1. Introducing Guilt

PART ONE: General Considerations  (Parts 1-19)

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 1. Introducing Guilt

1 Jn 1:9 (Living Bible) if we confess our sins to him, he can be depended on to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong. And it is perfectly proper for God to do this for us because Christ died to wash away our sins.” (1 Jn 1:9 Living Bible)

Why? Why this series? Well, I had a dream, a remarkably clear dream and one that, unusually, stayed with me when I woke. In it a friend asked me to speak at college  on ‘Guilt’, and I ended up before a class of teens with a very clear idea of what to say to them. When I was praying later, this dream came back clearly with a bigger sense of where it should go.

The Approach: My sense is that this series should have two parts, the first thinking about guilt and then seeing what the Bible says about it, and then the second considering the guilt of the modern world. I am aware that thinking about ‘guilt’ sounds heavy and not very enlightening as a daily study, but I believe it is essential ingredient for seeking to understand the days in which we live and what the Lord might be saying to the Church in these Days.  In the Second Part we will seek to confront a number of aspects of today’s world that from time to time seem to permeate the life of the Church. I thus hope it won’t be heavy but enlightening and will motivate us to pray for the Church and for our nations in these days. I am fairly sure these is not going to be studies condemning and laying guilt; in fact the exact opposite.

Definition & Importance: A simple dictionary search tells us that

“guilt = the fact of having committed a specified or implied offence or crime” while

“guilty = the state of having committed, or responsible for, a specified wrongdoing.”

We don’t like thinking about guilt – at least when it applies to ourselves – and that may be because we don’t realize that guilt is a symptom of something that needs confronting and addressing. Often it is only when the symptom appears that we realize we have the problem. One approach says that thoughts lead to emotions and feelings of guilt, the emotion of guilt, and is because we think we have done wrong. If the thoughts we have accurately record the truth of what happened – a wrong for which we are responsible – then the feelings of guilt accurately convey the truth – we ARE guilty. If the thoughts only pick up part of what happened, then it is easy to allow them to convey the emotion of guilt but the reality may be that we did not do wrong, we are not guilty, as we’ll see in the following studies.

The Process: From these simple starting thoughts we see a progression that is in fact very obvious: first there is the act of wrong, second there is the recognition that we did wrong, the thoughts that put the act into a context and realize it was wrong, and then there is the emotion or feeling. Sometimes we talk about our ‘conscience’ or, in the spiritual realm, our conviction. Now the feelings help us identify the thoughts and the thoughts help us pin down the act, and all of these things for us as Christians highlight a need for further action.

The Way Through: From the outset let’s remind ourselves of the most basic of New Testament teaching: if we confess our sins to him, he can be depended on to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong. And it is perfectly proper for God to do this for us because Christ died to wash away our sins.” (1 Jn 1:9 Living Bible) So we have seen two processes. First the process of diagnosis: the act, the thinking, the emotion, the conclusion (I am guilty!). Second there is the process of response: first our part, the act of will that confesses and acknowledges and repents of the wrong, then God’s action that forgives and cleanses and restores us.

John is seeking to be remarkably simple in this verse and just uses the word ‘confess’ but as we go on we will see that actually it means what I wrote above – also acknowledges the sin and repents of the sin. Simply to say, Oh yes, I did wrong, and leave it at that isn’t enough; it needs to be accompanied by a determination to repent – which means utterly change – and be done with that sin, and let God deal with me. We will need to think about these things more fully in the studies ahead I suspect.

And Us? John in his pastoral role in that first letter is extremely helpful because in the second chapter he says, “I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” (1 Jn 2:1) His goal is to reinforce the teaching that Christians have been set free from the power of sin and yet there will be times where we will get it wrong. I would suggest that this should take away any defensiveness we may feel about considering guilt. Guilt is merely the signpost that needs to be observed, or an additional motivator to recognize, that guides us along the path of sanctification, our lives being cleaned up and changed by God.  I would hope that I am dealing with any issues that arise in my life at the present time, but I would be foolish to think that before I go to be in heaven, there will not be further issues of which at the present time I am not aware. Perhaps these studies will help us face what we have seen in the past as an uncomfortable subject and come see it as a useful tool that God can use the enable us to be more open to His moving in these times. May it be so.

14. Explanation

Short Meditations on the Ascension: 14. Explanation

Acts 1:11  “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

These accounts of Luke in his Gospel and then in the Acts have four parts: there is first the teaching that Jesus brings to his disciples to prepare them for the days ahead, then there is the ascension itself, then this explanation and finally the ongoing activity of the disciples.

The ascension has happened, Jesus has gone and the disciples are still standing there, possibly open-mouthed, still staring at the sky, when there comes this sudden angelic visitation to bring them back to earth.

Look at what they speak: “Men of Galilee.”  i.e. we know who you are and why you are here. In those words they remind them not only of their origins but where most of the action had taken place for the last three years, action they are now going to have to continue.

“Why do you stand here looking into the sky?” Don’t be daft, it’s obvious, we’ve just seen the Master go up there. Hold on, you miss the point. He told you what you’ve got to do so why are you standing around. Yes, it’s happened, he’s gone, now go and do what he told you to do. That’s what disciples do – what the Master tells them to do!

“This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven.” Yes, we know all about what has just happened, we’ve been watching from heaven (implied perhaps?), we’ve seen the Son of God return home and it’s about him we need to talk to you. Are you listening?

“will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” This is highly significant. Do you see this? You saw him go up before your very eyes. He didn’t just disappear, he allowed you to witness his departure. Now, understand that he will come back in the ages to come and when he does it will be in exactly the same way – visibly so that those on the earth will be able to see him. The “Second Coming” will be a very visible event. Sometime in the future (see Rev 19) Jesus will return in power. He will not come in ordinary human form and so we need to remember his warnings about false Christs (Mt 24:44). People who simply talk the words are not him!

When he comes every eye will see him (Rev 1:7). Even as he ascended, so he will descend – but in great power! Jesus had said, “I will come back,” (Jn 14:3) and be seen (Mk 13:26, 14:62) and that message would be preached by the apostle Paul (1 Thess 1:10, 3:13, 4:16, 2 Thess 1:7, Phil 3:20, 1 Cor 11:26) as well as others (Heb 9:28). So disciples, be reassured, this is not the last time this world will see your Lord – he will come again!

33. A New Uncertainty – Ascension

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 33. A New Uncertainty – Ascension

Acts 1:9   After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

Whaaat?  I don’t know if it’s just my imagination but the ascension of Christ rarely seems to be preached today, but that is a shame because it says something vitally important. Is it because the thought of a human body going up into the sky to disappear in a low cloud seems to stretch modern credulity to breaking point? It shouldn’t any more than Christ’s resurrection or any miracle for that matter.

Historically Accepted: It is strange if we seem to be unhappy with proclaiming it because historically Creeds, Catechisms and Confessions all made a point of including it: The Apostles Creed – “who ascended into heaven”, the Nicene Creed – “he ascended into heaven”, the Athanasian Creed – “rose again from the dead, ascended into heaven”, the Heidelberg Catechism Q49 “Of what advantage to us is Christ’s ascension into heaven?”, the Westminster Shorter Catechism Q28: “Wherein consists Christ’s exaltation? A28: Christ’s exaltation consists in his rising again from the dead on the third day, in ascending up into heaven,” and even the wordy Westminster Confession of Faith, “which also he ascended into heaven “. There it is declared again and again.

But Scripture? Our key verse here must be out starter verse in Acts 1 but note how each Gospel writer concludes their Gospel.  Matthew, we noted previously, in his kingdom-focused Gospel concluded with the Great Commission and went no further. For him, that was the important point with which to finish. In Mark, the add-on we’ve seen before, included, “After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.” (Mk 16:19) Luke concludes his Gospel with, “When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God,” (Lk 24:50-53) and then picks it up in his continuation in Acts. John makes no mention of it, obviously feeling the others had covered it adequately and he didn’t need to confirm the points he was making about Jesus ministry time, that this aspect added to it.

In Acts, in his sermon on the day of Pentecost, the nearest Peter gets to it is, “Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.” (Acts 2:33) In this and subsequent preaching his big emphasis is on the resurrection that vindicates the work of Christ. The apostle Paul speaks of how God, “raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 1:20) but numerous times speaks of how Christ is seated at the Father’s right hand in heaven (e.g. Rom 8:34, Phil 2:9, Col 3:1)implying he has ascended there. But it is the writer to the Hebrews who spells it out most clearly: Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.” (Heb 4:14) He also refers to Christ beside the Father – Heb 1:3, 8:1, 10:12, 12:2 – and Peter makes a similar declaration in his letter – 1 Pet 3:22. We’ll expand on this in a moment.

The Event:After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.  They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them.  “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:9-11)  From these verses observe the following: i) Jesus ascended bodily, ii) the angels declared that this would be the same way he will return – seen in the sky. But why did it happen like this? Forgive me if I take three paragraphs from a previous series, “Focus on Christ”:

Visible Ascension: Look at the language of the verses surrounding this event: “After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes , and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee ,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky ? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (v.9-11) Five times there is reference to the fact that the disciples SAW Jesus leave. There is surely significance to this. It is as if Jesus wanted there to be a number of witnesses to his departure. He wanted them to be able to say, he has definitely gone – we saw him go!

Leaving the Earth: There is a second thought that follows on from this. It is the fact of him going up into the sky away from the earth. Now of course we would say that heaven is not “up there” but another dimension, but the fact of him “leaving the earth” says his time on the earth has come to an end and so don’t ever go looking for him. He’s not an eternal, ageless man who continually walks the earth. He has left and gone back to heaven. In other words, the period or time for his earthly ministry has finally come to an end. His activity on earth will continue, but now by his Spirit in his followers. His person now exists in heaven as many references in the New Testament testify to.

Ascended to the Father’s Right Hand:  We should also note that not only was the Ascension about leaving the earth, it was also about arriving back in heaven, where we are told a number of times Jesus sat down at his Father’s right hand. But first, let’s note that there are 13 mentions of this fact: Mk 16:19 / Acts 2:33 / Acts 5:31 / Acts 7:55 / Rom 8:34 / Eph 1:20 / Phil 2:9 / Col. 3:1 / Heb 1:3 / Heb 8:1 / Heb 10:12 / Heb 12:2 / 1 Pet 3:22   Note the things these verses say about Jesus in heaven. He:

– has a place of honour at the Father’s right hand

– he is there as Prince and Saviour

– he pleads for us there

– he’s been given a name above all others

– all angels and authorities bow before him

To Conclude: I would also add as a summary that he is there to oversee and administer the kingdom. One of my favourite set of verses that I believe clarifies the day in which we live is, “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Cor 15:24-26) See it clearly: he IS reigning in heaven over the earth and will continue to reign until he has finished his present work that is to rid the earth of everything that was not there when the Father and he first created it, i.e. all forms of sin and its effects. I always link this with the prophetic Psa 110:1,2 – “The Lord says to my lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” The Lord will extend your mighty sceptre from Zion, saying,  “Rule in the midst of your enemies!”

When Jesus ascended it wasn’t just to terminate his earthly ministry, it was to return to heaven to sit beside his Father, and in a few earth weeks pour out his Holy Spirit, and then through Him administer the coming of the kingdom through his body, the Church, for as long as the Father decreed until the end. Without the ascension we have the great uncertainty – how did the story finish on earth, where did he go, what did he do? No, we have none of that uncertainty because we know he returned to heaven to continue his work from there, but in and through us. How amazing! Worship him and rejoice in your part in all this.

27. Catastrophe – Friday

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 27. Catastrophe – Friday

Jn 19:6   Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.”

Approach: It’s early Friday morning. The historian Max Hastings wrote a book entitled ‘Catastrophe’, detailing the First World War and then a subsequent one detailing the Second World War, entitled, ‘All Hell Breaks Loose’. They are sobering reading and the folly of mankind is laid bare, but the description, ‘Catastrophe’ and the following one, ‘All Hell Breaks Loose’ are apt descriptions of what took place on this most shameful day in history. If we may, let’s just itemize the things that happen in the next eighteen hours. It’s very easy to forget all that happened so let’s remind ourselves what Good Friday is about:

The Events:

– night, Jesus is taken first to the house of Annas (Jn 18:13) where interrogated.

– he is then sent to Caiaphas’s palace being interrogated by scribes and elders (Mt 26:57, Jn 18:24))

“chief priests and elders and all the council” (i.e. the Sanhedrin) seek false witnesses (Mt 26:59-62)

– the chief priest demands him under oath to declare if he is the Son of God (v.63)

– Jesus affirms this is so (v.64) The high priest declares this is blasphemy (v.65)

– collectively they agree this is worthy of death (v.66)

– he is abused by some there (Mk 14:65, Lk 22:63)

– the ‘trial’ continues to the morning (probably daybreak) (Mt 27:1, Lk 22:66)

– they then take him to Pilate (Mt 27:2)

– Pilate interrogates him, finds no fault, offers to free him, the crowd calls for Barabbas (Mt 27:11-23)

– Pilate sends him to Herod who returns him (Lk 23:6-12)

– Pilate washes his hands of the situation and gives him over to be crucified (Mt 27:24-26)

– Jesus is beaten and mocked by the soldiers (Mt 27:27-31)

– Jesus is crucified (Mt 27:35, Lk 23:33) It is midday (Jn 19:14)

– At three o’clock in the afternoon Jesus dies (Mt 27:45-50)

– As evening approaches Joseph of Arimathea takes the body and entombs him (Mt 27:57-60)

– On Saturday, a guard is placed over the still closed tomb (Mt 27:62-66)

Detail? I am aware that a list like this skims over the events but the truth is that there is so much that it would be impossible to cover it all in all four Gospels, so I leave it to you to read the accounts. The end result is that by late afternoon on this Passover day, Jesus is dead, the Lamb of God has been sacrificed for the sin of the world. Wonderful and terrible. The wonder will come with later understanding but for the moment, on this day, it is simply terrible, a catastrophe! All hell has broken lose. How else can we explain what has taken place?

Uncertainty? How does our overall theme fit here? Well, when we look at the appalling acts of the combined Jewish authorities – and they are all implicated – their only uncertainty, their only question mark, is whether they will be able to get Pilate to agree to their demands and have Jesus executed. When Jesus is before Pilate, the procurator’s initial uncertainty is Jesus’ guilt, and he is fairly sure he is guilty of nothing demanding death. His secondary uncertainty is how he can let Jesus off without displeasing the Jewish authorities and possibly causing a riot.  He tries suggesting releasing Jesus – or the rebel leader Barabbas – but when that offer is rejected he tries to offload his responsibility by sending him to Herod but Herod gets no further with Jesus and so sends him back.   When the crowd shout that he is no friend of Caesar (Jn 19:12,15) he capitulates and gives him up to be killed. He stands in history as a moral coward and thus Jew and Gentile share in the responsibility for the death of the Son of God.

But the peak of uncertainty must be seen in the disciples. Mostly they have simply fled and hidden. Their future is questionable. Peter has denied Jesus and is now in total despair. He, the one so often seen as the leader of the twelve, is now enveloped in guilt and shame. He has no future. The apostle John and a number of the women have witnessed Jesus’ death on the cross and they are in no doubt that the one they love is dead. There is a massive question mark over the future. What were these three years all about? The anguish of what they had just witnessed overshadows everything else. There appears to be no thought given to Jesus words, reiterated so many times about his coming death AND resurrection. It has all been swallowed up in the awfulness of what has just happened.

I think it is probably impossible, this side of heaven, to see and understand the absolute awfulness of this day. We can catch a glimpse of it, how wrong it was, but let’s try to stretch further, remembering all the time of the wonder of who it is we have been considering – the glorious Son of God who put his glory aside and left heaven to experience life in a human body, who waited patiently thirty years until he was able to bring about the most incredible three years the world has ever witnessed, with miracles, healings, deliverances, people being raised from the dead – the love of God being poured through him on a daily basis to bless humanity.

But see:

– the disciples – who betray Jesus, abandon Jesus, deny Jesus in his time of need,

– the Jewish authorities – who take this man full of utter goodness, and scheme to have him killed because he showed up the bankruptcy of their faith and their lives and put their nation under threat (at least as they saw it), and the Jewish people who allowed themselves to be used by the authorities to raise the threat level against Pilate, and thus enable the will of the authorities to proceed,

– the Roman Procurator, Pilate, who failed to stand up to the evil confronting him and abrogated his authority and that of Rome to let his men bring about the will of Judaism.

Questions for Us? As we read the accounts of Jesus on the Cross there is a measure of uncertainty that most of us never dare go near, questions arise over the Scriptures. It is the event plus what is said about it in the rest of the Bible. Let’s consider two examples:

First, how about the prophetic Psalm 22 that starts with those terrible words that Jesus uttered, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (v.1) revealing a psalm that saw behind the scenes if we may put it like that. “All who see me mock me.” (v.7 fulfilled in, for example Mk 15:31). “all my bones are out of joint.” (v.14) the experience of hanging, nailed, on a cross. But then what about, “Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me. Roaring lions that tear their prey,” (v.12,13) and “Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet.” (v.16) This is not merely people, this is the demonic hoard egged on by Satan, deriding him and seeking to provoke him to curse God so that he became less than the perfect sacrifice that the prophecies and Law required. I have referred to C.S.Lewis’s Narnia book, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” before, and if you read it you will remember the mob around Aslan as he is being sacrificed. I think Lewis got it right. On the cross on this day, there is a battle going on for the fate of the world that depends on a perfect lamb remaining perfect (Ex 12:5 etc. 1 Pet 1:19, Heb 9:14) and he never gave way (Heb 4:15). Hallelujah!

 

Second, bearing our sins? He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness,” (1 Pet 2:24 quoting Isa 53) How many times have we perhaps heard that in Easter sermons and yet we’re still not sure what it means. Bore – carried, took on himself. In other words, in some way they defies our understanding he took every sin that has ever been committed and will be committed, wrapped them round himself on the cross as he died, taking the punishment for every one of them (That is not to mean every person is cleared – we still have to believe it, appropriate it for our own lives).

And So? We collectively as humanity were guilty of this awful result. It is too easy, in the light of retrospective study with the whole of the New Testament in our hands, to say we wouldn’t have been part of all of this. But whether we would have remained silent and let evil have its way, or allowed ourselves get swept along with popular opinion (stoked from behind, maybe), or whether we might have been like a later Saul of Tarsus and thought that although he was a great teacher and healer, this man needed to be stopped for the sake of our country and our belief system, whatever… we would almost certainly have been in that mix somewhere. It leaves us (well, it does me at least) praying with Jesus, “Father, forgive us, we didn’t know what we were doing, we didn’t understand the dynamics of what was happening. Please have mercy on us. Amen”  Silence.

26. The Runaway Train – Thursday

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 26. The Runaway Train –  Thursday

Lk 22:7   Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed.

Approach: It’s Thursday. I have been tempted, because so much happens this day, to spread it over two days but felt if we were to catch something of this day we need to pile it all in together. It strikes me that it is like a runaway train, flashing through the countryside so we almost miss everything we’re passing. Perhaps it would be best to simply itemize the things that took place and leave you to look them up yourself. Let’s start from, “Each day Jesus was teaching at the temple, and each evening he went out to spend the night on the hill called the Mount of Olives.” (Lk21:37)

The Events:

– THE MEAL

– Jesus sends his disciples to prepare the Passover meal (Mt 26:17-19)

– in the evening (v.20, Mk 14:17) they participate in the Last Supper.

– Jesus washes the disciples’ feet (Jn 13:1-12)

– Jesus declares one of them will betray him (Mt 26:21)

– Jesus instigates what we call Communion, The Lord’s Supper, etc. (Mt 26:26-28)

– Judas slips out (Jn 13:30) to convey Jesus’ intentions and prepare the arresting force.

– Jesus predicts they will all fall away but he will rise again (Mt 26:31,32)

– Jesus predicts Peter will deny him three times (Mt 26:33-35)

– Jesus gives extensive teaching (Jn 14-16)

– Jesus prays (Jn 17)

– THE GARDEN

– They go out to the Garden of Gethsemane outside the city (Jn 18:1, Mt 26:36)

– There Jesus prays three times while the disciples keep falling asleep (Mt 26:36-44)

– THE ARREST

– Judas, knowing where Jesus would be (Jn 18:2) arrives with the arresting party (Mt 26:47-50)

– When Jesus reveals himself, the whole arresting group fall back and down (Jn18:6)

– One of the group, Peter (Jn 18:10) lashes out with his sword taking off the ear of a servant (Mt 26:51) but Jesus heals him (Lk 22:51 – notice it is Dr. Luke who picks up on this detail!)

– one of the party, a young man flees (Mk 14:51,52 – thought to be Mark who wrote for Peter)

– the rest of the disciples flee (Mk 14:50)

– They take Jesus to the High Priest’s palace (Mt 26:57)

– Peter follows at a distance and his threefold denial takes place. (Mk 14:66-72)

– the mock trial takes place through the night, through what we would call Thursday night, Friday morning, but from Thursday sunset to Friday sunset is Passover.

Confusion: In formulating the list above, I have included at least twenty items, all things that occurred on this Thursday, starting from their return from overnight on the Mount of Olives, possibly back to the temple precincts and maybe some more teaching, preparations for the evening meal, probably taken after sunset, the meal and all the conversation that went with it, two lots of prayers, the betrayal and arrest and the denials. Yet, again, we must ascertain what was going on in people’s minds:

For Jesus it was time of absolute certainty, knowing exactly what would happen and who would react in the way they did, and never losing control.

For the disciples generally, they are in the heart of the storm. It started off like an ordinary day except Passover was about to happen. How would it happen? Jesus directed them. Before the meal Jesus insists on washing their feet. Peter, in particular, found this especially confusing. They lounge around participating in the meal and then Jesus starts speaking of his death again. They must be struggling to take it in still. As we’ve seen from John’s detailed account of the teaching at the Last Supper, Jesus again and again refers to his departure. They are still confused and various questions are asked. Then Jesus starts predicting that one of them would betray him. Uncertainty. Who? Then he predicts Peter will deny him three times. Uncertainty. Peter is almost heartbroken at the thought. The he predicts they will all fall away and desert him. Uncertainty. Surely not! He prays some things that must have left them even more confused in its nature (Jn 17 – read it and think about it from their viewpoint then.)

They follow him to the Garden of Gethsemane and he asks them to stay awake while he prays. They cannot and I guess felt bad about that. But it is late in the evening and they are no doubt tired and coming into constant semi-wakefulness they will be bleary eyed and muzzy-headed. Then there are voices and lights and the shambles of the arrest take place. The disciples flee in terror but Peter and John follow the arresting party at a distance. It is the middle of the night. They are confused, frightened and fearful of where this might end. It is the most terrible night of their lives. The word ‘uncertainty’ cannot do justice to all they feel. They mostly hide away behind locked doors. Are the authorities going to come hunting for them? They are ordinary guys facing the might of institutional Judaism and maybe even the Roman authorities. What is going to happen to us?

– For the authorities, it must be exactly the opposite to the experience of the disciples. Whereas their day had started off without problems but turned worse the further on it went into the night, for the authorities their uncertainty earlier in the day, about how and when they could arrest Jesus, gave way to certainty when Judas turned up with the information where Jesus could later be found, and agree to go along in the dark with the arresting party to identify Jesus in the half light of lanterns.

– And for God the Father? Here is someone who is rarely considered, but let’s speculate here, for that is all we can do. This is the Father who had led His Son on earth for three wonderful years, bringing good into this fallen world, day in, day out. This is the Father who had spoken His words of approval of His Son audibly more than once. This is the Father who delighted in His Son, the only one who could truly understand the wonder of who this being referred to as ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ was, His divine Son who had put off his heavenly glory to live as a human on earth. And now that plan, formulated from before the foundation of the world, was coming to its awful climax. Two terrible things have got to happen. His Son in human guise is to experience the ghastliest death experience mankind has devised with all the physical agony that that would involve, made worse by the emotional sense of rejection as he is abandoned to his fate. And yet something far worse is to happen, but that we will leave to the next study with all it entails. The Father’s heart must be breaking for His Son and it’s going to get worse.

And Us? I’m not sure, having run through these things above, if I can make any further comment. Perhaps without sounding too trite, I can just sum up by saying we have been reading what the apostle Peter summed up: “This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge and you, with the help of wicked men….”  (Acts 2:23) There was no other way the Son of God could die for your sins and mine. Let’s be staggeringly thankful in the midst of whatever other emotions we may have as we ponder these things. Enough said.

23. Shock

 ‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 23. Shock

Mk 11:15  On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there.

And so: It’s a new day. Every day with the Master is a new day; you never know what is coming next. Yesterday was excitement as we followed him into Jerusalem as he rode on a donkey and the crowds welcomed him and called him king. We went into the temple, looked around and left. Some days we travel, some days we stay in one place, some days we see no one, some days we see many people. It seems, here outside Jerusalem, it’s going to be a people day, staying here in Bethany waiting for Passover to come. In Jerusalem yesterday it was a people day, crowds shouting in the morning and then gradually in the confines of the city it was quieter. The master was talking quietly with us when Andrew came up – Andrew tells that Philip had had some Greek-Jews visiting for the Passover who had stopped him and asked if it would be all right to talk with the Master (Jn 12:20-22). People. But then we left the city and walked back to Bethany where we stayed overnight, and so here it is, Monday, a new day. It looks like the Master is getting ready to go back into Jerusalem.

Funny thing happened on the way back in: he stopped by a fig tree but because it didn’t have any fruit on it, he cursed it and it died. (Mk 11:12-14, 20,21) Arriving in Jerusalem it was clear he was going back to the temple and when he entered he caused a riot by turning over the tables of the money-changers and the sellers of doves for sacrifice and bellowed at them all, Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.” (Mk 11:17) His anger was great and the traders just protested feebly but it was clear the temple authorities were furious. I don’t know what got into the Master. I mean he saw it all yesterday but didn’t do anything about it, and he’s seen it before. In fact, as I come to think about it, he did the same thing three years ago when he was starting his ministry (Jn 2:13-17), but it seems he’s being purposely provocative, almost like he’s working on an agenda to upset the authorities, what with coming in with the crowds yesterday and now this! He sometimes says or does thing that are hard to understand. I remember at that first time, the Jews got really upset and challenged him and demanded he reveal his authority for doing it by performing a sign (Jn 2:18) and all he said was, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” (Jn 2:19) I tell you that had them confused – me to if I’m honest. I mean what did that mean?  I don’t know what this present action is going to do. The people obviously love him and they seem to be rejoicing in him upsetting this mockery of religion, but it’s equally obvious the authorities are getting more and more upset.

Following: “The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.” (Mk 11:18) “When evening came, Jesus and his disciples] went out of the city.” (Mk 11:19)

What if? To try and get into what is going on here, I want to ponder for a moment or two on what the disciples must have been thinking about all that was happening. They had surely been to Passover with Jesus on previous years and so there would have been a certain familiarity about going up to Jerusalem for this Feast. However it was the events we have been following which made it different. What if, back in Bethany, early in the morning, Jesus had got the twelve together and, in modern language, said, “Guys, I’m thinking of going into town today to clear out the temple.” Some furrowed brows, some lightening of spirits.

Disciple Responses? I have a feeling (and this is only speculation remember) that somehow Peter would have felt protective of Jesus and would not think it was a smart idea. Perhaps he would remember back to when he had challenged Jesus over his death talk (Mt 16:21-23). Maybe that challenge back then had not be so much that it just won’t happen as more I won’t let it happen to you. Anything now that puts Jesus under threat, he’s going to be against. James and John? Maybe they were still smarting a bit at having been rebuked by Jesus when they suggested calling down fire on the Samaritans who had rejected Jesus (Lk 9:52-55) and had the feeling now, “Oh, come on Lord, one law for you, another for us. We can’t do something violent but you can?” Maybe there was Judas, whose mind was confused, possibly wanting Jesus to reveal himself as king, and was ready to let him provoke such a declaration, or provoke it himself?  Or, of course, there was the one of the twelve simply known as ‘Simon the zealot’ (Mt 10:4) whose background would have been as a member of the party simply known as the Zealots, who were actively against Roman rule; perhaps he is thinking, “Awesome, Master, you’ve come round to my way of thinking. Go for it. But hold on that’s against the Jews not the Romans. What’s the point?”

And Us?  The thing is, we all come to the crises of life with different agendas formulated by different backgrounds and different experiences. For us as Christians we come to these things with different understanding of Scripture. Some of us hold the “turn the other cheek,” attitude to the wrongs of the world – let them do their thing and God will sort it, all we’ve got to do is hold a right attitude – while others  hold the ‘salt attitude’ – we’re to be changing the world, purifying it and sometimes that means we demonstrate, protest and so on. It is never an easy path to walk. It is perhaps easy to say, “Just listen to God and only do what He says,” which is the path I would prefer to take, but that can be a cop-out for doing nothing, it is not always easy to glean the will of God. As I had to text a friend the other day who was worrying about the part they had to play in the midst of the immense complexities of the 2020 Coronavirus Pandemic, “The complexities of the present often mean that we can only pray and then act and just trust in Him that He will be there for us in it, whatever the outcome.” If we get it wrong then we may have to appeal for forgiveness through the Cross, if we get it wrong we may upset other people, but if we get it right, whatever the outcome, we will have a sense that somehow we have managed to conform to the will of God.

Back to Jesus: The fact is Jesus said he always did what he did, following the Father’s guidance. He knew the big picture that the Godhead had agreed upon before the foundation of the world, that he would come, reveal the Father and then die for the sins of the world.  How that death would be procured – through the sinful acts of mankind against the perfect Son of God – starts being seen as the events we have been following are rolled out. It involved, on Jesus’ part, doing good, teaching the people, healing the sick and raising the dead AND correcting wrongs – the  wrong use of the Temple. All those things collectively raised the ire of sinful mankind in its many forms, to eventually take him and kill him. Thus they will, without realizing it, offer the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, and progress the will of God to eventually bring glory to the Father and reconciliation of those who would hear and respond. Today’s events have been part of that.  Much to think about, but at the end of it, realize we are each part of the plans and purposes of God that are being worked out this very day. We may not understand them but our part is to listen, respond, act and trust, as imperfect as we sometimes feel that is. Be blessed in this day. Amen.

22. Plans Misfiring? Palm Sunday

PART THREE: The Last Week

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 22. Plans Misfiring? Palm Sunday

Jn 12:13  They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the king of Israel!’

Mt 21:4,5 This took place to fulfil what was spoken through the prophet:  ‘Say to Daughter Zion, “See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey,

A Roller-Coaster Builds: The sabbath has passed. Jesus prepares to enter Jerusalem in a provocatively prophetic manner – on a donkey. The synoptics describe how he sent his disciples to procure the donkey. He then mounts it and rides from Bethany to Jerusalem. As he approaches, the crowd build: “The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem.” (Jn 12:12) The word has got out that Jesus is coming. Luke records, “When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen.” (Lk 19:37) The euphoria builds. John again adds, “Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him.” (Jn 12:17,18) The testimony about the raising of Lazarus inflames the excitement. Something is about to happen. Two studies back I used the modern illustration from a Crocodile Dundee film of how these crowds and the accompanying excitement built. And so it is here.

Background Prophetic Fuel: But there is an added ingredient that could act as petrol on an already burning fire – the prophetic dimension that most Jews would have been taught in Synagogue, as Matthew records what was happening, especially in the light of Jesus riding on a donkey, This took place to fulfil what was spoken through the prophet: ‘Say to Daughter Zion, “See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”’ (Mt 21:5,6 quoting Zech 9:9) Zechariah had spoken of a ‘king’ coming to deliver Israel. Thus John records the people picking up on this: “They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the king of Israel!”  Wow! It’s happening, the Messiah is coming to deliver us! This miracle worker who has power over life and death must be the Messiah and, see, he is coming on a donkey to fulfil the prophecies. So the crowd cut palm leaves and lay a carpet for the conquering king to ride over. This surely must be it! Watch out Romans we’re coming for you!

Anti-Climax: And so he rides into Jerusalem, entering by the east gate. Views differ on the layout of Jerusalem in those days but the crowd expect him to aim for the Antonia Fortress, the barracks of the Roman forces, but instead he enters the Temple precincts.  What is happening? Is he going to call on God to come down and deliver them from Rome? The following crowd would be full of expectations, but instead, “Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.” (Mk 11:11) Anti-climax!  The euphoria subsides at the end of the day. Both the Jewish and Roman authorities breathe a sigh of relief.

Uncertainties: Everything about this day has been uncertain and it all hinges on what Jesus intends to do. The way he entered the city looked like he was proclaiming himself the royal deliverer, and yet he simply goes in, looks around and then leaves. It seems like the entry was just a prophetic set-piece to set everyone thinking. His followers thought it was the time of delivery, but at the end of the day, it’s just another runup day to the feast. But again it is John who lets us in on what the disciples themselves were thinking about: “At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him.” (Jn 12:16) Hold onto that; they did not understand what Jesus was doing.

From our vantage point we can see that he was just stoking the fire of opposition; they had no such understanding. But what about Jesus himself? He continues to bring teaching – about a seed having to die? We see it, but they couldn’t. But Jesus is not feeling easy with it. There on this Sunday he declares,  ‘Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? “Father, save me from this hour”? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” (Jn 12:27,28a) The human side of Jesus echoes what he will pray later in the week, in the Garden of Gethsemane. This is not something to be relished, this thing he knows has got to happen, and because it is so difficult, the Father brings encouragement: “Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.’ The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.” (Jn 12:28b,29) He continues teaching and then, When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them.” (Jn 12:36) He purposely removes himself from the stage, so to speak, and the crowd are left leaderless. Peace descends on the city at the end of the day as darkness comes, but no doubt they were many hushed and not so hushed conversations about the affairs of the day and no doubt, for the reasons we have seen, there were many speculations as to what would follow – and most of them were wrong!

And Us? If the disciples were unclear what was happening and the crowd certainly were, I am sure we would have been as well if we had been there. But we see here something that I believe comes throughout the entire Bible that might be expressed in four propositions:

i) God is an initiator; He is the one who always takes the lead.

ii) He knows everything that is going on, what could happen, and what will happen, and He has plans laid out from before the foundation for the world that will not change.

iii) Those plans involve us, even though much of the time we are uncertain or confused, not seeing the whole picture, jumping to wrong conclusions and so on, and He will use us as much as we are available to Him.

iv) Those plans also involve the rest of the world so He will even make use of the wrong attitudes and actions of unbelievers.

Amazing!

Get those things clearly in your mind and worship Him, especially as we approach this Easter where the certain plans of the Godhead WILL be worked out just as the Godhead agreed them even before Creation.  Rest in His sovereign knowledge and wisdom, power and authority, as well as His love, grace and mercy. These are amazing times.

19. The Uncertainty of Jericho

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 19. The Uncertainty of Jericho

Mark 10:1  Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them.

Mt 20:28  As Jesus and his disciples were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him.

Context : We have considered Jesus’ warning to his disciples (which they were unable to take in) and we’ve seen his two visits to Bethany as well as his retiring to the east of the Jordan. We have also noted the way Jesus followed the leading of his Father, and so his travels at time seem a little erratic, although they always bore fruit. Some put going to Jericho as before the raising of Lazarus although, as I hope to show, the indications are that he went to Jericho and then on his final trip to Jerusalem. If I am correct then he has been ministering to the east of the Jordan, keeping away from possible too-early opposition from Jerusalem, was called back to Bethany to raise Lazarus and then returned east again to give time for the word to spread while he was able to continue ministering out of sight, so to speak. Note, in passing, that John does not mention Jericho in his Gospel, as he usually didn’t pick up on the events clearly recorded in the Synoptics unless they were specific things that would show the glory of Jesus in what John was conveying (e.g. feeding of the five thousand).   Also bear in mind what we said about the different mindset that the writers had from ours, not being particularly concerned to itemize each step. Let’s see how each of the Synoptics cover this time.

Matthew: “Now Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. On the way, he took the Twelve aside and said to them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests.” (Mt 20:17,18) That was followed by the incident involving James and John’s mother and then immediately afterwards we find,As Jesus and his disciples were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him. (v.29) For Matthew, the incident that follows where two blind men are healed, is the important thing showing the coming of the kingdom which is a priority in his Gospel.  (see v.30-34) All we know from Matthew is that they have been to Jericho where this healing occurred.

Mark: We start in chapter 10 with, “Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them.” (v.1) A reference “When they were in the house again,” (v.10) would suggest that is the Judea part, probably back in Capernaum but we can’t be certain; it may just be a place where they were staying in the east. Direction and warning after a section of teaching: “They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him.” (v.32) The fact of going to Jerusalem, Mark interestingly informs us, creates a sense of fear in some of those following. Obviously they knew the rumblings in the authorities in Jerusalem and feared the outcome of a further visit. Then comes the James and John incident followed simply by, “Then they came to Jericho.” (v.46a) Peter, reporting through Mark in his Gospel remembers that (apparently) one of the two blind men stood out as a local character: “As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging.” (v.46b) and healing follows (v.47-52) and this man follows them, hence the reason he stands out to Peter.

Luke: Now we’ve already noted that Lord records their journey south – “Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee,” (Lk 17:11) and picks up on him healing ten lepers along the way (v.12-19). Teaching follows until in chapter 18 we read, “As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging.” (Lk 18:35) and healing follows (v.36-43) As there would have been numerous beggars it does not need to be a contradiction; it is just whoever Luke used as a resource remembered that particular one. The end of it is worth noting: “When all the people saw it, they also praised God.” (v.43b) Into chapter 19 we read, “Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus,” (v.1,2) and the whole incident involving Zacchaeus is revealed. Jesus’ popularity with what we might refer to as the underclass (involving tax-collectors and ‘sinners’) would have been seriously boosted by this incident. After finishing teaching we then read, “After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.” (v.28)

Why Jericho? We may look at these parts of the records and wonder why Jericho? There is uncertainty hanging over this part of the journey all the time – why? Well each of the accounts emphasize a different aspect of what went on. Matthew seeks to emphasize the coming of the kingdom in the way two blind men are healed. Peter, through Mark, is more focused on one of then who was a local character who ends up following them. Luke, the doctor, the people-person, the one interested in people, picks up on the gentle way Jesus healed the beggar on the way into town – getting into town is not so important that Jesus can’t pause up to help a beggar on the way in.

As far as Luke was concerned the big issue in Jericho was the calling and the change brought about in the chief tax-collector, Zacchaeus, whose area of control probably covered the whole of the south of Judea at least. His significance was the equivalent of saying the mayor of London or of New York getting saved. An amazing transformation that may have ongoing long-term effects.

But why have we bothered to cover this part of the trip? Well, apart from the fact that it happened, if it was on the way back from the area to the east of the Jordan (and Jericho is a few miles west of the Jordan), it shows Jesus in no rush to get back to the conflict in Jerusalem but, taking his Father’s leading, picking up some significant popularity while ‘bringing in the kingdom’ through miraculous healings and life transformations.       Right up through this time, it is as if he pushes out what has got to come in Jerusalem and simply concentrates on bringing the love and goodness of the Father into each situation he finds as he travels. On the way down from the north he had healed ten lepers. In Bethany he had raised Lazarus from the dead, to the east of the Jordon he continues teaching and healing, on the way back through Jericho he shows his love for the outcasts by healing blind beggars and his love for the sinner called Zacchaeus. If I had that lot on my resume I would be thrilled.

And us? Can we apply some of what we find here? What I find coming through here is that, first of all,  the pattern of their travels overall, or the strategy of Jesus, although often seeming unclear, seems to be a strategy involving a general desire to get closer to Jerusalem, bring the blessing of God to aggravate the religious authorities, and yet keep at a sufficient distance but not to provoke confrontation too early. Having said that, there is also just this sense of Jesus continuing to take any and every opportunity to bring the love and power of God to bear in changing people’s lives for the good. Yes, there may be that big pattern strategy (which the disciples probably couldn’t see) but behind it, there is this taking every moment left to him to continue to bless people. In a sense, it doesn’t matter about the long-term strategy, the question is what will I do with today? Can I catch something of the Father’s heart and the prompting and leading of His Holy Spirit, so that TODAY will be a day of blessing others, those closest to me and perhaps further afield, TODAY will be a day when Jesus will use me? Can we see it like that?

15. Target Jerusalem

PART TWO: On the Way

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 15. Target Jerusalem

Lk 9:51-53 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem.

Lk 18:31   And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.

Context?  We are two weeks off Easter and as much as I would like to map Jesus’ activities in this period running up to Passover, our Easter, it is not clear. There are some time and date indicators but it is very difficult to be able to pin down various parts of the Gospel accounts to specific days. When we get nearer to that final week that we tend to call Holy Week it does become a little clearer and when we get there we will try and do that, but for now we simply want to try to gain some perspective using Luke’s Gospel.

Direction?  In Luke at least, 9:51, our verse above, is a turning point. He is in Galilee and he determinedly turns south and aims for Jerusalem. Shortly afterwards we find in 10:38 him coming to the home of Mary and Martha which we know was in Bethany, which is close to Jerusalem, but he doesn’t now go on to Jerusalem. Whether this is an insert (but out of historical context just to remind us who Mary and Martha were for later on) is unclear.

It seems as if Luke, is using

– both Mark’s information,

– the other general information picked up by the three Synoptic Gospel writers referred to as ‘Q’ (from the German ‘Quelle’ meaning ‘source’, thought to be a written Greek document of sayings etc. in existence in the early church),

– and his own sources, people he came across who contributed to his account,

but is not necessarily following a historical narrative, but partly narrative and partly individual teachings picked up along the way.

Confusing Direction: Perhaps it is because of this it seems like Luke jumps back with a general comment insert:, “On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues.” (Lk 13:10) which would suppose he is in Judea, having passed through Samaria but then we find, “Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem.” (Lk 13:22) Along the way we find other incidents, for example, “One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee,” (Lk 14:1) and we also see that, “Large crowds were traveling with Jesus.” (Lk 14:25) Later on we find, “Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee.” (Lk 17:11)

Modern Frustration? It could be at this point that you might be muttering about divine inspiration and wondering where there are signs of it? But this is where our uncertainties have a modern flavor to them, this need that I have referred to before in these studies, to be in control and to package everything in a neat, concise, easily understood document, but God doesn’t work like that. He chose a time in history for his Son to come, a time in very many ways very different from ours and one of those was the Jewish mentality. It didn’t have this same neat orderly package approach that we have. They weren’t out to ‘prove’ a case by its logic and order, they were out to simply convey the wonder of what was going on. Sometimes it did have chronological order but for the most part that wasn’t the all-important issue, it was what Jesus was teaching and doing and sometimes I think their writing is like our memories. I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed this but sometimes if you are in a group that is talking about the past, as someone is sharing a recollection, suddenly, from nowhere it seems, a memory comes to you that you hadn’t thought about for years and as the group of you share memories, sometimes they are in neat chronological order and sometimes they appear haphazard.

So if, like I’ve just tried doing, you try to get a clarity through the Gospels, a neat order of events, don’t be frustrated if you can’t do that. Just take the clarity you can get but relish the wonder of what is being taught and what happened. I warn you, the closer to the awful events of Easter we get, the more confusing it will be, but that is simply because it was an utterly confusing time.

Catching the Order: Go back to that thought that comes in Jn 5:19 that the Son only does what he sees his Father doing. What that says is that the Spirit picked up on what was going on in people’s lives, the things the Father was saying to them or, perhaps more accurately, the things they were doing, probably without being aware of the prompting coming from God. So Jesus arrives in town and the Spirit prompts the spiritually hungry people to put down what they are doing and go and see him. Some, as we’ll soon see, will be prompted to climb trees to see him.  Some will be prompted to simply cry out for his help. Can we enlarge our understanding to see that actually God is at work all the time, even though we either don’t understand it or realise it ? Can we see that living ‘in Christ’ is partly looking out for what God is doing in the lives of people around about us, and acting accordingly? It may appear confusing or uncertain but it is an area we perhaps need to think about as an area where we can learn.

So instead of seeing a neat pattern in the Gospels sometimes, I suggest we see Jesus moving about the countryside teaching in the open and teaching in synagogues, taking any and every opportunity that came before him to flow in the Spirit and address that situation or those people, hence one of them we saw above, was simply to go and eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee (Lk 14:1) We’ve seen previously how he was there for Nicodemus in the night, how he traveled up to Sidon for a rest but was there for the Canaanite woman when she came with her need. We’ll see him pausing up to respond to blind men crying out to him, and calling out a chief tax-collector watching him up a tree.

And Us? Are we too concerned to maintain order in our lives to be open to the prompting of the Spirit to guide us to something or someone new? Do we ignore the thought to ring a friend, write a letter, send some flowers or whatever other possible opportunity the Lord wants you to create?  Does he want you to write something, a poem or a story, or be creative in some other way through which His glory might shine? These may appear as small things but they could have big consequences. Being available to the Father was the key to Jesus’ ministry, and even if life around about seems confusing and uncertain, learn to let His whispers into you mind and spirit bring guidance, direction, blessing, assurance and certainty into your life.

13. Provision – A Different Set of Rules

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 13. Provision – a Different Set of Rules

Mt 13:12   Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.

And Now: We have been considering the way the Lord meets the various needs of life that so often impose uncertainty on us, and we’ve just done it by reference to the life and ministry of Elisha. We noted the amazing range of daily needs that cropped up, each and every one of which the Lord met, and we challenged ourselves as to whether we let Him do that in our own personal circumstances. But it crosses my mind that sometimes we fail to remember that life in the kingdom of God works on very different rules from life in the world. Let’s check some of these out.

The ‘Having’ Principle: Our starter verse above is an instance of this that comes in the context of the Parable of the Sower, which provoked the disciples to ask Jesus why he used parables.  The above verse follows Jesus referring to the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom.” (v.11) I like the way the Message version puts it: You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn’t been given to them. Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears.” Insights and Understanding. Sometimes people say, “But I don’t seem to get anything out of the Bible,” to which the reply has to come, “But how much time do you spend reading His word, thinking about His word, studying it, meditating upon it, waiting on Him in prayer for understanding?”  The absence of these things reveals the heart. The disciples had chosen to follow Jesus, to stick close to him and learn of him, that is what being a disciple is about.  This is about provision which overcomes uncertainty, the uncertainty that fills so many minds. ‘Having’ comes from being in his presence.

The ’Giving’ Principle: Check this out: “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Lk 6:38 NIV) The Message version puts it, Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity,” and Easy to Read version puts it, “Give to others, and you will receive. You will be given much. It will be poured into your hands—more than you can hold. You will be given so much that it will spill into your lap. The way you give to others is the way God will give to you.”

The whole question of giving reveals in quite an amazing way the state of our heart. Many people don’t give because they feel insecure. It’s not that they don’t have anything, it’s that they fear losing what they have and God not turning up to provide more for them. The whole of these recent studies has been about the certainty of God being a provider, but it is a learning process and the Bible clearly teaches that faith can grow. Now I confess to not believing we should just throw our money haphazardly around at charities etc. but instead seek the Lord for wisdom how to bless others, yes the church obviously, charities He may put on your heart, but also be open when He puts a specific person and their need before you. This takes us on to:

The ‘Using’ Principle: Did you note in that Lk 6:38 reference the phrase, “For the measure you USE it.”? God doesn’t only want us to have open, generous hearts but to also purposefully use what He has given us and when we do, He will multiply it. Jesus’ parable of the ‘talents’ is the classic teaching on this. Matthew records Jesus speaking about a man handing out bags of gold to his servants (Mt 25:14- older versions refer to ‘talents’ being a monetary value) with the expectation that they would each use what he gave them. You probably know it well enough for me not to expound on it. Luke spoke of the same story (that Jesus probably told more than a few times around the country) but had the man handing out ‘minas’ (Lk 19:11-) and it is in this context Jesus teaches, I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away,” (Lk 19:26) which appears to have a much wider meaning than simply insight and understanding that we saw in the context of explaining the Parable of the Sower. This implies it applies to all the talents, abilities, resources, opportunities that we have. Will we let God have access to them for them to be used by Him as He sees fit?

Example: Elijah’s Widow: We have already referred previously to the widow who Elijah stayed with who had, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug.” i.e. she was at the end of her resources. Nevertheless the prophet presses her: “first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’” (v.13,14)  He asks her to make and give away to him the last of what she has, but adds that when she does that, God will bless her resources. She responds with faith and it happens.

Example: Boy with a little: “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish.” (Jn 6:9) At the feeding of the five thousand it is John who points out that Andrew (who seems good with people) finds a boy with the resources that Jesus then uses to feed the massive crowd. We tend to lose him in the midst of the miracle but the fact of the matter was that this boy will willing to give Jesus his supplies, and a miracle ensues.

And So? And thus we see the principle of the kingdom being worked out – when the need arises, give what you have into Jesus’ hands and leave the rest to him. Uncertainty was the name of the game with Elijah’s widow – whether she could survive, whether she could trust the prophet. It was also behind the small boy’s offering – what could so little do, and can I trust Jesus? In both cases faith overcame uncertainty. When God’s word comes, when the Son is on the scene, can we trust Him?  May the answer be in the affirmative so that our uncertainties may become an opportunity for Him to transform the situation and reveal The Certainty. Amen? Amen!