Snapshots: Day 85

Snapshots: Day 85

The Snapshot: “the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” (Ex 40:34) When the ‘house of the Lord’ is built according to His instructions (see the previous ‘Thought’) surely we should expect the glory of the Lord to fill it – us individually and corporately. IF that actually happened – in whichever local expression of the church that you can think of – what do you think would be seen?  How would God’s glory be seen? His daily and weekly presence, His power, His regular life transforming activity. Can any of us (maybe a few) in churches in the West at least, honestly say this is what we experience? In the days, weeks and months ahead, dare we make this prayer: “Show us Lord, what we need to change that will make this dwelling available for you. Please come and fill us”?

Further Consideration: Recently I found myself writing the following: “At the end of a Sunday morning say, do we have a buzz about the wonderful things that happened in that morning, the amazing words of revelation that were brought, the powerful testimonies of change brought, the lives that were clearly touched and changed, the obvious power of the Holy Spirit’s presence seen and felt, the heart-warming encouragements brought, the strong faith stirred, the powerful challenges brought, maybe even the tears of conviction brought, and was there a sense of having been fed by God’s word so that we walk out with head held high, stronger in conviction, more sure of our walk and certain of our future? I must pray more.”

That came out of constantly being confronted with thoughts and writings about ‘Holy Dissatisfaction’, a healthy prompting by the Spirit to get us to pray. The above is, I believe, an honest appraisal of how so much modern church life is (there are exceptions) and how many hungry Christians come away at the end of Sunday morning.

However, it is possible not to come away like this if we have no expectation of the presence of God, if we have settled to the neatly planned and orthodox service where, to be quite honest, you would not know if the presence of God was absent or not.

The glory that was seen in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple of Solomon was unique, never to be seen again (except in visions by Ezekiel). Today that ‘glory’ is the almost tangible presence of the Holy Spirit in our midst when we meet – when He is given space and welcomed. I suspect this is not something experienced by most modern churches. It is only when you have had a glimpse of this will your heart yearn for something more – the ‘more’ that God wants to bring to His people to deepen their relationship with Him, strengthen and embolden them to confront the many ungodly pressures that have been coming and continue to come on the Church today. We can opt for the familiar or we can pray for the godly Presence. May it be the latter.

18. Self-glory or…..

(We’ll put aside reflections on the Church and pick up John 7 again for the next week) 

Short Meditations in John 7:  18.  Self-glory or….

Jn 7:18 Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.

I sometimes conclude a prayer of petition with, “Father, may it be for your honour and glory,” or “Lord Jesus so that your name will be praised.”  I do it not only because I want that but also so that it will act as a reminder to me that this is what it is all about. We would be foolish to think that we never have mixed motives but praying like this does act as a reminder (and challenge?) that we serve the Lord of Glory, not the other way round.

The crowd have wondered how Jesus can teach as he does and Jesus declares it is from his Father in heaven (v.16) and the person who is committed to God will recognize this (v.17). But then he speaks what is a general principle but one that directly applies to him.

It is very simple, a speaker who comes of their own volition, speaks on their own behalf and, therefore, for their own glory. One who comes at the behest of another, coming on their behalf, seeks their glory or prestige. Now the clear implication in the light of v.16 is that Jesus speaks to the honour and glory of his Father in heaven and, being His Son, he speaks absolute truth and there is nothing false either in him or in what he says.

Again and again we see it in the Gospels, Jesus speaking and pointing the world to his Father. He is not there for his own glory but for the glory and honour of his Father in heaven. That is what these three years of ministry are all about – about pointing people to the Father and revealing the love of the Father for them. It is that simple. His even bigger task will be to die on the cross to take the sin of the world, but before that he is there to testify to his Father.

Perhaps this should come as a challenge to us. Our temptation may be to see the woes of the world and seek to address them through the ‘Law’ of the scriptures and seek to remedy the world’s problems in this way, but that is inadequate. Simply saying, this is how we ought to be living, is inadequate.

We have the problems we have because mankind is at odds with the Father in heaven. It is only by coming back into a right relationship with Him – made possible by Jesus’ finished work on the cross and now administered by the Holy Spirit – can lives be truly changed and problems addressed. If this is not foremost in our understanding then everything simply becomes another ‘self-help’ approach and we might as well write a book, “Following God’s laws is the answer.” Well it isn’t, it is coming back to the Father.

10. Prayer of Testimony

Reaching into the Psalms 1 to 4:   10. Prayer of Testimony (1)

Psa 3:3    But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high.

Approach: In our introduction to Psalm 3 we suggested that verses 1 & 2 were David praying out his concern while he was on the run from Absalom, verses 3 to 6 are a prayer of testimony and then verses 7 and 8 a prayer of request. It is thus a psalm that shows us different aspects of prayer – acknowledgement, declaration, petition. I have a feeling that I have read all the psalms many times and yet have only a surface understanding of them and verse 3 that we are moving into is no exception. Some of it appears obvious but as I pause over it, I suspect it is not as obvious as I have usually thought. Let’s approach it slowly and carefully.

Contrast: Circumstances versus reality: The verse starts with a ‘But’. That always suggests a contrast with what has just gone before. In verses 1 and 2 David spoke of his foes and those who had risen against him, and the fact that many were saying that God will not save him. Such verses imply gloom and doom and leave a sense of concern, worry, anxiety, insecurity, threat; that is the cloud that hangs over him because of Absalom, those are the circumstances that bring the ‘down’ feeling. Isn’t that just how it can be so often, the circumstances look and feel bad and the temptation is to sink under them, but David shows us another way. He declares the truth that he has found through his experiences of the Lord. The reality is that God has been there for him. The classic illustration of that was when he testified to Saul in respect of Goliath, “The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”  (1 Sam 17:37) i.e. God is with me and for me, that I know, because that is how it has always been. Now there are four things to note in the verse in respect of his testimony.

Yahweh/Jehovah/The I AM: Note how he addresses God: LORD, with the capital letters denoting the name given to Moses (Ex 3:14), “God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”  The One upon whom David relies is the ‘I AM’ of Israel’s history, the God who revealed Himself as, “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob,” (Ex 3:6) and subsequently the God of Moses, the Exodus and the conquest of Canaan. This is the One he has experienced and knows, the Eternal One, the Mighty One who is there for His people. This is the starting place of his confidence which rises up to suppress all the negatives of verses 1 and 2.

A Shield: A shield is an instrument of protection against incoming missiles or other weapons. But David says God is a “shield around me”. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a futuristic sci-fi where a town is covered with a barely visible ‘force field’ that protects it. It completely covers it and protects it and that is how David sees the Lord’s presence, so it doesn’t matter if there is an army against him, he is safe. Elisha understood this concept although he expressed it in a different way. Do you remember when he and his servant were staying in Dothan and an enemy army surrounded it and scared the life out of the servant out for an early morning walk on the walls of the town. He ran to Elisha who knew it was simply a matter of revelation and so prayed for his servant, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” (2 Kings 6:17) There was the Lord’s shield for them, the angelic army of the Lord!

Glory: But he also refers to the Lord as, “my glory”. We see, “But you, Lord, are … my glory.” We know what the Lord’s glory is, for we see it at Mount Sinai (Ex 24:16,17), and as Israel travelled through the desert and it lit up a cloud by day and appeared as fire by night. When the Tabernacle was constructed according to God’s instructions, the glory of the Lord filled it (Ex 40:34). It was a bright light, so when David says you are ‘my glory’ he is saying, ‘You are the One who lights up my life with your splendour, revealing me for who I am, your chosen and anointed servant.’

Affirmation & Encouragement: There are perhaps a number of words that apply into what follows: “you, Lord, are …. the One who lifts my head high.”  All of the negatives of verses 1 and 2 weighed heavily on him, especially as he knew the ultimate cause of them, for they were God’s disciplinary judgment on him. I like how the Living Bible puts it: “You alone can lift my head, now bowed in shame.”  Have you noticed how people with very low self-esteem, those who feel utter failures, walk with the heads bowed down, their eyes on the floor; it is a common thing. So why is David’s head lifted?

God with us: Emmanuel: First, because the Lord is with him and with God on your side, God beside you, and in our case, and with God indwelling you as Lord and Saviour, you are someone special with no reason to have a bowed head. Yes, the enemy is there, the circumstances are bad, and the outlook is bleak, but with the Lord there with you, for you, in you, all that doesn’t matter. The Isaiah prophecy about Immanuel – God with us (Isa 7:14) – and fulfilled in Jesus (Mt 1:23), says it all, God is with us, not far off, not off down the other end of the universe, no, He is here with us!

God the encourager: I said there are perhaps many words that describe what God does for us, to lift our heads, encourage, affirm, empathize and comfort, declare victorious, the list can go on. It isn’t just that God is with us, it is that He is with us to do things, to bless us, deliver us, lead us in victory, and all these things work to the same end, they lift our down-turned faces in the face of the negative circumstances and negative enemies.

And Us? Are we confronted by negative circumstances (in this Fallen World there are usually plenty of them!) or negative enemies?  What is the answer? Not to dwell on their presence but to realize the Presence of the Lord God Almighty and His Anointed One with us, and as we realize that presence, to receive from Him all the good things He wants to bring to us: grace, goodness, love, joy, peace, patience, perseverance, endurance, affirmation, comfort, encouragement; they are all there in His outstretched hands to be received. As we pray, let’s remember who He is and who we are and rejoice in that wonder and put into perspective the negatives of the world. Amen? Amen!

9. Human Glory

Meditations on Isaiah 40: No.9.  Human Glory

Isa 40:6   A voice says, “Cry out.”  And I said, “What shall I cry?” “All people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.

The significance of the passing of time in Scripture is fascinating.  For instance, there are periods of waiting, waiting for seeds to grow, waiting for the right time, waiting for time to pass. Sometimes when we are waiting we think it is the end. Israel must have felt that when they went into the Exile.  Israel might have wondered about it in Jesus day when there has been silence from heaven for over four hundred years. The disciples thought it when Jesus body lay in the tomb until the third day.

One of the things about time passing is that it is so easy to forget what God has said when His word comes, or even to be led into doubt that we have heard aright. That must have been the case when Sarai urged Abram to take the servant girl, Hagar, to use here to continue the family line (Gen 16:1-4). Time passing challenges our faithfulness.

Now Israel are in a ‘desert state’ or ‘wilderness state’ as the word of the Lord comes to comfort them. No doubt time has passed but now the Lord has said He is coming’ it seems their period of waiting is coming to an end, but for God to be rightly received there needs to be a right perspective, a right way of thinking about Him, and that right thinking always has to start with a recognition of what we are. In comparison to the Lord we small and insignificant and in the verses to follow in this chapter we are going to be reminded of something of the Lord’s greatness, but before we do that we have to see our smallness, and our frailty. Humility requires right understanding.

That is where I got to as I approached these verses but then I realised something. There is a difference between verses 6 and 7. If verse 7 was absent, we would think that verse 6 is really good; it is only when the balance or counterpart of verse 7 comes that we find our aspirations dashed. So think again. The truth is that there are two sides to revelation about mankind and the way God thinks about us, and it is important to consider them both and so we will take verse 6 here and verse 7 in the next study.

The prophetic word rolls out: A voice says, “Cry out.”  And I said, “What shall I cry?” (v.6a) Isaiah hears the word, the instruction to call out to his people and his instinctive reply is to ask what he is to call. It could be anything. It could be about their sinfulness, it could be about God’s greatness, it could be about judgment, it could be about blessing, it could be about another nation or people, but instead it is a general declaration about mankind: All people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.” (v.6b)

Right, stop right there. Think about this description as it stands. We are like grass. Grass? Grass covers a lot of this earth.  God must like grass. Grass is useful for feeding cattle and when it turns into straw it has other uses. There are also many sorts of grass, and some of them are purely ornamental (we have at least five different sorts of ornamental grasses in our garden apart from the grass on the lawn.) Grass is quite a good picture.

But then he speaks about “the flowers of the field”. I don’t know if you have ever observed a ‘meadow’   Listen to Wikipedia’s definition of a meadow: “A meadow is a field habitat vegetated by grass and other non-woody plants. Meadows are of ecological importance because they are open, sunny areas that attract and support flora and fauna that could not thrive in other conditions.” Those ‘other non-woody plants’ are either flowers or other plants we often refer to as weeds. There is a big thing in the UK about growing ‘meadows’ specifically because of the wild flowers that grow in a meadow. There is something quite special about the wild flowers that grow in the midst of grass.

Now, there is a key word in the midst of picture language, ‘faithfulness’ and we said above that the passing of time challenges our faithfulness. Some versions have the word ‘beauty’ instead but incorporate a note about ‘constancy’ or ‘faithfulness’.  The versions that lack ‘faithfulness’ have just half the picture, I believe, because it is not only about frailty, it is about faithfulness and when we go on into verse 7, frailty shown in failing faithfulness. We will consider some more about that aspect in the next study, but for the moment consider our faithfulness as a flower that stands out in the midst of a field of grass. It is beautiful in the eye of the Lord.

Elsewhere in Scripture we find, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honour” (Psa 8:4,5) and the writer to the Hebrews takes that quote and slightly extends it: “What is mankind that you are mindful of them, a son of man that you care for him? You made them a little] lower than the angels; you crowned them with glory and honour and put everything under their feet.” In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them.” (Heb 2:6-8) Before we let the enemy put us down, let’s remember this is how God sees us, this is what He designed us to be, and in the present prophetic picture our faithfulness (when it is there) is something beautiful to behold, something that blesses the Lord. Let’s make sure we hold on to it.

Application for further thought and prayer: Lord help me remain faithful to you in every area of my life. Thank you that you have a plan for my life, you are blessed by it and yet have more for me. Open my eyes to your possibilities for me.

1. Expectations Introduction

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 1. Expectations Introduction

2 Cor 3:18  we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit

I have recently completed a short series on Christmas and, as always, I have felt challenged by the events of Advent as found in the Bible, but as I got near the end of that little series I found an awareness of something I had not particularly noticed before, the sense of expectation, and this has sent me off down a path I have not travelled before, but which feels like it is going to go somewhere significant.

To summarise the feeling that I have, it is that throughout the Bible – because of the nature of it, that it is an ongoing history of God rolling out His purposes which have yet to be completely fulfilled – there is this sense of “What next?” or “Where is this going?” or “What more have you got for us Lord?”

I used to be an avid fan of the TV Series, The West Wing, a seven series attempt at an insight of what goes on in the world surrounding the American president. Crisis followed crisis, problem followed problem, difficulty followed difficulty, and as each one was resolved the words that became a familiar refrain from President Bartlet came: “Okay. What’s next?”  It is an indication that one thing has come and gone, so what’s the next thing on the agenda. It is also the suggestion that, for the White House, for God, for us, there is something more on the agenda. We never stand still – or at least that is how it is supposed to be when you read the Bible. I wonder how many Christians live with a sense of ‘having arrived’ and ‘this is it’?

Our starter verse above, from 2 Cor 3:18, is a classic illustration of this as it speaks of how we, with an open relationship with the Lord, (unveiled faces) thus now “reflect the Lord’s glory” and so “are being transformed into his likeness”. But this is where it becomes highly significant in the light of my above comments, because it is “with ever-increasing glory” and if we wonder why we are told that it, “comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” So the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives means that the more we go on through life, the more He will be working so that we more and more reflect God’s glory. (‘More’ becomes a key word!) The Living Bible puts it, “we can be mirrors that brightly reflect the glory of the Lord. And as the Spirit of the Lord works within us, we become more and morel like him”.

Now how can we catch this more fully? I nearly titled this series, “Newness, Expectations and Hopes” because it strikes me that the Lord is constantly recreating the present situation, and bringing in something new, but I excluded the ‘Newness’ to make it simpler – but the idea is still there! As I have let my mind wander over the Bible to see where we might go with this, I get this sense, that there are, again and again, times when the Lord comes out into the open, so to speak, with something new, some revelation of which we were not aware previously. But isn’t this how it is with our individual lives? A new person, a new situation, a new set of circumstances will confront us today. How we handle those, indicates where we are in our walk with Christ, as Christians, but His desire is that we handle them well with his grace.

So a needy person turns up today, someone perhaps just needing to be listened to, someone who simply wants love and acceptance. The world is often too busy for them, but Jesus never is, and so as we find a sense of compassion inside, we sit and listen, we give them time and care and love and Jesus is expressing himself through us. Perhaps we hadn’t ever done it like that before and so it was a new experience for us, so God’s glory was being revealed through us in a new way. Perhaps it is how we usually cope well with people and so that was simply another time when God’s glory was seen through you, but ‘another time’ is still another new expression of him in and through you.

Or perhaps there is a difficult situation that arises at work. Other people are getting stressed about it, some are gossiping about it, putting a negative spin on it, but instead you quietly pray and as you sense the presence of the Lord with you, you remain at peace and thoughts flow that turn out to be wisdom (from God) and you contribute as a peacemaker in the situation. Whether the others realise it or not, you were reflecting the glory of God into the situation, a new presence was brought into it, that brought peace.

So, yes, there is so often a sense of newness in the things that God does, but they are only new as far as we are concerned for God saw them, knew them, planned them long back. He’s not caught on the hop by any situation and His knowledge, wisdom and resources of power are always up to the task. So we potter on through life, just like the saints of old recorded in His word, and then suddenly He speaks and there is this air of expectation; He’s on the move, He’s revealing His heart and His plans and although so often we only get a clue, that is enough, we know we’re in one of those “What’s next?” situations.

If you don’t see life like that, then I hope in these coming days it will become clearer as we pick up on person after person, situation after situation, that are there in the Bible, and catch this sense of expectation that comes from the throne room above. That is my hope, that is my expectation.

41. Reflecting Glory?

Focus on Christ Meditations: 41.  Reflecting Glory?

John 17:4   I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.

In this part we have considered in some measure, Jesus as a teacher and Jesus as a miracle worker. Now these are the obvious things about Jesus, the things that must surely strike the new reader first of all because they are, indeed, so obvious.  Indeed that is how many people sum up Jesus – a great teacher or a great miracle worker – but in so doing and not going any further they miss something that is critical.

In his writing the apostle Paul gives two intriguing pictures about us and the glory of God. First, we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:18) and then a little later in that same letter, “God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2 Cor 4:6,7) In the first picture we reflect God’s glory as we encounter the Spirit, in the same way Moses’ face reflected God’s glory when he encountered Him in the tent of meeting. In the second picture God’s light shines within us in the same way that a candle might shine light even when it is placed inside an old, chipped and cracked earthenware piece of pottery. It is not our glory, it is His.

Now the truth that comes out in John’s Gospel, that really wasn’t seen clearly in the Synoptics, is that Jesus had existed in heaven with all the glory of the Godhead of which he was part, but had then left heaven and had come down to earth in human form – very ordinary human form (see again Isa 53:2) – with the job of revealing the Father to the world through his life and ministry, and then fulfilling the long-term plan of the Godhead to die for the sins of the world.

Thus, in our verse above Jesus declares this in prayer to the Father in his closing hours on earth: “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” (v.4) He had revealed the Father for three years in his ministry. Thus he said to his disciples in that last time together in the upper room, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father,” (Jn 14:9) and the apostle Paul would write, “He is the image of the invisible God.” (Col 1:15)

If we can chop one of Paul’s other verses, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see …. the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Cor 4:4) I have cut out, “the light of the gospel of” to make the point more obvious that spiritual blindness stops people seeing this wonder of who Christ is.  Yes, this gospel we preach should be a gospel that is about the glory of Christ, and so many people just cannot see how wonderful Christ is. Indeed that may be one of the reasons I am writing this series, because we, God’s children, become so familiar with the words that we hear preached so often that we lose the wonder of what they are saying – Christ is God on earth.

Jesus revealed the Father: “Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working…. the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (Jn 5:17,19) The writer to the Hebrews picked up on this: “when Christ came into the world, he said: “”Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me…..  I said, `Here I am – it is written about me in the scroll – I have come to do your will, O God.’” (Heb 10:5,7) Through the body that was given him – the form of the man Jesus of Nazareth – the Son worked out the will of the Father that had been formulated from before the foundation of the world.

Throughout much of the Old Testament, it is clear that God’s intention in creating Israel, was to reveal Himself. From that first encounter with Abraham there is a hint of the Father’s intentions: “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Gen 12:3) It was a message repeated again and again (e.g. Gen 17:3-7, 18:17,18, 22:15-18).  With the coming of Moses and the Exodus it was reiterated (e.g. Deut 28:8-10).  Later David would make is a central theme of various of his psalms (e.g. 1 Chron 16:8,24, Psa 57:9 etc.) The message from heaven was there again and again and again – God wants to bless the human race! That was the ‘will of God’ that the writer to the Hebrews spoke about.

Thus we should not be surprised when Jesus declares his mandate: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.” (Lk 4:18a) And what was that good news? “He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed,  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (v.18b,19) Then later he was able to say to John’s disciples, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” (Mt 11:4,5) i.e. I’m doing it!

But that, of course, was only half the package – the other half would be dying on the Cross for the sins of the world.  Nevertheless we have chapter after chapter in the Gospels of Jesus bringing the love of God to bless mankind, and that love, which again we so often take for granted, will be the subject of our next three studies, for it says so much about the sort of people God wants us to be as He blesses us.

So all the teaching and all the miracles are all part of the same package – to reveal the love and intent of the Father and when he had done it, Jesus was able to say, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” May we be able to say the same when we come to the end of our lives.

4. Exodus (2)

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 4.  Exodus (2)

Ex 33:13,18  If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people…. Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”

In these two verses there are two requests, one fairly obvious and the other quite mysterious, but both of them stand out as revealing the depth of the relationship that had formed between the Lord and Moses. Perhaps we need to observe what had been going on to catch the reasoning behind these two requests.

Moses, we saw in the last meditation, had encountered the Lord at the burning bush on what was in fact Mount Sinai, while looking after his sheep (which he had been doing for forty years there in the wilderness of Midian and into the Sinai Peninsular). There he had received his calling to lead Israel out of Egypt. This had all happened and as they left Egypt, the Lord had provided a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night to guide them. He had guided them across the south of the Sinai Peninsular to Mount Sinai where He had revealed His presence in the cloud on the mountain and entered into covenant with Israel, giving them the Ten Commandments and other laws by which to guide their community life. The promise was still there that He would yet lead them into the Promised Land, Canaan.

While at the mountain Moses, Aaron, Aaron’s sons, and seventy elders had been called up the mountain to meet with the Lord and we read, amazingly, Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself. But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank.” (Ex 24:9-11) You may think that that was so amazing, it should be the focus of our meditation, but I simply mention it because it is just another of the many encounters with the Lord that Israel had. Moses gets called up on the mountain alone again and while he is there Israel become restive and the awful events involving a golden calf occur (Ex 32) which results in Moses having to intercede for the people. Nevertheless, those involved are put to death and the Lord sends plague on the people, perhaps killing off the guilty ones who had been missed in the executions.

Now following all this, and it is all very significant in respect of our two verses, the Lord tells Moses to lead the people to Canaan (Ex 33:1) but He would not come with them lest He destroyed them – implied, for their sinfulness – and it is in the light of this that Moses makes the first of his two requests, “teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you.” (33:13) i.e. if I am to lead this people by myself, I want to know that I am doing it in the way you will approve. I need to know ‘your ways’, the ways you think and work. If I am to be your servant and get this right, I need to know what you would do in each circumstance.

Now this puts me in mind of the bracelets that were fashionable a while back with WWJD on them – “What would Jesus DO?”  They would be a reminder of the way Jesus worked, and I believe there was even a book that followed this idea through. It is an idea which appears to have merit. We know something of Jesus’ character in the Gospels and so we can imagine how Jesus might act – full of love and goodness – in the circumstances we find ourselves in. The only problem with that, is that it virtually recreates the Law and is godless! I mean we can live without reference to the Lord.

Look at the answer the Lord gave Moses to his first request: “The LORD replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (v.14) Note the Lord doesn’t give Moses instruction as to His ways; He simply says My presence will be with you.  Now this is monumental! Moses catches something of this: “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” (v.15,16) i.e. I recognize that your presence with us is what will make us different from any other people, because you will be God and do what you do, and I can rely on that. It is as if Moses’ pleading has brought a change of mind between verses 3 and 14. The Lord will go with them; how else will they be a holy people?

Now what is the parallel today? It surely must be the fact of the indwelling Holy Spirit in each of us. His presence goes with us. Do we have a set of rules to guide us? Well yes, we have the teaching of the whole of the New Testament, but when it comes to specific, individual situations where the way is not clear, we need Him to inspire us, guide us and teach us, and He is there within us to do that. That is how significant His present-day presence is.

But Moses isn’t content with a sense of a far-off presence of the Lord, he needed something more. Yes, he’s been through the exodus, he’s led the people to Sinai, he’s had amazing encounter after amazing encounter with the Lord there, and even apparently ‘seen’ the Lord (Ex 24:10) but presumably that was a vision, for they had all lived and as wonderful as that had been, Moses needs reassuring. I want to see you! Really see you!

Essentially in what follows the Lord says, “I’ll let you see a tiny part of me, but not full on.” The impression of Scripture is that if you see the ‘face’ of God it is so full of light, splendour and power (all of that is His glory) that you could not cope with it but would die on the spot. What is amazing is that Moses had the temerity to ask this. What is more incredible is the Lord’s gentle dealing with him. He does not scold him or tell him off. It is almost as if He is pleased with Moses asking this, even though He knows he cannot grant it if Moses is to live.

What am I left with here? My call is to ‘follow’ Jesus, that means go as his Spirit calls me and guides me and directs me, and if along the way I ask presumptuous things, he will put up with me and just take me on. He delights in me stretching out in faith, even if sometimes it verges on presumption. When you have little children, you don’t expect them to always get it right, do you? You understand their enthusiasm, even when it is misjudged. You know they will grow up and mature, and that is how it is with us and the Lord. Hallelujah!

12. A Glorified Body

Short Meditations on the Body of Christ:  12. A Glorified Body

2 Thess 2:14   He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This is an unusual concept and, I suspect, one that is foreign to many believers. Glory is a strange concept. We get it when, in the Old Testament, the glory of the Lord filled either the Tabernacle (Ex 40:34,25) or the Temple (2 Chron 5:14 & 7:1). It was an immense brightness revealing the presence of the Lord. Generally we might say it means divine splendor so in our verse above it might read, “that you might share in the divine splendor of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In his prayer before the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus used this word six times. Sometimes it was about himself: “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” (Jn 17:4,5) i.e. Father I have revealed your divine splendor by what I have been doing, but I realise that has been limited so let the same splendor that I have when I am in heaven be seen by the things that are about to happen (my death, resurrection and ascension).

Sometimes it was about us: “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one.” (v.22) This must refer to the work of the Holy Spirit who unites us by bringing life to us all as He indwells us. In other words, the presence of the Holy Spirit within us should be revealing to all onlookers the presence and divine splendor of God, by who we are and what we do. Who we are? Are people able to look at us and see something different about us, not an arrogance or self-centred piety but a humility that expresses love and goodness and is there to bring God’s love and goodness to whoever we find ourselves with, as much as they may be open to us.

What we do? We have just touched on that because it should flow out of who we are. Jesus touched on this when he taught, “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:16) i.e. let God’s goodness and presence and divine splendor be seen through the good that the Holy Spirit inspires you to do. When we forgive, when we love, when we do good, when we bless, when we persevere, when we are patient, when we are kind, is it with such divine inspiration and empowering that people look on and wonder and say, “How can you be like that? I want what you have.” Who was the famous saint who said, “Evangelize by all means; use words if you have to.”? God’s glory is revealed more by deeds than by words (Acts 2:22 where words are not mentioned!).

4. The Nature of Cherubim

Meditations from Ezekiel: 4.  The Nature of Cherubim

Ezek 1:10  Their faces looked like this: Each of the four had the face of a man, and on the right side each had the face of a lion, and on the left the face of an ox; each also had the face of an eagle.

We are, we must remember, considering a vision and we have already noted that the things Ezekiel sees are beyond his understanding and experience and so the most common word he uses to describe what he sees is ‘like’.  But it is a prophetic vision and prophecy either simply declares the glory and greatness of the Lord or it declares His intentions. Moreover prophecy often declares the truth in picture or symbolic form and so when we come to the things before us now, we have to ask, what is this picture or this part of the picture seeking to convey to us?

Pictures of Cherubim: We are considering these ‘four living creatures’ who take up so much of chapter 1 and we have noted that Ezek 10:1,2 identifies these four living creatures as cherubim, i.e. angels, but the descriptions here are nothing like those that we would normally attribute to angels.  So let’s suggest that what we have here in this vision is a prophetic picture conveying truths about these ‘angels’. So what do we see?

The description starts, In appearance their form was that of a man.” (v.5) That is an easy starting place because that is the image we normally have of angels, they come in human form. Yet the writer to the Hebrews tells us, “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve.” (Heb 1:14) Even as God is Spirit, so angels are actually ministering spirits from heaven who, when sent to earth to serve the purposes of God, come in human form. It continues, “but each of them had four faces and four wings.” (v.6) More is said about both their faces and their wings in a moment so we’ll leave the comment.

Their Legs & Feet: “Their legs were straight; their feet were like those of a calf and gleamed like burnished bronze.” Straight legs identify them with human beings who, although we have knee joints, transport ourselves mostly straightly and straight usually denotes directness or purpose and it is true that angels go with purpose of God. When they serve God they are always purposeful. But then this symbolic, prophetic picture shows feet of a calf. Malachi once prophesied, “you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall.” (Mal 4:2) Those who live on a farm with animals will testify to the calves who, when let loose from the pen, often prance around. They have an agility, an ability to be light footed, they are secure on their feet. But their feet also “gleamed like burnished bronze.” Burnished bronze speaks of strength and hardness. These beings can go anywhere without fear of what they tread on. To summarise, these creatures, these angels, move with God’s purpose, move with lightness and agility and are able to go anywhere. It is that simple.

Their Wings: Reference to their wings is spread out through the chapter so let’s group all the references together: “each of them had … four wings…..” (v.6) Under their wings on their four sides they had the hands of a man. All four of them had faces and wings, and their wings touched one another….” (v.8,9) Their wings were spread out upward; each had two wings, one touching the wing of another creature on either side, and two wings covering its body…. (v.11) ….. Under the expanse their wings were stretched out one toward the other, and each had two wings covering its body…. (v.23)

Now when we look at birds, wings speak of movement, of flight, and associated with these verses we also find, “Each one went straight ahead; they did not turn as they moved…. (v.9)… Each one went straight ahead. Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, without turning as they went….. (v.12) When the creatures moved, I heard the sound of their wings, like the roar of rushing waters, like the voice of the Almighty, like the tumult of an army. When they stood still, they lowered their wings.” (v.24) So their wings show us that these are not merely stationary guards but they are creatures of great movement: “The creatures sped back and forth like flashes of lightning,” (v.14) and one might suggest from what we have learnt earlier that they go quickly to perform the will of God for the sake of the elect and their movement is quick and immediate. Note in verse 11, they go “Wherever the spirit would go.” They go as the Spirit leads.

Their Faces: We now come to the really strange aspects of these pictures.  “Their faces looked like this: Each of the four had the face of a man, and on the right side each had the face of a lion, and on the left the face of an ox; each also had the face of an eagle. Such were their faces.” (v.10,11) OK, remember, it is just a symbolic prophetic picture. What do each of these animals suggest to us? Man = humanity. A lion = strength and a ruler (king of the jungle). An Ox = service & work (an Ox is a beast of burden used to pull ploughs, carts etc.) An Eagle = revelation (an eagle soars high and sees all.) The face of the man (their humanity) predominates because it is at ‘the front’ so, as we’ve already learnt, they go to do the will of God for humanity but in so doing they go with the strength rule and authority of God (Lion), they go to serve (Ox), and they go with revelation (Eagle).  Isn’t it simple and straight forward! As long as you remember it is simply a symbolic prophetic picture.

Why?  So why is it like this? Well perhaps we might suggest that God does not share his pearls with swine (Mt 7:6) and so understanding of these things will only be given to those who seek Him and really seek to know what He says. Many people will see the words and turn away confused. That’s why Jesus said he would teach in parables (read Mt 13:10-17) You bothered to read this far. Be blessed!

3. The Coming of the Lord

Meditations from Ezekiel: 3.  The Coming of the Lord

Ezek 1:4,5  I looked, and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north–an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light. The center of the fire looked like glowing metal, and in the fire was what looked like four living creatures.

We are about to enter one of the strangest passages of scripture in the Bible, a passage that is detailed, complex and even confusing. It starts out very simply. I don’t know if the makers of the film, ‘Independence Day’ used this passage to get an idea for the coming of the alien space craft but that has been the best I have ever seen of anything like that described in verse 4. Remember this is a vision but in it he sees this immense cloud with flashing lightning and brilliant light.

Clouds? Now of course we know that when Moses approached Mount Sinai with Israel, the presence of the Lord was accompanied by thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain.” (Ex 19:16) but that was literal and not just a vision, but the Lord had said, “I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that the people will hear me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you.” (v.9) When Moses first erected the completed Tabernacle we read, “Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.” (Ex 40:34) Many years later when Solomon finished building the Temple, as he came to consecrate it we find, “Then the temple of the LORD was filled with a cloud, and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the temple of God.” (2 Chron 5:13,14)

Later on in Ezekiel we will see this same cloud accompanying the glory of the Lord, but why a cloud? It is almost as if the Lord is reticent to reveal His glory unhindered to the earth and so initially all we see is the cloud and only gradually comes the revelation of the Lord and those with Him. Indeed the point is made in the verses above that it was often a ‘thick’ cloud, or a ‘dense’ cloud.

Similarities but different: Now there are several ‘heavenly passages’ in scripture and we will note them in a moment but there is both unity and disunity in the pictures, i.e. similar beings but different descriptions. Why? I’m going to suggest two reasons. The first one is the human reason, that what is revealed is confusing to the human mind, so unlike anything else we have encountered that for the onlooker it was so ‘other world’ that he struggled to describe.  So, for instance, in chapter 1 of Ezekiel the word ‘like’ occurs twenty times when talking about descriptions. In verses 4 & 5 above we read, “The center of the fire looked like glowing metal, and in the fire was what looked like four living creatures.” It wasn’t that but in human descriptive terms it was like that. The second reason for the differences is that different things are being conveyed by the pictures presented.

The Four Living Creatures: So we come to these “four living creatures”. Hold on to the fact that this is a vision and the writer (and God) is trying to convey truths in picture form. We’re going to see more as we move on but let’s jump to chapter 10 where we read, “I looked, and I saw the likeness of a throne of sapphire above the expanse that was over the heads of the cherubim. The LORD said to the man clothed in linen, “Go in among the wheels beneath the cherubim.” (Ezek 10:1,2) There the creatures are called cherubim.

Now when Isaiah had his ‘heavenly vision’ we read of the Lord, “Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.” (Isa 6:2) Fans of the film, ‘Sister Act’ will remember the nuns singing of ‘cherubim and seraphim’. Dictionaries usually simply describe both as ‘orders of angels’ but the picture here in Ezekiel doesn’t convey the cherubic-like figures that many early painters portrayed or even the usual picture of a single human figure. In the two passages we’ve quoted above, the seraphim were over God’s throne but in Ezekiel the cherubim were under the throne. Perhaps this is why my dictionary describes cherubim as “one of the winged heavenly beings that support the throne of God or act as guardian spirits, any of the second order of angels, usually ranked just below the seraphim.”

In John’s heavenly vision in Revelation we have these “four living creatures” again (Rev 4:6) but each one was like a different creature. In Isaiah the seraphim “were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Isa 6:3) and in Revelation the four living creatures are shown as, “Day and night they never stop saying: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come,” (Rev 4:9) but in Ezekiel there is no mention of them saying anything.

And Us? Because of the complexity of the description of these “four living creatures” we will leave it until the next study, but what, initially do these things say to us? First, the description is definitely ‘other-worldly’; this is a heavenly vision and it is completely different from anything we know or experience. Second, there is clearly structure and purpose in the things revealed. These four living creatures that are conveyed to us, that appear in slightly different forms in different passages, seem to have the role of accompanying the throne of God and declaring His greatness. It may not be so much that they have to do this but that they cannot help themselves doing what is obvious to those closest to the throne, declaring His wonder.  God is holy, God is almighty, God always has been and always will be, and God’s glory is visible on the earth for those who have eyes to see.

What is strange about the Ezekiel vision is that so much of the chapter is given over to the description of these creatures and the figure on the throne is not mentioned until, and then only briefly, near the end of the chapter. Why? Only a suggestion but is it first because these were the things that came to Ezekiel’s attention first of all, but then that these things which seem to accompany the presence of the Lord highlight the strangeness and the glory of the Lord, and by this we mean His utter difference from us. Part of that, we have already observed, is to emphasise or proclaim His wonder and difference, that is what holiness is really all about.

This vision lifts us out of our usual, humdrum, mundane lives and takes us into another experience altogether. There is more to existence than the little bit we call our material world. When you pray, realise you are touching this other existence, this other experience and be prepared for the Lord to speak different things to you – if you are open for them. As we noted above, the glory of the Lord across the earth is visible to those who have eyes to see, the wonder of HIS Creation. Dare we ask Him to open our eyes to even greater things, things of heaven?