear warfare, still as many slaves as there ever have been. In my history reading recently I read how historians rationalize our state by saying that proportionally, in the light of the growth of the world population, the numbers killed in the last century were proportionally less than in previous centuries when the world population was smaller. But that is just playing with figures for last century it is probable that as many as a hundred million people died violently, either in war or at the hands of dictators. That is a lot of people however you rationalize it.

Realism leads to Yearning: So why am I being so negative? Well, if it is negative, it is simply being realistic, and it explains something we have just read from Isaiah – people want justice and they will find it in Jesus. What does that mean? Justice means an end to wars and to wrong doing, justice means the world working as it should with peace and harmony prevailing. In the face of this fallen world that is plagued by wars at national and international level, and upsets and divisions and separations at individual levels, we all of us have a deep inner yearning for peace and harmony, of justice, of fairness to prevail, of an absence of anguish. This is why Isaiah’s prophetic word is so wonderful, about the child who would usher in peace and harmony, seen in those amazing pictures of animals living in harmony again (Isa 11:6-9). This is the yearning people have, even if they are unable to verbalize it.

Misunderstandings: Sometimes we tend to only think of these prophetic pictures as being fulfilled in the time post Jesus second coming, but the truth is that the Servant, Jesus, comes to bring peace in us, peace between us and God, and peace between us, between each other, here and now. I recently finished reading a modern novel by a well-known atheistic writer – good writing, poor philosophy and theology – where the writer had someone declaring, “Religion cannot claim morality as its own… I am a good person because I am a good person. God has nothing to do with it,” and I couldn’t help but think, utter deception! As Jesus said, “Who is good but God alone?” A little later he had a minister declaring, “Religious communities cooperate better than non-religious communities and therefore flourish more readily.  That is a scientific fact” and the ‘hero’ begrudgingly acknowledged that: “The minister was correct… anthropological data showed that cultures practicing religions historically had outlived non-religious” as he added, “Fear of being judged by an omniscient deity always helps inspire benevolent behaviour,” and there, as with so many atheists, he revealed his ignorance and misunderstanding.

Motivated by Love: You see, although there are ‘religious’ communities and other world religions who do fearfully serve a scary God, the wonder of the Gospel is that Jesus came and revealed a loving, heavenly Father who is for us, and the lives we live are lives of love not fear. You and I don’t live ‘good’ lives and harmonious lives because we are forced to, but because we can! Because He has accepted us and adopted us into His family and because He has given us His Holy Spirit, the whole of our life is enveloped in His love and it is His love that motivates us, here and now.

Sin Undermines Peace: It is only when Christians fall away, backslide, call it what you will – cease to believe in and live the life revealed in the Gospels and the letters of the New Testament – when they stop being ‘Christians’ when they fall off the rails, fall into adultery, fall into sin in a variety of ways, that they lose this life of peace and harmony. This is a hard word I know, but when you fall purposefully into those things you are no longer covered by the work of Christ on the Cross – you have abandoned it, because he came to deliver us from that sort of behaviour and deliver us from the power of Sin. Yes, there is a way back to forgiveness through repentance, but while you consciously live in Sin, knowing it to be contrary to Jesus’ will, we are in the place where the atheist can mock us for living in unreality.

Jesus, bringer of Peace: Reality is the wonder of living in the will of God. Yes, less than perfect this side of heaven because we do sometimes stumble, but that is different from purposefully turning your back on Christ and doing things the Bible expressly forbids. Jesus has come to set us free from unrighteousness that causes stress and anxiety; he has come to give us a life of peace and harmony as we receive his forgiveness and his power and his identity.

This is the hope, the sure expectancy, that you and I read about in Matthew and Isaiah, that Jesus has come to bring us, a hope of justice and fairness and love and peace that is far more than just head knowledge, but is the very air we breathe as his children. It is what we are, what we know, what we experience, and it is a gift of God, not something to be strived for. The more we live it and share it, the more it will spread. That is Jesus’ desire for us. Let’s not disappoint him.

29. Realistic Expectations

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 29. Realistic Expectations

Matt 20:28   the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Expectations in Christ: Expectations are all about the future – what we anticipate will come. We have seen false expectations and we have seen growing expectations, but it is only when we come to the Son of God that we find truly realistic expectations of the future. Only in Jesus do we see a clarity of purpose and direction and clear knowledge of where it was all leading.  Indeed, we might say, that it is only in Christ are our own expectations accurate.

Even listening to John the Baptist, we sense a little uncertainty about the future but not in Jesus. John’s talk about an axe and fire and a winnowing fork (Mt 3:10-12) all have a strong Old Testament prophetic feeling about them, more of a feeling of judgment than anything else.

Jesus, on the other hand, came preaching that the kingdom of God had arrived, and he showed it as he cast out demons (Mk 1:25,26) and brought healing (Mk 3:5), both before the onlooking religious spectators who were amazed at the level of authority that was now there in their midst. When large crowds came he healed and delivered many (Mk 1:32-34). Matthew insisted he healed all of them (Mt 8:16). Being around Jesus was like being at a party – celebrations were the order of the day as the kingdom of God was expressed.

The Bigger Purpose: But that, of course, was only one part of Jesus’ reason for coming and admittedly it was a good reason, to reveal the love of the Father, to bring the blessing of heaven. But his bigger purpose – and it is bigger – is highlighted in our verse above: the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Jesus was quite clear about that; his goal was to give his life as a sacrifice for sins. That was Jesus’ expectation and it was utterly fulfilled. Matthew is quite explicit about this: From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Mt 16:21) Again in Mt 17:22,23 and Mt 20:17-19 he says the same thing.

At the Last Supper “he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mt 26:27,28) From the outset, this had been his purpose, even as an angel had said to his earthly father, Joseph, over thirty years before: “you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Mt 1:21) It was his sacrificial death that achieved that.

Fulfilling the Task: It was left to the writer to the Hebrews to sum it all up: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:2) When he rose from the dead and ascended back to heaven, there was immense joy at the fulfillment of the task for which he had been sent, fulfilling prophecies centuries old: “my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.” (Isa 53:11) It had not been an easy path, but it was one he had been sure about. Even in the Garden of Gethsemane, confronted by the awfulness of what was about to happen, he prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Lk 22:42) Oh yes, he knew exactly what had to happen and why it had to happen and what would be accomplished.

The Conclusion: The wonder of that is revealed in John’s Revelation: “the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests, to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth,” (Rev 5:8-10) That was the end of his work, million upon millions of human beings, purchased (ransomed), made into a kingdom of priests to serve God and rule on the earth.

And Us. Now for us today, we as Christians, whatever else we believe, the above must be at the heart of our expectations. This is the work of Christ that has established us, and all that we are promised for our futures is because of Christ’s finished work on the Cross. We can do nothing to add to it, just live it out. He has done it and now it is just to be received, to be appropriated by faith. Everything about my future hinges on this. This is a realistic expectation because Jesus spoke out that expectation for us and now his word declares it clearly for us. Our futures are assured; all my expectations of the future are ‘in Christ’ and they are good expectations, they are what we call Christian hope. Rest in that and rejoice in it. Hallelujah!

28. Expectations Recap 3

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 28. Expectations Recap 3

We have come to the end of this part of the series that took us through historical characters in the Old Testament and concluded at the beginning of the Gospels with Simeon. From now on we will consider expectations in the more familiar form of ‘hope’ that is now part of our Christian lives as a result of the work of Jesus. But before we do that, we will do what we have done twice before in this series and have a Recap to cover those studies since Recap 2, to highlight and hold on to the key points that have been made in these latter studies.

In the studies prior to this we had seen David chosen by Samuel, David having to wait some time for the fulfilment of that anointing to become king, and David slaying Goliath. Moving on from there we then considered the growing awareness that David had that he was in fact there by the working of God. We saw that we can have expectations formed by a word from God coming but, very often, the ‘vision’ has to die as we wait for the Lord to bring it about. Once He starts bringing it into fulfilment, we then have the challenge of believing that is what is happening and cooperating with Him in that.  We realise that our earlier expectations were real but now they become more concrete, we might say.

Following David, we then considered his son, Solomon who, as his father was clearly in his last days, first worked at removing remaining ‘belligerents’ from the previous reign and then, when confronted by the Lord in a dream, recognised the difficulty of the task before him and his need of the Lord’s wisdom, which had then been granted him. Solomon’s expectations of the future before him as the king following in his father’s footsteps were quite realistic. He knew it would be difficult and he recognised his need. We asked the question whether we too recognise the need for the Lord’s wisdom in our lives as we look forward to the things before us.

As we watched the dividing of the kingdom after Solomon died, we considered that variety of expectations that people have of God and suggested that it was inadequate expectations of God that were behind all that happened in both the northern and southern kingdoms. The north stumbled over idol worship and never recovered from it. We saw the number of times the Lord spoke into the situation but His determination was to divide the kingdom after Solomon’s disobedience, and pondered on reasons why it should be. The primary reason seems to be to double the chances of future kings getting it right. The opportunities of Israel – north or south – to get it right with God, were thus doubled. The tragedy is that both kingdoms failed to get it right. It was, therefore, also a double opportunity for sin to be revealed through these two kingdoms and perhaps as we compare them as we read about them, their failures are accentuated in the comparison. We also noted that an observation of history reveals that what we see in Israel is repeated again and again in the nations of the world. Sin is clearly the motivating force behind multiple wars at national or international level and family divisions at individual level.

Jumping to the end of the existence of the southern kingdom, the north having passed away long before, we saw Jeremiah speaking to the nation in the years running up to the exile and pondered on the folly of the nation that (unlike the rest of the world) had amazing records of their dealings with God through well over three centuries, and marvelled that they obviously disregarded or forgot these. These was a people who had received prophetic words galore and who knew what was expected of them after they had entered into the covenant with God at Sinai.  Although words of hope were brought through Jeremiah, the main thrust of his ministry had been a call to repent. He laid out clear cut expectations of what would happen if they failed to heed him, but nevertheless their lived in deception with the expectation that it would be ‘all right’. It wasn’t.

Staying with Jeremiah we observed the circumstances that rolled out in the final destruction of Jerusalem and its temple and the life of freedom that was granted to Jeremiah by the Babylonians. We saw how a remnant gathered after the Babylonians had left, leaving behind a governor, and we saw how some of that remnant killed the governor and then made everyone decamp to Egypt despite Jeremiah bringing a clear warning against doing that. It is a story that tells us that even if we are God’s servants, the ways of this fallen world may carry us into circumstances we wished we didn’t have. But the biggest lesson, as we watch Jeremiah continue to prophesy in Egypt, is the call to faithfulness regardless what we expect of the days to come. As a subtext to that story, is the awareness that in this fallen world, changing hearts does not come easily and often it seems, it is only the pressures of trials and tribulations that will truly change a heart towards God.

Following the years of the exile, we recognised that humanly speaking Israel’s expectations of the future had diminished to zero unless they heard and believed Jeremiah’s ‘seventy years’ prophecy. It was possible to maintain good expectations for the future only if they held on to God’s recent word to them. We are not called to have faith built on the obvious, because more often than not, the Lord does not reveal how He will bring about that which appears impossible to us at the moment. Israel could not have foreseen the coming of Cyrus and God’s ability to move on him and get him to send Israel back to their land to rebuild the temple. Similarly for us, we have to recognise that we may have expectations from the Lord in the form of personal prophecy, but more often than not we will not have a clue how that can come about, but it will. You cannot foresee a miracle! That is the shortcoming if expectations!

The years passed and then a man named Nehemiah heard the state of Jerusalem. Yes, the temple had been rebuilt but basically the city was still a demolition site. His heart was moved in anguish and the end result is Nehemiah back in Jerusalem rebuilding the walls of the city.  The expectations of the majority did not include the rebuilding of the city. It was down to one man to have such a hope and, we believe with God’s support, he brought it about. The expectations of just one person can change history; such is the significance of the individual – you or me? The Lord looks for those who will stand in the gap, who will intercede, or who will step up to serve, people who say we do not just have to accept the status quo if it runs contrary to God’s heart.

And so we eventually arrived at the New Testament and bedded these historical reflections of expectations of men or women of the Old Testament, and we did it with, again, just one man, Simeon, a man who was righteous and devout, a man of the Spirit, a man open to the leading of the Spirit and a man that God used to encourage His two servants, Mary and Joseph. Again, and we must emphasise it, it was just one man in Israel who was alert to the purposes of God being unfolded before him. He challenges us to be people who, similarly, will have our eyes and our hearts open to be alert for the moving of God.

Each of this last set of studies since the last Recap, have been about individuals:

  • David, who began to realise that the expectations he had as a result Samuel’s anointing, were now starting to be fulfilled.
  • Solomon, who realised that with the task of leading the nation before him, he needed the wisdom of God to match the expectations that he had of that role.
  • The two kings who caused the kingdom to be divided, whose expectations of God were too low, so that they failed to heed the opportunity to be godly kings.
  • Jeremiah, the faithful prophet of God in all the years running up to the destruction of Jerusalem, who recognised that his expectations for the future of the nation depended entirely on how the kings would respond to God’s word. One way – repentance – would result in future hope and continuation. The other way – rejection – would result in destruction and restoration only seventy years in the future.
  • Jeremiah, again the faithful prophet, but prophesying to the remnant escaping to Egypt. His expectations were not to do with his end but with his ability to keep on being the mouthpiece of God, wherever he was. His expectations were all about faithfulness.
  • Cyrus, who came to understand he could be God’s means of His people returning to their land and rebuilding the temple, an expectation probably no one else had had before that!
  • Nehemiah, one man whose expectations flowed against the general tide of acceptance of the status quo, a man whose heart moved him into dangerous territory to fulfil a hope that surely was based on the heart of God.
  • Simeon, another man on his own, who set his heart towards God and caught the heart of God as He brought His Son to the temple, so that His servants could be encouraged. Simeon’s expectations were based on the heart of God and thus caught the move of God.

This is the message of this last set of studies: individuals are important in the kingdom of God and the expectations we have of God are all-important: that we are called by God with a purpose, to achieve that purpose we need His wisdom, His power and His leading, that is at the heart of godliness, called to be witnesses to Him, to remain faithful regardless of what anyone else may be doing, open to Him to do what only He can do – a miracle to open a door or fulfil a vision, called to have hearts that can be moved by Him, called to be Spirit-people who can be led by Him, people who are called to achieve the impossible  because we are simply vessels of God. May we learn these things.


22. Expectations of God

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 22. Expectations of God

1 Kings 12:15  the king did not listen to the people, for this turn of events was from the LORD, to fulfill the word the LORD had spoken to Jeroboam son of Nebat through Ahijah the Shilonite.

Expectations of God: It is a fact of life that we all have expectations of God. For some, it is that ‘God’ is a figment of the imagination of religious people and therefore there is no one to hold them accountable for their lives. For others, God is a supreme being who stands afar off and has little or no influence on the affairs of the world. For others He is a big scary judge who stands there just waiting to smack down any infidel. For others, those of us who are Christians hopefully, He is a loving heavenly Father who is there to love and bless His children and draw all people to Himself, if they will respond to Him. There are also those people who acknowledge He is there but think that He’s not very clever or very powerful, and so they can outsmart Him – or at least that is what their behaviour suggests. There are also those who observe the goings on of life, and fail to understand the hand of God in it all and therefore jump to wrong conclusions about Him.

Held to Account: Inadequate expectations of God are behind all that follows after Solomon dies. The events that followed were not accident but were the sovereign will of God being worked out. To understand what takes place we need to start back in chapter 11: The LORD became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice.” (1 Kings 11:9) Twice the Lord had appeared to Solomon and so Solomon had no excuse when he turned to his own ways: “Although he had forbidden Solomon to follow other gods, Solomon did not keep the LORD’s command.” (v.10)

That was at the heart of this – idolatry, turning to ‘other gods’. So, said the Lord, because you have done this, “I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates. Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it out of the hand of your son. Yet I will not tear the whole kingdom from him, but will give him one tribe for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen.” (v.11-13) There it is, very simply laid out – the kingdom will be divided after you die.

Why a Divided Kingdom? I think it is legitimate to ponder on why the Lord should do this. There is no explanation expressly given and so we simply have to speculate. First, the memory of David is there as a standard for others to keep. The kingdom was established from Jerusalem and the presence of the Temple there should help anchor the people as the people of God. Yet the Lord knows the hearts of people and where a father has gone off-track, it is very common for the children to follow in their footsteps. BUT the Lord will give opportunities for subsequent generations to get it right.

But God spoke: What is amazing about what follows is the number of times the Lord speaks to the leaders (kings). The cannot say they did not know. Here is a brief list of these:

  • The originating declaration we’ve just seen (1 Kings 11:9-13) to Solomon.
  • Ahijah the prophet speaks to Jeroboam where he explains what will happen, including him to lead the ten northern tribes (1 Kings 11:29-39).
  • ‘Shemaiah the man of God’ speaks to king Rehoboam to say this division is of God and they are not to fight the northern kingdom (1 Kings 12:22-24).
  • A ‘man of God’ challenged Jeroboam when he set up idols at either end of the northern kingdom, that a king called Josiah would break this altar worship (1 Kings 13:1-5).
  • Ahijah the prophet challenged Jeroboam over his idolatry and failure to live up to expectations and therefore end of his family (1 Kings 14:7-16).

The northern kingdom existed for 208 years before being carried off while the southern kingdom continued for 343 years before being carried into exile. None of the northern kings ever put right the situation and so failed to do away with the idolatry that blighted every single reign. In the southern kingdom there was a complete mix of the 19 kings and 1 queen, many getting it wrong and just a few getting it right.

God’s Purposes: As I have studied this in detail over the years, one of the surprising things about these two kingdoms is the lack of activity by the Lord. Yes, He does intervene many times, but many times He doesn’t.  So what was He doing? I conclude the following: first he was allowing the sin of mankind to be revealed through these various kings and it is seen as pure folly. Second, He clearly speaks and waits and looks for repentance, which does come in some but not in others – but the opportunity is always there. Third, He gives them such time to get it right but at the same time those opportunities also allow them to get it more and more wrong and their sin builds to such an extent the only hope is to purge them through exile. But fourth, the big overriding thing is this giving opportunity after opportunity for subsequent kings to turn back to God and get it right. It is a case study of the human race under a microscope – and they do not come out of it well, but God’s grace and mercy shines again and again.

Again, why a split kingdom? A) to show that God does hold people accountable but B) He also gives opportunity – double opportunity now – for getting it right. How does He judge or discipline these people? Mostly by allowing them free reign to do their own thing and so they turn on one another and kill one another. Sometimes it was being oppressed by enemy invaders, sometimes they were rebuked by God’s prophets. The fact is that God used a whole variety of methods to get them back on track but Sin is foolishly persistent and rarely heeds the words or the events. That is the tragic lesson of the chapters of the period of the kings, but it shows us without doubt the need that we as a human race have for salvation. We need God’s help.

Look at History: Don’t only think this was just Israel. In recent years I have been doing extensive reading on current history and the history of the world and in the words of one historian, the history of the world is a history of wars. When you see all societies around the world over big spans, or you observe recent governments, it is all the same – it reveals the sinfulness and folly of mankind at every turn – we desperately need help. In a day when the voices of atheism – whether scientists, philosophers or just authors – seem to be raised in ever greater measure, this analysis is ever more important, whether it comes from studies within the Bible or by historical studies outside it, the message is exactly the same – mankind left to their own devices reveal this propensity to self-centred godlessness which results in unrighteousness which in turn leads to destruction. Be clear on these things for we live an age where expectations of God are quite unreal and you and I need to be quite clear so that we can present an intelligent witness to the world, to those hopefully who may have an element of openness to the truth. Without that hope, the future is dark.