Snapshots: Day 100

Snapshots: Day 100

The Snapshot: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deut 6:5)   Jesus decreed this was the first and greatest commandment (Mt 22:37,38). How easy and clear cut it sounds, and how often it is used as an exhortation by preachers. How might it be summarized? Go all out for God. Right! But do I do that every minute of every day? Honesty says no. It is my intention and it is surely the undergirding commitment that I have, but the reality? Two things follow: first I need His grace, His enabling and, second, I need the Cross to cover my ‘falling short’. Yes, I incline my heart in His direction in my daily walk but without these two things, hopeless! The command simply focuses my need of Him in these ways.

Further Consideration:  I have always found Joshua’s words a great challenge: But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (Josh 24:14) I am also reminded of Peter’s response to Jesus: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (Jn 6:68) In both verses there is this challenge – if not God then who or what, and the answer isn’t just, “‘There is no one else,” but more, “It’s a no-brainer because God is so wonderful you would be silly to lean on anyone or anything else.”

But then we turned to the Lord. We came to the end of ourselves and His hands of mercy were stretched out to us and we received the salvation through Christ that He held out to us. Mostly, I suspect, it wasn’t love. We didn’t really know what that was. It was only later we came across such verses as the starter ones above. My wife is one of the really honest ones when she so often says, “I just don’t know what I am feeling.” Isn’t love supposed to be a feeling? Well yes, as I have got to know more and more of Him and experienced more and more of His blessings, I have had that feeling, that deep feeling of strong affection, as a dictionary says. But most of the day I don’t go around with my heart and mind directed towards heaven with a nice warm fuzzy feeling, it just isn’t like that.

So how do we express this whole-hearted love? “how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” (1 Jn 3:16) Hah! Love is action! “let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” (1 Jn 3:18) “this is love for God: to keep his commands.” (1 Jn 5:3) As I live the life in accordance with His word and by the prompting of His Spirit, this is love, and when I do it all the time – this is whole-hearted love. Hallelujah!

25. God of Communication (4)

Getting to Know God Meditations:  25. God of Communication (4)

Mt 13:13   This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.

Ongoing:  In the previous study we noted that ‘hearing’ comes not only through our physical ears but also through our soul or spirit. Just looking at the stars, we can be moved with understanding and be stirred to worship. Reading the Bible we can find truth impacting us and moving us. Reading the Gospels, we can see the wonder of Jesus displayed and our hearts be moved. This is communication taking place that includes, but also goes way beyond, physical seeing and hearing.

And Yet? Yet, there are instances in the Bible, our textbook for these things, where people hear the words being spoken to them but do not perceive the import of them. Pharaoh, who opposed Moses in Exodus, was one such example. The trouble is that it is the nature of the words being spoken in such situations, for they are words about ‘God’ and for many that is a bridge too far in belief. But why, the evidence is there, in fact it is piled high, so high as to be unmissable – except by a blind person.

Pharaoh, an example: Pharaoh was the king over a pagan country, Egypt, a country full of superstition and idolatrous worship. Pharaoh was divine, it was thought. Pharaoh succumbed to that wrong belief, but acted as if he was, so when Moses turned up and made demands as from the One True God, Pharaoh naturally resisted. So Moses performed a miracle and had his brother Aaron throw his staff on the ground and it turned into a snake (Ex7:10), but the trouble was Egypt was into the occult and so Pharaoh’s ‘magicians’ copied him and there were snakes all over the place! (v.11,12) – but Aaron’s ‘snake’ ate up all the others. Pretty impressive! But Pharaoh wasn’t impressed.

So Moses, at God’s instigation, performed another miracle, the first of what turned out to be ten ‘plagues’, he turned the water of the Nile into blood. (Ex 7:20,21) So the occult ‘magicians’ did the same as he did, with other water. Still Pharaoh is not impressed. OK, another plague, frogs all over the place and for a third time the occult ‘magicians’ copy him (Ex 8:1-7). Now, OK, to be fair, in Pharaoh’s eyes so far it is just an occult competition, but at least he is starting to see something for he asks Moses to pray that the Lord will remove the frogs – which happens – and then he digs in again. Another plague – gnats – but this time this is beyond the magicians. And so it goes on and on with each plague getting worse and still Pharaoh ‘hardens his heart’ and refuses to let Israel leave the land.

Example of what? But of what is Pharaoh an example? Of blindness, of stupidity, of refusal to note the mounting evidence, of refusal to acknowledge the Lord for who He is – Creator of the world, and all powerful who cannot be resisted. What is remarkable about this bizarre story is the number of opportunities God gave Pharaoh to ‘see’ and respond rightly. One of my favourite verses these days is, speaking of God, “he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance,” (2 Pet 3:9),  and if you read that chapter you will see the context is of a world that refuses to acknowledge the pile of evidence and instead says, but where is God, you keep saying he’ll turn up but he doesn’t’ and so Peter explains, this is God being patient giving you opportunity after opportunity to come to your senses.

A Spiritual Dimension: But the Bible shows that this world is not purely material, there is this spirit dimension as well, and we get indicators of this all over the place. For example – “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Cor 4:4) Without going into the theology of this for the moment, the apostle Paul was saying that unbelief has blinded the eyes of so many to the wonder of the Gospel, that Jesus Christ, the unique Son of God, has come and revealed the Father and died to take our sins and punishment. That is mind blowing when you ‘see’ it, but many don’t! As the Message paraphrase version puts it, “The Message that points to Christ on the Cross seems like sheer silliness to those hellbent on destruction, but for those on the way of salvation it makes perfect sense. This is the way God works, and most powerfully as it turns out.” (1 Cor 1:18) It is only when we recognize and acknowledge our blindness and cry out to God that suddenly all the talk about Jesus dying on the cross makes sense.

Jesus’ Acts Prophesied: John in his Gospel testified, “Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him.” (Jn 12:37) As we’ve seen before the religious leaders were so prejudiced against him that even the miracles could not persuade them. John 9 is a great chapter to illustrate this. Jesus heals a man who had been blind from birth – but he does it on a Saturday, the Sabbath when work was forbidden for Jews. Then along come the Pharisees, the conservative, hypocritical guardians of the Law and, instead of being thrilled that a man who has been blind all his life can now see, they carp on about it happening on a Saturday. What heartless blindness!

But now John explains that this was exactly what Isaiah (Isa 6:10) had prophesied: “This was to fulfil the word of Isaiah the prophet: “Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (Jn 12:38) i.e. where were those who would believe what God was doing?  But then Isaiah says by way of explanation, “For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere: “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn—and I would heal them.” (Jn 12:39,40). What, God has done this? Well this is where we have to go back to Pharaoh where a number of times this matter of a ‘hard heart’ is seen. Cutting a long story short, when there is a hard heart because of pride (which is what Pharaoh had), God’s demands on such a person, if they are set in their ways (as Pharaoh was), will simply harden their heart even more and show even more clearly the folly of their ways. So yes, God does harden further, existing hard hearts.  If they would turn they would get healed but their hard hearts prevent them believing, they simply get harder and harder.

Jesus’ Teaching Style: To conclude with our starter verse, it comes when Jesus has been explaining to his disciples why he uses parables, and he again uses the Isaiah words: Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes.” (Mt 13:13-15 quoting the Greek version of Isa 6:9,10) Not only does this blindness work when people refused to see the wonder in the miracles Jesus was performing, it also applies to his teaching. It is like Jesus is saying, beware, hard hearts mean an inability to see and understand.  Hearing is impaired by the state of the heart. By the heart we don’t mean the physical muscle, but as a dictionary puts it, ‘the central or innermost part of something’. At our core – intellect and will – we either believe or not.

Presuppositions: Philosopher Francis Schaeffer used to talk a lot about ‘presuppositions’, our starting points in our thinking, things we assume or take for granted are true. He used to make the point that much of the time we just ‘caught’ these from other people (like the flu). We didn’t conclude them from deep and meaningful thought. Very often we allow attitudes extolling ‘self’ to grow in us, called pride, and this pride creates what we have been calling a ‘hard heart’ which is simply a refusal to consider anything other than the presuppositions we have settled on. For many it is that there is no God.

The Hard-nosed Bible: The Bible uncompromisingly declares, The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”  (Psa 14:1,53:1) and The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Prov 1:7) Very often there is a footnote that says, “The Hebrew words rendered fool in Psalms denote one who is morally deficient.”  Lacking moral standing? Why? The implication is, as we concluded the previous study, we find Jesus saying, Whoever has ears, let them hear,” (Mt 11:15)  and, Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear,” (Lk 8:8, 14:35)  and the clear implication is that we have been given the means to be able to ‘hear’ God and so if we don’t it is an indication that pride has meant that we have exercised the will to refuse to consider these things openly and honestly and that, the Bible says, raises moral questions over us.  Perhaps we need to consider this further to distinguish between hearing and listening, which we haven’t done yet. Stay with me if you can.

12. God of Purpose: Justice (2)

Getting to Know God Meditations:  12. God of Purpose: Justice (2)

1 Cor 1:22-24  Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

Continuation:  In the previous study as we started to approach – and it is only a start – the subject of justice, we looked at the human need and considered some initial thoughts about Justice. In this study we go on to consider what happened on the cross and the potential of what follows, and later how that can be applied into individual lives. In some ways ‘the Cross’ (and putting it like that is shorthand for all that happened and all that was achieved by Christ’s death) is a mystery and, as the apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth in our quote above, it was a problem for Jews who could not understand how any potential Messiah could die by what they saw as a shameful death, and it was pure craziness to the intellectual Greeks of the day, to talk about salvation through an execution.  Today it is still an anathema to ‘religious’ people who would rather work their way to God’s good side, as they see it, and an abhorrence to intellectual atheists who delight in mocking it (but of course they never have any satisfactory solution to the problem themselves.)

The problem restated: The problem we need to restate is that we are failures, we are dysfunctional, and we feel guilty. We may work hard to try to cover up those things but those are the truths about us. Now there is an even bigger problem than what we think about ourselves, it is what God thinks about us. Now some people try to say, “Well you say He is a loving God so surely He understand our frailty and so will not condemn us,” but that forgets a crucial issue – justice.

We have said that there is this thing called justice and justice demands that wrongs are put right and, so often, that necessitates dealing with the past in some way that satisfies all onlookers, if I may put it like that, who can say, “Yes, that is fair, that is right, that is just.” Now it is difficult to be objective about this and so imagine an alien from a distant planet where they still live perfectly according to God’s design, and the alien comes here and observes what goes on. He (let’s do the ‘legal’ he) is appalled. He sees all the negative things we considered in Study No.10 that we do to one another that are bad. He hears you say you want a new life that is free from all these things and he says that is great but what about all the guilt that is here to be dealt with?

He has the ability to see the whole span of your life, present, past and future and he jots down literally thousands upon thousands of instances where you were self-centred and godless (leaving God out of it) and left a trail of bad or unresolved consequences – you lied, you covered up, you blamed other people, you ran away, and so on – because that’s just how life is, and he says, “I see you struggle with facing this but when you see the totality of these things, on my planet such a creature would not be allowed to live!”  “But why?” you respond. “Well, think about it,” he replies, “Justice demands correction, even punishment (something needs to be done to satisfy everyone these things have been dealt with to their satisfaction) and there is no way that you can either make amends for every instance or indeed for the whole lot. If you say punish me a bit for each misdemeanor, they so mount up that we are talking about your life here, or rather taking it. You need to die to fully satisfy justice, that is how big the problem is.”

And then Jesus: So, we said, the third of the things to be considered is the coming and death of Jesus. Now Charles Dickens in his novel, A Tale of Two Cities paralleled exactly what happened when, in the story, one man is condemned to death and another steps into the breach and dies in his place. Dickens knew that that is exactly what Christ did.

The basic facts: Christ came and lived a spotless life. He went about, to quote the apostolic record, ‘teaching and doing good’. As the Gospels declare, “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” (Mt 11:5) Jesus said of God, “he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners  and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.” (Lk 4:18) All of that so upset the religious authorities who were shown up by him to be heartless, self-concerned, religious bigots, that they trumped up charges against him and so pressurised the Roman governor that he had him put to death by crucifixion.

The biblical record: Now we might just look on that and say it was just a good man who got on the wrong side of the authorities and died for it, but this ‘good man’ proclaimed again and again and again (we see in the Gospels and affirmed by the rest of the New Testament) through a whole variety of teachings that he was the divine Son of God who had come down from heaven to both reveal God and to die in the place of humanity for their sins. (I said in an earlier study if you want to see the detail and biblical references for all this, please go to my previous series entitled ‘Focus on Christ’.)

The Significance of Jesus Christ: This is where unbelieving Jew & Gentile struggle. This IS the clear New Testament teaching, that Jesus Christ was God incarnate, God in the flesh.   Why is that important? It isn’t if all you want Jesus to be is a witness to God’s goodness, but for the claim to be substantiated that the individual sins of every single human being who has ever existed has been taken and dealt with, then no other person is big enough, if we may put it like that, to carry all those causes of guilt, only God Himself who is eternal and both inside and outside of time (we’ll look at that in a later study).

Now back in study no.5 about God’s revelation we noted what is called ‘the doctrine of divine accommodation’ which is about how God speaks in such ways that mankind at a particular point of history can understand. Throughout the pagan world sacrifice to idols was the norm. Thus, in the Law, God instigated the practice of sacrifices to act as substitutes for the offeror’s deserving to die for his or her sin (see the early chapters of the third book of the Bible, Leviticus). It was a picture, a way of the guilty Israelite performing a ritual, dictated by God, so that his conscience could be appeased; he has done what God has decreed to show that he was sorry and so the sacrificed animal carried his punishment. That is the picture built into the Law and seen with less clarity of appeasing purpose in pagan religions. The big difference for the Israelite was that he was doing it for Almighty God. This would be a picture that new believers coming from pagan backgrounds could understand.

But it was just a picture. In the New Testament, the remarkable ‘Letter to the Hebrews’ recaps all this for new Jewish but Christian believers and acknowledges that “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins,” (Heb 10:4) but what they had been doing for centuries was acting out a picture of what would happen when Christ came, even though they did not realize it. Very simply, their obedience to the Lord satisfied God that if they had lived in his time and heard about Christ, they would believe in him and be forgiven.

Perhaps an even clearer picture was what occurred at the first Passover, when the destroying angel of God ‘passed over’ Egypt but ignored every house where, at God’s instigation through Moses, a lamb had been killed and its blood put on the doorposts (see Ex 12).  When John the Baptist saw Jesus coming, he said prophetically to his disciples, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn 1:29 and again in v.35). As a good Jew or Gentile you may struggle with that but that is the New Testament clear teaching again and again. Your sin and mine, your guilt and mine, has been dealt with by Jesus, the divine Son of God, dying in our place. We cannot add to that, we cannot improve on that, we can only believe it, accept it and receive all that God has for us as a consequence. That will be the content of the next study.

9. God of Purpose: Jesus

Getting to Know God Meditations:  9. God of Purpose: Jesus

Jn 1:1-3,   In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made…. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Acts 2:22-24   Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men,  put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead

New Seekers or Old Believers?  Because Jesus Christ is such a significant and crucial figure in human history – and in the life of Israel – and because it is being said that the present younger generation is the first biblicaly illiterate generation, it would be wise to identify who we are talking about. But how to do that for seeker and those of you who are believers of long-standing? Well may I simply say what I am going to do here is lay out summary notes of what the Bible teaches about Jesus.

For the new seeker this simply says the Bible says a great deal about him; he is no obscure figure in misty history. There are also limited references to him as an historical figure in other writings outside the Bible but the Bible is full of details about him and therefore acts as our primary source. For long-term believers, may these notes simply act as reminders and maybe a challenge to update and enlarge your knowledge. For those who wish to pursue these things in much greater detail you will find much detail in an earlier series of 62 studies I wrote entitled ‘Focus on Christ’.

Big Pictures: The above two sets of starter verses show us something of the diversity of the descriptions that are found in the New Testament about Jesus. The first three Gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke – were written within a relatively few years after Jesus’ time on the earth. John was written a number of decades later after he had had time to mull over all the things he had seen and heard in those three most incredible years of his life and was writing, probably from Ephesus where he was still a church elder and probably one of the only remaining original twelve apostles who traveled with Jesus.

John writes for a Greek-thinking dominated world and so he uses this big philosophical language that would be  understood by them. Jesus, he says, is the Word, (Gk. Logos meaning focus of all life, the meaning behind everything). Meanwhile the apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost, days after Jesus has ascended, declares under the anointing of the Holy Spirit who fell on the believers that day, that Jesus was a man but enabled to do the miraculous by God, for which he was opposed by the authorities, put to death on a cross but rose from the dead. A short, sharp, non-philosophical testimony. This record was written only a relatively few years after the event and the believers struggled with the concept that this man was God. It took John, and also Paul as he listened more, to understand that this was God incarnate, God with us, the ‘Emmanuel’ of Isaiah prophecies.

The Prophesied One:  We said in a previous study that there are over 300 prophecies about a coming Messiah, descriptions noted by the Jewish scholars through the centuries, that fitted Jesus perfectly and, it should be said, never seen in any other figure. Thus the Jews expected One to come who would be:

A prophet like Moses (Deut 18:18), a ruling conqueror (Balaam’s prophecy) (Num 24:17-19), a shepherd (Ezek 34:23), a prince (Ezek 37:25), a ruler from Judah (Gen 49:10), the Seed of David with an everlasting kingdom (2 Sam 7:12-), one bringing the presence of God with him (Isa 7:14), a mighty ruler (Isa 9:6-7), a Son of man coming with the clouds to rule (Dan 7:13,14), God’s servant  (Isa 42:1-/49:1-/50:4-/52:13-).

Summarizing this we might say that in the OT the Jews saw the coming One as a compilation of:   Son of David, a great ruler, a prophetic messiah, a priestly messiah, a son of man (human in form), and a  suffering servant.

Past, Present and Future descriptions: to fill out this summary overview we might summarize his being and activity as shown in the Bible as follows:

  1. Past History: he came from heaven, lived on earth, taught widely, healed the sick & raised the dead, performed a variety of miracles, cast out demons, was arrested, falsely tried & crucified, took our sins on the Cross, rose from the dead and taught his followers for a number of weeks and then ascended into heaven.
  2. Present Experience:he draws people to God, heals & delivers, moves in affairs of world to bring about God’s purposes, prepares the church for his second coming.
  3. Future Activity: he will return to earth, being seen by every person, will take his followers to be with him, will vanquish the enemy (all evil), will judge every person.

Greater Content: For those who would like a little more detail here, here are some of those things slightly expanded:

  1. Jesus left his glorious position in heaven to come to earth (Jn 17:5 / Jn 6:38).  Jesus didn’t just come into being when he was born on earth; he had existed throughout eternity with the Father in heaven.
  2. He put aside the glory he had previously in heaven and lived in human frailty (Phil 2:7). In heaven he had been the glorious Son of God in full splendour. He put aside all that to come down to earth and wear a human body.
  3. He was tempted in EVERY way we are, but he DIDN’T give way to sin (Heb 4:15).  Jesus lived an ordinary human life with the same sort of human body, had human emotions, and lived among the same sort of people, and therefore faced the same temptations we face in our lives; he understands us! Yet he didn’t succumb to any temptation and didn’t sin.
  4. He came in perfect obedience to his Father in heaven (Heb 10:7 / Jn 5:19). Despite the pressures of living in a human body, at all times he sought the wishes of the Father in heaven and did all he was told to do, even though that was sometimes incredibly difficult.  His rule was “Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Mt 26:39).
  5. He allowed the Holy Spirit to minister through him to heal the sick, deliver the demonized, raise the dead, and generally counter the works of Satan on earth. (Lk 4:18,19 / Mt 11:4,5). His life was one of selfless giving, despite frequent tiredness and constant demands of people on him, he poured out God’s love in power.
  6. He was plotted against and falsely tried. (Acts 4:27 / Isa 53:3,8 / Acts 2:23)  Because of his total goodness, the self-centred, godless and unrighteous attitudes of those who should have known better, made them vulnerable to the promptings of the enemy and they rose up against him.
  7. He was beaten, tortured and crucified by Satan’s agents and was railed against by the demons hordes but never responded wrongly (Mt 27:26-30 / Psa 22:12,16 – prophetic insight into the mind of the crucified One)  Every violent expression of sin was turned upon him and he received it all in his body. Every violent expression in the spiritual realms was turned upon him and he received it in his spirit.
  8. He took our sin upon himself on the Cross. (2 Cor 5:21 / 1 Pet 2:24 / Isa 53:12)  As he hung on the Cross, it was as if all your individual sins, deserving punishment, were laid on Jesus, as if to say, “Here are the reasons you are hanging here taking this punishment.”  In that sense it was, in God’s eyes in eternity, as if they were transferred from you to him.
  9. He rose from the dead as proof of who he was (Acts 2:24 / Acts 17:31).  The resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate proof that he was who he said he was.
  10. He ascended into heaven to rule at his Father’s right hand. (1 Pet 3:22 / 1 Cor 15:25 / Eph 1:20-22 / Psa 110:1) See also the following for Jesus seated with the Father: Mk 16:19, Acts 2:33, 5:31, 7:55, Rom 8:34, Phil 2:9, Col 3:1, Heb 1:3, 8:1, 12:2. See also the following for Jesus ruling: Eph 1:22, Heb 2:8
  11. He is now IN THE PROCESS of putting everything in subjection under his feet (1 Cor 15: 24,25  / Eph 1:19-22 / Eph 2:6,7).  As he reigns at the Father’s right hand, Jesus works out the Father’s will on earth, continuing to do the things he started doing, but now through his church. This means Jesus reigns or rules or brings the Father’s will through the church, which is a gradual process.
  12. That process will be completed when he comes as conquering king (Rev 19:11-17 / 1 Thess 4:16,17 / Mt 24:27,30,31, 1 Cor 15:24-26)  The end is quite clear: Jesus will return in glory and all will see him coming. At that point, we who are on earth will be caught up to him. He will then deal with his enemies once and for all.

And So? Whether you believe this or not, this is the clear and specific teaching about Jesus Christ as seen in the Bible. We now need to move on and see how all of this is designed to impact the people we can become, i.e. all about our behaviour.

Snapshots: Day 79

Snapshots: Day 79

The Snapshot: “have them make a sanctuary for me.” (Ex 25:8) The tabernacle used to be something my Brethren friends used to get excited about years ago and yet even back then, I think we missed the main point – God wanted Israel to create a building that would be the focus point for their meeting with Him. That sounds so simple but is astounding, that Almighty, Holy God, Creator of the world, wants to interact with us, yes us who so often put ourselves down and allow the enemy to call us rubbish – and yet God wants us to come to Him, to chat with Him, unburden ourselves before Him, get ourselves put right again before Him, all this sort of stuff, God wants to do that! Amazing!

Further Consideration: Temples crop up a number of times in the Bible. There was the first one that Solomon built but which was eventually destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar prior to the Exile, then there was the smaller one built by the returning remnant after the Exile and this one was built up and extended by Herod prior to the coming of Jesus. It was then utterly destroyed by the Romans in AD70 in response to the Jewish revolt. To add insult to injury, Islam built the Dome of the Rock Mosque on the site of the old temple and remains there to this day. The meeting place with God for Judaism was removed and has not been rebuilt. End of story.

Not quite! On the Day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit was poured out on the believers and a new ‘temple’ came into being. The apostle Paul wrote, Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? …. you together are that temple.” (1 Cor 3:16,17) But more than that, he referred to us individually as God’s temple: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (1 Cor 6:19) Of course Jesus had already previously spoken of his own body as a temple (Jn 2:20,21)

And this is where you and I struggle – God lives in me?  I am a temple of His Holy Spirit? Again, as the apostle Paul wrote, “For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” (2 Cor 6:16) It’s all about intimate communion.

No longer do we have to go to a building to meet with God (although we can) for He is with us wherever we are. What a wonder, “you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (Eph 2:22) God dwells in us; you can’t get any more intimate than that. But it is true, despite what we feel. It is not a case of feelings. Yes, sometimes we really can sense His presence but more often it has to be a statement of faith. Emmanuel – God with us!

17. The Pharisee & the Publican

Meditating on the Parables of Luke: 17. The Pharisee & the Publican

Luke 18:9-14:  To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’  But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’  I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Purpose & Context: We seem to be in a part of Luke where rather than consequential flow being the style he uses, he instead simply picks up on a variety of, dare we say, bits and pieces of the things he has been told. I say this because there seems no direct flow into this parable from the previous one about not giving up on prayer. The only link, and it is a good one, is that both parables involve prayer but in this one, prayer is the channel for revealing the heart and not the heart of the parable itself.   The point is made very obvious from the outset: “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable.”   That’s it, it is about humility before God and how that is revealed through the way different people pray.

Content:

  • there are two men who go to the temple to pray.
  • one is a Pharisee who distanced himself from other people, exalting himself in declaring how righteous he was, fasting and giving tithes – certainly different from that tax-collector over there!
  • the other was the tax collector, who came in humility, not daring to look up to God, and just simply prayed for forgiveness and mercy, acknowledging he was a sinner.

The punchline that follows is clear: “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.”  That is the conclusion from the parable, but what brings that about?

The principle behind it is obviously stated: “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Application: Again, this is one of those parables that are so obvious that we wonder whether any comment is necessary. Yet it is worth dwelling on the nature of the two men in the parable. First, the Pharisee. This is a man who is clearly very religious. The Pharisees were known for their knowledge of the Law and their zeal for upholding it. This man at least expresses piety through the standard ways, fasting and giving tithes. However, it is his attitude that brings censure. Because of his piety he thinks he is better than other men, certainly better than obvious sinners, like the worldly and often corrupt tax-collectors. He comes before God displaying his pride openly.

Second, there is the tax-collector who, yes, is possibly worldly and corrupt – be he knows it and is not proud of it. He still has a desire to pray but he doubts his standing before God and all he can do is ask for mercy. In this he is being utterly real. This is not to condone his lifestyle but it is to acknowledge the humility with which he comes.

For us who are Christians of long-standing, this can be an uncomfortable parable if we are willing to be honest with ourselves, for after years of seeking to remain righteous before God, it is so easy to slip into an attitude of superiority when we look at other people who are not believers, those who are not bothered about righteousness.

Even more it is so easy to become complacent about prayer and, as I have commented elsewhere, especially public prayer. How easy we pray mechanically, just saying the right words, with little consideration to the thought that God – almighty, holy God – is there, is the one we are addressing. How rarely it is that people ‘out front’ pause before the Presence before they utter the words, how rare that they come with humility. I am sure that most of us would look at this very simple and straight forward parable and denounce the Pharisee without realizing that in many ways we are more like him than like the other man.

It is a difficult balance to hold, this realization on one hand that we are children of God, with a loving heavenly Father and all the familiarity of years of teaching and experience that has blessed us, while at the same time remembering that actually we ARE still sinners, redeemed yes, but still prone to sometimes getting it wrong (see 1 Jn 2:1) and we are what we are because of what Jesus has done and what the Holy Spirit is doing in us. As Paul said, we have no room to boast (Rom 3:27, Gal 6:4, Eph 2:9) just room for humility. May we remember that.

16. The Unrighteous Judge

Meditating on the Parables of Luke: 16. The Unrighteous Judge

Luke 18:1-8:  Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’  For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”  And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Purpose & Context: The purpose of this parable is there in the first verse: “they should always pray and not give up.”   Now that is very obvious and this is one of parables that addresses a problem we face regularly in the Christian life – my prayers don’t seem to be getting answered and so the temptation is simply to give up. Again it is one of those parables that doesn’t say what you think it is going to say but the end result is still quite clear and as Jesus clearly thinks that prayer is an integral part of a life of faith, the final punch line is challenging: “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Content:

  • there is an unrighteous judge – didn’t fear God and didn’t care what people thought of him.
  • a woman comes to him to demand justice for her situation.
  • he clearly takes no notice for she has to keep on coming to him, and he refuses to hear her.
  • eventually he gives way and gives her justice.
  • his thinking is that although he doesn’t fear God or care about what people think, he is eventually worn down by her coming and even fears that in her frustration she might attack him; for this reason alone he will hear her.
  • Jesus’ teaching concludes that if this unrighteous judge eventually hears this woman – and he is unrighteous, unfearing of God and man, won’t God who does care for us (implied) hear us and respond to us when we keep on praying.

Reasons for No Answers: In the 3rd study, the Parable of the Good Friend, we faced this same situation and I noted there the following reasons why sometimes we have to pray and pray and pray: First, sometimes constant and continual prayer is an indicator of the urgency and reality of the person praying and the Bible indicates that God looks for such reality (Deut 4:29). Second, I believe spending time in God’s presence deepens our relationship with the Lord and so He holds back a while to ensure this happens.  Third, I believe sometimes we have to pray and pray before we get to the point of realizing what God’s will really is and we ask for it (and then get it) in his name (Jn 14:13). Fourth, there is clearly spiritual opposition sometimes (see Dan 10:13) and we don’t always get what we want (see 1 Thess 2:18)

Why God Answers: The obvious first reason is that He loves us and loves to talk to us, and that must always be our starting point, but reversing the reasons above for no answers:

  • first, He will surely answer when He sees our urgency. When the Lord spoke to Moses at the burning bush He said, I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.” (Ex 3:7) The Lord does feel with us and for us as a loving heavenly Father.
  • Second, even though we may not be receiving an answer, He is attentive to us, appreciates us and loves to hear from us, just like any father loves to hear from their child in need.
  • Third, when we have caught His heart, He will answer: And I will do whatever you ask in my name,” (Jn 14:13) which the Message version paraphrases, “whatever you request along the lines of who I am and what I am doing, I’ll do it,” e. when the Father sees we are in line with the Son’s guidance, He will answer.
  • Fourth, we just have to recognize that we are often in spiritual warfare and the enemy seeks to hinder us. Perhaps more for this one than any of the others, as we saw in Luke 11, Jesus says ‘keep on badgering heaven, don’t give up’, and now says the same thing. It is like he is saying, if you think you’re on the right track, don’t be put off, keep at it, keeping praying, keep asking. Not wanting to be depressing, it appears that Isaac prayed 20 years (Gen 25:20,21,26) for Rebekah to conceive (either that or it took him nineteen years to get around to praying!)

I don’t know: Prayer, I believe, is the most mysterious part of the Christian life. It is amazing that we can talk to Almighty, all-knowing and all-wise God. We can come up with suggestions such as above but at the end of the day all we can say is that the Son of God encouraged us to pray and keep on praying. That is at the heart of two of these parables we have considered. Put aside intellect and engage heart – and pray.