27. Authority

Short Meditations in John 5:  27. Authority

Jn 5:27  And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man

Authority is a strange thing. It is a word we often come across but rarely bother to define. We sometimes speak of power and authority in the same sentence and in one sense they are two sides of the same coin.

When the United Nations sees an unjust war, they consider first what legal right they have to intervene. When various countries agree to send in a peace force, the important thing, first of all, is that they have the authority granted by the UN under international law. They will have the right to act. But now if they are to be effective they assess the problem to be confronted to see how much opposition there is likely to be, and will gather sufficient troops to overwhelm that opposition. They are assessing, do they have the power or might to achieve the end of peace. Authority is about legal rights while power is about having the ability or might to bring change. However, wherever there is real authority, there will be power given with it to make it effective

Now Jesus has both authority and power. The classic instance for seeing this is the incident of the paralytic being let down through the roof and we read, “When Jesus saw their faith he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.” (Mk 2:5) The Jews watching starting questioning in their minds, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mk 2:7) and so Jesus responds, “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins….” (v.10) and then turns to the paralytic and heals him, thus showing that he had the power that goes with real authority.

Now in what we have been seeing Jesus saying in this chapter about giving life to raise the dead, he has thus far being speaking about power – the ability to achieve this. He has that power and we see him exercising it every time he healed someone. Now we have just said that power and authority have to go together to make them effective and so Jesus now puts the emphasis on his authority, his right to do these things, his right to impart spiritual and physical life.

By claiming this authority, he is again subtly implying that he is God but, so that he doesn’t make it too blatant, he attributes the reason for the authority to the fact that he is the Son of Man. Now of course that term came from the prophecies of Daniel and Ezekiel and was taken to mean one who would come from God, the expected Messiah, and all the Jews would know that. Every time Jesus used this term he was quietly declaring who he was. Here he links that with this ability to operate with this authority that grants or withholds ‘life’ and again links himself to God.

59. Practical Wisdom

Meditations in Exodus: 59. Practical Wisdom

Ex 18:13,14   The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening. When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?”

Even great people need help and direction. Moses has been leading this embryonic nation and with so many people there will always be upsets and disagreements and so when these occurred they brought them to Moses who appears to hold a daily clinic whereby the people could come and vent their griefs and as a judge he would make a decision for them.

Now Jethro sees this happening and challenges him as to why he is doing this alone. Moses answered him, “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will. Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and laws. (v.15,16) It is very obvious to him. He is their leader and if the people want to know God’s will, he is the obvious one to impart it. We don’t know how long he had been doing this but he has settled into this way of doing things.  Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. (v.17,18) Today we might say, ‘Moses, this is crazy, this is much to big a job for just one person and the people will get exhausted waiting around in the heat for you to work your way through the queue. Not good!’

It’s all very well to diagnose a problem, but how do you deal with it? That is where wisdom comes in – the knowledge of how to act. Jethro continues: Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. (i) You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him. (ii)Teach them the decrees and laws, and show them the way to live and the duties they are to perform. (iii) But select capable men from all the people–men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain–and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. (iv) Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but (v) have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied. (v.19-23)

Now look at the various elements to this wisdom: I have inserted numbers into the texts to show it. First, if it a matter of dispute with God, you are his representative and you are to answer for Him. Second, they need laws to follow. In this he is being prophetic because very shortly the Lord is going to give them laws. Third, you need to establish a judiciary, good men who can act at different levels within the community. Fourth, these men can then act as judges for the people. Fifth, difficult cases, and only the difficult cases can then be dealt with by you. Note also his closing words – “If… God so commands.”  If Moses senses this is indeed the Lord’s will and the Lord subsequently gives them laws, this will take the strain off Moses and yet provide a judicial system that can be managed.

This is not unlike the judicial system in the UK. The minor cases are dealt with by magistrates, lay people with a little training. More serious cases are dealt with by junior judges and then the most serious cases handled by the more senior judges. That is a slight over-simplification because there is also a division between civil and criminal cases.

Moses liked what he heard and so did exactly as Jethro has said (v.24-26) and then shortly afterwards Jethro returned home (v.27).  This may seem a minor incident from our point of view but this was the first structuring of the nation to administer law and order and in that respect it was a major change to the community. It needed someone to come in from outside to see the problem and suggest an answer. You might have expected Moses, this great man of God to have had the wisdom to do this himself but he seems to have adopted a ‘saviour mentality’ that many leaders adopt – I must be the answer to everyone’s problems. No, that’s not how the Lord wants it.

The early church had to learn this that administrative matters within the church community needed to be dealt with by ‘deacons’, (see Acts 6) men and women, filled with the Spirit, and with servant hearts who could lift the administrative load off the apostles so they could focus on the spiritual matters of the church without being distracted or weighed down. This passage warns us not to try to be all things to all people. The teaching of the New Testament is that God gifts us each differently and we are all needed to be part of ‘the body of Christ’ with no one person carrying all the load. It may be our insecurity or it may be our pride that leads us to be the ‘one-man ministry’. We need to resist both things and if we are in a leadership role, train up and release others to share the load.  If we are part of the ‘others’, then we need to be available to God and to our leaders to be there to use and express the gifts that God has given us to bless the church. May it be so.

1.5 The Throne of God

Meditating on the Judgements of God: 1.5  The Throne of God

Psa 9:7,8  The LORD reigns forever; he has established his throne for judgment. He will judge the world in righteousness; he will govern the peoples with justice.

There is a truth about God which is perhaps so obvious that we rarely think about it. It is that God rules and judges and reveals to us a picture of Him sitting on a throne in heaven. A throne is a place where a sovereign reigns, and it a place of sovereign control. This whole concept of a throne speaks historically of a sovereign ruler, one who is all-powerful and with all authority. We may have lost this in the light of the monarchy in the UK in the twenty first century where the Queen is a figurehead and the power is actually with Parliament. That has not how it has been in history. The monarch was the one with the power, the one in absolute control and a benign and stable monarch (and God is at least this) had the power to be able to take time to weigh everything before him.

The first mention of God’s throne comes through Moses (Ex 17:16) because he recognized that when they prayed against the Amalekites, they were appealing to God on His throne: “hands were lifted up to the throne of the LORD.” He saw that God was a ruler who presided over the affairs of men and would act and bring changes as part of His rule.

For the real revelation of the throne room of heaven we have to turn to the prophets. Isaiah declared, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.” (Isa 6:1)

Ezekiel also had a vision from heaven: “Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man.” (Ezek 1:26)

Even Daniel saw it: “As I looked, “thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze.” (Dan 7:9)

John on Patmos was also privileged to see into heaven: “At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne. Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders,” (Rev 4:2-4) and near the end of Revelation, “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened.” (Rev 20:11,12)

Yes, these prophets were allowed a look into heaven and each saw God on a throne, ruling.  Job 1 doesn’t actually mention a throne but we are shown the deliberations of God in heaven. Micaiah the prophet also had such an insight: “Micaiah continued, “Therefore hear the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on his throne with all the host of heaven standing around him on his right and on his left. And the LORD said, `Who will entice Ahab into attacking Ramoth Gilead and going to his death there?” (1 Kings 22:19,20). It is of God working out His strategies as He rules.

The psalmists also had this idea in the back of their minds so often: “God reigns over the nations; God is seated on his holy throne,” (Psa 47:8) and, “Your throne was established long ago; you are from all eternity,” (Psa 93:2)  and Jeremiah added, “A glorious throne, exalted from the beginning, is the place of our sanctuary.” (Jer 17:12)  But a throne even appears in respect of the work of Jesus as the writer to the Hebrews indicates: “The point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven,” (Heb 8:1)

But it takes some of the psalmists to catch something of the action of God from His throne in heaven: “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a sceptre of justice will be the sceptre of your kingdom,” (Psa 45:6) and, Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you,” (Psa 89:14) and, righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.” (Psa 97:2). The bringing of righteousness and justice is the work of a Judge, which brings us right back to our subject. God sits on a throne in heaven, ruling over all the affairs of everything He has created. He had made everything perfect from the outset but with the coming of the Fall, things go wrong, and things are done wrong. God does not sit back and just let it all happen.

In His role as Judge we may suggest that:

  • 1) He assesses all that happens and determines whether it was righteous or unrighteous (i.e. conforming to His original design, or not!),
  • 2) He decrees what should happen in respect of those events, and specifically in respect of the people involved, and
  • 3) He then acts in accordance with that decree, and this we see as the act of judgement that appears in the records of Scripture.

Now we need to reiterate what we have said before when we had observed He is perfect. This is vital to understand.

  • In the first stage, His assessment is uniquely accurate because He alone sees and knows all that happens and there is nothing about it that is outside His knowledge and understanding.
  • In the second stage, His decree of what should happen is perfect because He alone has the knowledge, understanding and wisdom to know what various outcomes would produce. So He knows that if He does nothing, what will come about. He knows if He brings discipline whether it will bring a change in life. In this determining the decree He knows whether terminating a life or lives will be the best for these people and, even more, for those who are left.
  • In the third stage, bringing about the judgement, we will find that this may come through a variety of means and it will be this that we will go on to consider in later meditations.

Bear in mind what we have observed in some of these verses. Wherever God makes a decision in His rule from the throne in heaven, where He sees and knows all things, His thinking, His decrees and His actions will always conform to righteousness and justice.

29. The Day

Meditations in Romans : 29 :  The Day of the Lord

Rom 2:16 This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.

“It will never happen!”  I think that is a response of many people to warnings that are given in life. The smoker is warned that smoking brings cancer and the individual thinks, “It might in others but it won’t in me.” The young person is told that sexual promiscuity brings a high risk of STD’s but thinks, “But not for me!”   And so it is in so many ways in life, our self-centred and protective inner systems deny risk. “It will be all right!” It is just the same as when Satan whispered to Eve, You will not surely die.” (Gen 3:4). When it comes to sin we may warn people that God will hold them accountable and they say “Yes” but think “No, not me.”  We may actually quote Paul saying, “A man reaps what he sows.” (Gal 6:7) and the blindness of sin thinks, “Others, but not me. I’ll be all right.”  Well, no, you won’t!

There are two particular outworkings of this that involve us in long-term thinking. We warn, “You’re not going to live for ever, you never know when you might die and then you’ll face God,” and the person thinks, “Yes, but that won’t be for many years,” and yet a lot of people don’t reach old age, but we all think we will.  Or the preacher speaks about the day when the Lord will wind up all things and there will be a universal accounting, and the person thinks, “Yes, well that won’t be for hundreds of years yet.” We don’t know!

There is yet another ‘escape route’ that people use when we say these things: “It’ll be all right, no one knows about my sin,” as if their sin being hidden from human eyes means they will not be accountable to God. Nevertheless the belief that what we have been doing has been in secret leads many people to foolishly think they are safe. No you are not because God sees everything!

We say all this because of where Paul has got to now. “This will take place…” What will take place?  Well if you look at the verses in the paragraph from which the above verse comes, you will see that verses 14 and 15 are an aside in brackets. So the ‘this’ refers back to what was said in verses 12 and 13: “All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law.” i.e. there is coming a time of judgment when we have to account for what we have done or not done. That is the starting place.

Now something else is then made clear: “on the day when….” This isn’t something general, which could happen any time. There is coming a day, a specific time and day, when God has decided that this will happen. It won’t be an accident and it won’t be forced by circumstances but it is a day that God has decided upon before anything else happened. It is part of His sovereign plan, so it WILL happen.

So what will happen? “God will judge men’s secrets.” This is going to be a sovereign act of God. It won’t be that circumstances will pile up against us, but that on this appointed day, God Himself will step forward and He will hold a court case against us and the evidence will be put forward and our lives displayed – everything about us, even the things we thought were secret that no one else knew about – and God will pronounce judgment on these lives of ours. Already we are starting to feel uncomfortable. How can we possibly hope for a good outcome? Perhaps we can make excuses? I didn’t know. Yes, you did; your conscience told you. Or maybe, well I’m no worse than anyone else. So what? You’re still talking about your sin. Or perhaps, it wasn’t my fault? You mean you are unable to make your own choices in life? You didn’t choose to do those things? No, the outlook is not good!

But on what measure or standard will God judge us? “Through Jesus Christ.” What does that mean? I suggest there are two applications. First, He will measure us against the standard of the life that Christ lived. How do we stand up to that test? That’s unfair, we cry, he was the Son of God. Yes, but he was still living in a human body with human feelings and human free will. Oh dear, we’re going to fail that one!

But there is yet, fortunately, a further possibility. I say fortunately because I hope the answer to what is coming is positive. The other way that God will assess us, is how we have responded to Jesus. That is what the gospel is all about that Paul then refers to.  Jesus came and lived on the earth and we saw all of his goodness and the love of God displayed through him. How do our hearts respond to that?  If it leaves us cold we condemn ourselves. But then he died on the Cross to take the punishment for our sins. How do we respond to that?

If it is with indifference we condemn ourselves. If we receive his salvation gladly we are not only saved today, but we will be saved on that day when we have to stand before God and account for our lives.  We will surely fail when we are measured on the basis of our personal goodness, but when it comes to how we responded to Jesus, that is much easier if we can say, I heard, I responded and I took him as my personal saviour and was born again.  THAT and that only is the only way we will be able to stand with any confidence before God on that last day.

50. God, the Judge

Meditations in James: 50: God is the Judge

Jas 5:9    Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!

On the basis of this verse and what I have observed over many years as a Christian, I suspect that there is a lot of judging going on in the church – by God! Now because the Gospel of grace is preached in the church, Christians sometimes think it doesn’t matter what they say or do, because they will be forgiven by God through the work of Christ on the Cross. Well this is a big subject that needs a variety of answers.

The first answer is that God’s salvation is for all who repent and put their lives into God’s hands. Now implied within that is that they surrender to Him and are obedient to His word and to His Spirit as they ‘follow Jesus’.  Is it possible for salvation to be lost?  I believe on the basis of such verses as Ezek 18:24 and Heb 6:4-6 (as well as many other incidental verses) it is, but not by occasional lapses but by purposeful apostasy.

The second thing to note is about the question of whether a Christian can ‘get away with’ sin.  Paul taught that we have died to sin and should therefore no longer sin (Rom 6:1,2). Sin, for the Christian, should ever only be the occasional lapse when we are tripped up by the enemy. John wrote, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 Jn 2:1,2) i.e. we shouldn’t sin but if there is a lapse, Jesus will be there for us.

But supposing we accept a particular behaviour that we tolerate because we think it is all right – such as grumbling against others – but which isn’t!  Does God just sit back and let us ‘get away with it’?  Well, remember that His purpose is to change us into the likeness of Jesus (2 Cor 3:18).  He is not going to put that purpose aside because we have decided we like doing this particular thing.  Oh no, He will take action to deal with that in us.  The writer to the Hebrews understood this: My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” (Heb 12:5,6). Later he wrote,No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (v.11). No, if you tolerate unrighteousness in your life, then along the way you will encounter circumstances that the Hebrews’ writer refers to as ‘hardship’ – Endure hardship as discipline.” (v.7). Will you lose your salvation? No! Will you incur God’s discipline? Yes!

We say all this, of course, in the light of our verse in James today.  God will discipline me for grumbling, you ask?  Again the writer to the Hebrews points us back to the Old Testament when he says, we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast. So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert (Heb 3:6-8).  There he was referring back to the time when Israel ‘grumbled’ in the desert and were judged for it.  Many of them died (Num 11:1-3).  Miriam and Aaron grumbled against Moses and Miriam was left leprous (Num 12:1-15).  Because the people grumbled against going into the land, the Lord forbad that generation form entering (Num 14:26-29).  Grumbling in each of these instances was complaining about the leadership of the people. That’s where grumbling occurs, when God’s people are negative about their leaders, and this is also grumbling against God (because they are His representatives.

So it is that James realizes the severity of grumbling and warns the church against it. Yet he doesn’t spell out the negative consequences of disunity in a church, he simply reminds us that we are accountable to God: you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!” i.e. God is watching and He will not let this go.  He will see it, know exactly what it is – sin – and will come and deal with it.

We have already commented recently on Paul’s warnings over Communion but it applies again here: For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.” (1 Cor 11:29-32).  The Corinthians were being casual about how they came to God and were abusing one another. Because they would not heed the Spirit of God within them, the Lord had simply taken a number of them to heaven to be with Him.  He wouldn’t let them carry on there on the earth in the church.

When a couple named Ananias and Sapphira decided to lie and appear more holy than they were, the Lord used them as an example to the rest of the church and took them to heaven. That doesn’t mean they lost their eternal salvation but it does mean they were taken out of His plans here on earth.

There are serious issues here, and perhaps they may be summed up as, don’t be casual about sin, for you will be answerable to God and the very least He will do is discipline you here and now in your present circumstances. We would prefer not to think about the alternative, as we value our lives here on earth. What does this verse say? God holds us accountable. Think about it.


43. What you say

Meditations in James: 43 : Beware what you say about others

Jas 4:11,12     Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you–who are you to judge your neighbor?

A passage like today’s two verses is simple and straight forward, but we might wonder, why is James going off on another tangent?  Well he isn’t, but again we have to look at what has gone before in this chapter to catch the flow. Remember at the beginning of the chapter James was facing us with the inner turmoil that goes on within us because of not having surrendered everything to God (v.1-3). Then he implied that all these desires that had not been submitted to God were the same sort of thing that the rest of the world wrestled with in their unregenerate state, and he called us to side with God against the ungodliness and unrighteous attitudes of the world (v.4).  He then pointed out that God is jealous for a relationship with us (v.5) and longs to give us the grace we need for living, but can only give it to those who humbly seek him (v.6). Out of that came a call to come to God in submission, resisting the tactics of the enemy who would seek to draw us away (v.7), come with a right perspective (v.8-10) and God will lift us up. This has all been a natural progressive flow in his appeal and it is important that we see how one thing flows on from another.

So he has come to a point of appealing that we submit to God, and so what follows? It is important to see this! When our relationship with the Lord is established or re-established, it always has practical outworkings in respect of how we relate to other people. The vertical relationship with God ALWAYS results in changes to the horizontal relationships with people. You cannot have a real relationship with the Lord and it not have impact on the way you relate to people.  In passing we might consider how we relate to other people because, as the other side of the same coin so to speak, it is an indicator of the level of relationship we have with the Lord!

James, as a good pastor, knows this, that the Lord wants the expression of our relationship with Him to have an impact on the way we relate to people, and James has it in the back of his mind that he has already written to us about the use of the tongue as being the first outward indicator of how we are on the inside. Right, he says now, if you have submitted yourself to God, check now what is coming out of your mouth in respect of people, because your words now need to reflect your newly re-established relationship with the Lord.

This is a terribly important issue in Christian circles. See what he says: Brothers, do not slander one another. Brothers indicates that he is speaking to Christians, and his simple injunction is don’t say wrong things about other Christians. Now I’ve just suggested that this is a terribly important issue in Christian circles.  Listen to the chatter that goes on in church. Listen to the chatter that goes on between little groups of Christians. Here is the challenge from James. If you refer to your minister or leaders, or to anyone else in the church for that matter, are you careful not to offend on this point? ‘Gossip’ in the church is wrong chattering that pulls down people. Gossip does not look for the well-being and uplifting of people. Gossip is so often slanderous; it does not wholly speak the truth. Slander is speaking wrongly about others. If we give an opinion about our leaders or about others with whom we perhaps disagree, is it an opinion that puts down or does it uplift? What you speak is a reflection of what goes on inside you, and if you speak untruth, it is an indication of a weak relationship with the Lord, and you need to go back over the previous verses in this chapter because they obviously apply to you. But see what else James says about this.

He says, Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. What does he mean? Well today, as Christians, we are under one Law, the Law of love: Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: `Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Mt 22:37-40). If we slander other people, we are rejecting that Law, and putting ourselves above it. It’s like we make a judgment, “I don’t need to be bound by that,” and we put ourselves on the level of the Lawmaker, God! You’re not keeping the royal law of love, says James, if you speak badly of other people, you are judging it. God is the only one who can put aside the Law. An expression of our real relationship with the Lord is that we keep this law and love others, and if we love them we will not speak badly of them. It is that simple!

After all that we have said about the previous verses and how James calls us into relationship with the Lord, the way we speak about others will be the measuring stick for how real our responses to all of that have been. If we find ourselves speaking wrongly of others, we need to pull ourselves up, go back to God, submit ourselves humbly to Him and ask for His forgiveness. A relationship with God is a very practical thing in the Bible. Ensure it is also in your life.

41. False Comforters

Meditations in Job : 41.  False Comforters

Job 16:2   I have heard many things like these; miserable comforters are you all!

Comfort, in modern usage, is normally about having nice things in our homes. We don’t tend to speak about comforting another unless it is in respect of a small child, yet the Holy Spirit is referred to by Jesus as the Comforter in older versions, or the Counsellor in more modern versions, for a counsellor is simply someone who brings comfort. The psalmist wrote, May your unfailing love be my comfort,” (Psa 119:76). Knowing the God is a God of love and that all He does for us is an expression of His love, is a comfort to us. We need comforting when we are in worrying or difficult circumstances, and in a fallen world, that is quite often! Here is Job sitting in total misery (if you have forgotten, go back and read his earlier anguish in chapter 3) and in dire need of comfort. We have travelled this path before but it bears treading again. When you are in such a place what is it you want? Comfort! Well, yes, but what does that really mean? You want understanding acceptance, you want your friend to lift and encourage you with words that help. The last thing you want is words that condemn or judge, but that is what Job has been receiving!

Thus now as he responds to Eliphaz’s last outpouring, his first response is not to reply to the judgement but to express what he feels about these three ‘friends’. (We sometimes say, “With friends like that, who needs enemies!”)  What does he call them? Miserable comforters! That’s right, go for it, Job, you tell them! He’s been waiting for a simple word of encouragement and all he has received from them have been long rambling tirades! Will your long-winded speeches never end?” (v.3a). He despairs that they seem to go on and on. He wonders what is wrong with them: “What ails you that you keep on arguing?” (v.3b). It’s like he says, “What is it with you guys that you just have to keep on and on at me. Why can’t you stop?”

But then he thinks what it would be like if the boot were on the other foot, if it were him in their position and they were in his: “I also could speak like you, if you were in my place; I could make fine speeches against you and shake my head at you.” (v.4). Yes, anyone can make fine sounding words when they are feeling fit, healthy and secure; that is easy! But, he goes on, I wouldn’t do that to you! “But my mouth would encourage you; comfort from my lips would bring you relief.” (v.5).  I wouldn’t want to just go on at you; I would want to encourage, comfort and somehow bring you some relief if I could.

This little passage thus challenges us once again on the sort of people we are. I Have noticed that there are some people who just want to be strengthened and confirmed in their state of discouragement, and so they go and find others who they know are the same and the two of them groan together about how bad the world is, and go away conformed in their belief that life is bad and people are nasty and as for God….!  Those sort of people, it seems don’t want to be lifted and encouraged because if they were it would mean that they would have to take responsibility for their lives and for others around them, and they don’t want that.

But there are others who simply have low self-esteem because of the hard knocks of life, and although it may be a long, slow process, they are willing to receive gentle uplifting when it is given. But there comes the challenge, are we willing to be those who will bring such gentle and gradual uplift? Bringing encouragement to others requires persistence because their state means it is difficult for them to be lifted, and so that gentle understanding acceptance that we have spoken of, needs to come with a consistence that proved to our friend that it is not an artificial quick fix approach. No, our friend who needs lifting, wants to know that our care is genuine and that it won’t only come in one minute bursts. I knew someone who seemed to express care almost ‘professionally’. You were left feeling that they said what they said because it was their duty, and they would rather not have to do it, if only you would get yourself sorted out! Indeed as soon asd hey left you they were off on the next quest and you were forgotten.

That’s not what someone who needs lifting wants. They want to know that they are important to you, not just when you are before them but all the time. Paul was staggeringly good at this: For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.” (Eph 1:15,16) Wow! They were on his mind all the time! No, when we comfort another, part of that comfort comes in the knowledge that they are important to us. I have a terrible memory but I am aware that remembering people’s names is important. In a large church this is especially difficult but at least with just a relatively small number, surely we can show our care by remembering people’s names – and the things they shared with us when we last spoke. Little things perhaps, but they help people feel you care – and you do if you work on it. Soon you will find you are thinking about them, praying for them and wondering how they are getting on. It is something to be learned and something to be worked on, but if we do we will avoid being like Job’s comforters, who merely pulled him down further.

Why not set yourself a task to focus on a small number of people who you know struggle with life and who just need loving acceptance, and work at giving it to them. This won’t be a short term project so don’t embark on it lightly, but if you settle in for he long haul, you may find yourself helping a number of lives to be transformed in a significant and meaningful way.

God who Judges

God in the Psalms No.12 

Psa 7:6-8 Awake, my God; decree justice. Let the assembled peoples gather around you. Rule over them from on high; let the LORD judge the peoples. Judge me, O LORD

These verses introduce us quite clearly to a new description of the Lord: the Lord who is a Judge. What does a Judge do? He (or she) assesses a case in the light of the Law and pronounces a verdict based on that Law. For the Lord this is a circular thing for the Lord designed the world in accordance with His character (perfection) and decreed the Law to ensure people lived in accordance with that design.  Now He judges according to that Law, according to that design, according to His character.  Justice is weighing actions in the light of that Law and bringing appropriate action to bear on the miscreant to make right the situation.

Now with the Lord, nothing can be hidden.  The writer to the Hebrews was able to write: Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account (Heb 4:13).  So, when the Lord assesses the situation He does so with full and complete knowledge. But there is more. Paul described the Lord as, the only wise God (Rom 16:27).  The Lord is the only one who not only knows all things but knows that is right to do in every situation.  (Wisdom is knowing what to do). Therefore the Lord looks, the Lord knows, and the Lord knows how to respond.  The one thing we will never be able to do when we get to heaven, if the Lord should allow us full vision of all that has happened, is criticize anything the Lord has said or done.  His ways are perfect (Deut 32:4).  Thus in heaven they cry, Just and true are your ways” (Rev 15:3).

So it is, that when we come before the Lord we may never fear injustice. But do we want justice?  Do we want to be judged by the One who sees all things, every wrong thought, every wrong word, every wrong deed? If every such thing throughout our lives were brought out for accounting, it would truly be a terrible thing.  There would be no doubt; we are guilty!   Piled up before, us all these things condemn us.  It’s all right for David in this one situation to say, Judge me according to my righteousness. Oh, yes on specific occasions we can say, well, yes, I was righteous then, I did respond well then. But what about all the other times when we were not so careful, the times when we do not quite come up to the mark, or even fell well short of it?

Yes, this is why we need an advocate, one who will step in and speak up for us. But what could he plead?  Extenuating circumstances?   No, there were none.  We were guilty, it was our fault!   No, there is only one ground on which he can plead – that he himself has already stood in for us and taken our punishment and the penalty for every sin has been paid.  That’s what John had in mind when he wrote: if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 Jn 2:1,2)

Here is the advocate speaking for our defence and here is the one who has paid for our sins – and they are one and the same person, Jesus Christ. Thus when God stands as Judge before the whole of Creation, He CAN bring justice, He can decree rightly in respect of our sins. There is no ‘letting us off’, there is no turning a blind eye. The judgment is given, justice is done, the sins are paid for.  It has been done!  The Judge does give a right judgment – and we are released!   How wonderful!

5. Promise of Peace

MEDITATIONS IN ISAIAH – No.5

Isa 2:2,4 In the last days…. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.

Suppose you have a bad back and go and see a specialist and he says, “Yes, you’ll need weekly massage and then strenuous exercise before this gets better.” You accept that as normal. Or perhaps you go to the dentist and he says, “I’m afraid you have some decay and I have to do a number of fillings.” Again you accept that you are going to have to go through a period of discomfort before, eventually, you come to a good place.

Our trouble, often, when we read books of the Bible like Isaiah, is that we get bogged down with the negative diagnosis and the painful ‘treatment’ and tend to forget that always the Lord is seeking to bring His people through to a good end. In chapter one we had a lot of painful diagnosis of Israel’s state but now as we enter the second chapter we see that the Lord is aiming for something quite specific. Yes, there is violence at the present as nation rises against nation and the sin of mankind is expressed at a national level, but God is aiming for something beyond that.

Note first that this is what Isaiah saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.” (v.1) This was the land and this was the city that so often went through turmoil as other nations invaded in their ‘down’ times. So much for the location; next the timing: “In the last days”. (v.2a). The ‘last days’ tends to refer in Scripture to an end time period when God winds up all that is at the present and brings in something new. That is obvious in what follows. “the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains.” (v.2b). Jerusalem was sited on seven hills; not very big hills admittedly but hills nevertheless.

The very first time Jerusalem was referred to as a ‘mountain’ was in respect of Abraham where he went to sacrifice Isaac: “So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.” (Gen 22:14). We believe this location was what became to be Jerusalem because we find, “Then Solomon began to build the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah.” (2 Chron 3:1). Later Zechariah was to prophesy, “Then Jerusalem will be called the City of Truth, and the mountain of the LORD Almighty will be called the Holy Mountain.” (Zech 8:3). Perhaps ‘mountain’ is used to refer to a high place, a place where God dwells above all humans, reflecting something of the Sinai experience (see Ex 19). Mountain may also, perhaps, refer to ideologies of the world. Whichever it is, the picture is clear – the Lord’s dwelling place will be the chief or supreme of all such places that mankind might look to.

Thus, although Jerusalem, the dwelling place of God in the Old Testament period, was now in a weak and vulnerable position, a prey to invading forces, that is only a temporary state. Ultimately it will become the focal point for the world. Now whether that focal point is the place of the Cross of Christ which establishes the Christian faith, or something else, time will tell. But the end is clear: the Lord will reign and people will come to Him: “Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” (v.3). There will be a heart desiring for the Lord and His ways, so people will seek Him. This suggests an end-time revival, bigger than anything the world has known, where large numbers of the world are drawn to the Lord.

But then it is as a result of that, that we come to our verse above: “He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” (v.4). Do you see this? Because people come to the Lord, there will be peace! It is peace because they submit to the Lord and His blessing comes to them. The apostle Paul understood this when he wrote: “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.” (Rom 14:17,18). God’s rule brings righteousness, peace and joy in our lives. How different this is from the foolish ideas that the world has accepted from Satan: “The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One. “Let us break their chains,” they say, “and throw off their fetters.” (Psa 2:2,3). Sin, stirred on by Satan, sees the Lord’s rule as hard, but in fact it is exactly the opposite. It brings peace and joy. Those are not characteristics of a hard life!

Oh the folly of sin! How it distorts our thinking! It makes God out to be a hard and harsh God, but in fact, He is the exact opposite. Sin looks at Scripture through a twisted lens and so the truth is distorted. It picks on the corrective parts and sees them in the worst possible light. It fails to see the love and goodness of God shining through in the midst of man’s stupidity. Check it out in yourself. How do you (honestly!) view the Old Testament? Do you feel God is hard? Do you focus on judgment or can you see the restrained, corrective, gentle hand of a loving God shining through, even in the words of a prophet who struggles with the folly of his own people?