1. Limitations

Short Meditations in John 7:  1. Limitations

Jn 7:1  After this, Jesus went around in Galilee. He did not want to go about in Judea because the Jewish leaders there were looking for a way to kill him.

Chapter 6 was a package, almost, a miraculous feeding and then talk about bread, natural and spiritual bread. That was the substance of the chapter but underlying it was revelation about Jesus himself as the divine-human in their midst: a miracle worker (feeding many, walking on water), a teacher (on the hillside and in the synagogue), the one who had come down from heaven, and the one who has to be taken into our lives to feed us and give us eternal life. Major revelations.

Now in the first ten verses of chapter 7, John gives us a little insight into both (i) the divine restrictions and (ii) the human pressures, upon Jesus. These are two things we need to understand for our own lives.

After the specific teaching in the synagogue, following which both the crowd and some of his not-so-committed disciples drew back from Jesus, John starts this new chapter with a general insight into Jesus general strategy at this time, and it is important to see – for this is at the heart of the present verses – that his strategy varied according to the dictates of the Father and the general plan they had for the days ahead.

“After this.” After the teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

“Jesus went around in Galilee.” Jesus didn’t stay in one place but limited himself to the area of the north referred to as Galilee.

“He did not want to go about in Judea.Interestingly there is a footnote after ‘want’ that suggests a possible alternative – not have authority which suggests that Jesus’ ‘wants’ were in fact subject to the Father in heaven’s authority. Why this restriction?

“because the Jewish leaders there were looking for a way to kill him.” We might say today, ‘the knives were out, the word was out to get him!’ It was clear that it was the leaders of Judaism who had a problem with Jesus, such a problem that they saw the only way to deal with it was by arranging for him to be killed.

But what this verse shows us that even the Son of God adapted a strategy to conform to what was going on in the world around him. We sometimes tend to think that God, being sovereign, can just plough on through the affairs of mankind, but Scripture is clear that He works so often within the affairs of mankind to bring about His overall goals. The classic of this was declared by the anointed apostle Peter: “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.” (Acts 2:23) i.e. God’s plan using man’s sinful intent.

45. Death Forewarned

PART SIX: Death,  Resurrection & Ascension

Focus on Christ Meditations: 45.  Death Forewarned

Acts 2:23  This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.

And so we must move on and leave the activities of Jesus during his three years of ministry, to go  to the closing days and hours of his life and then what followed. Throughout this series, and I know I have emphasised it more than once, I have sought to counter the familiarity with which many of us live. In this day of, not only regular Sunday services but so much TV preaching being available, I believe this can almost make us over-familiar with God’s word and so we take it for granted and lose the sense of wonder and awe that a new believer so often has when approaching it for the first time.  For this reason I am going to take time over the death, resurrection and ascension of the Christ and ask you to read the accounts afresh as if reading for the first time.

Accepting that Jesus did die on the Cross, the fact of which we will consider in another study, the question I want to ask us is, contrary to our familiarity, what evidence is there, if any, that the death of the Messiah or Christ was expected?

If I may start on the easy part, what did Jesus himself say about his death?  We have seen it before but it does bear repeating. Three times Matthew records Jesus warning his disciples that it was going to happen: first, From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Mt 16:21) Note two thing about this. First with the explicit detail given, there can be no mistake whatsoever about the clarity of Jesus’ understanding of what was going to happen – go to Jerusalem, suffering, killed and then raised on the third day. It’s all there. Second, note Jesus uses the word ‘killed’ and not ‘executed’. This is not going to be a legitimate or even legal execution, we will go on to see.

Then a second time: “When they came together in Galilee, he said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.” (Mt 17:22,23) The previous account had been Matthew’s record but this one now includes Jesus’ own words and within these is the idea that he is going to be ‘betrayed’, which is a word with strong emotional undertones and speaks of disloyalty and even deception. These are the ingredients that will lead up to Jesus death at the hands of the religious and then civil authorities.

Finally, a third time: “Now as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” (Mt 20:17-19) This again is in Jesus’ own words and, combining the previous two, adds even more detail: Jerusalem, betrayal, in the hands of the religious authorities who will condemn him to the Gentile overlords, the Romans, who will first mock and flog him and then crucify him. When we come to observe the resurrection we will note in these same verses the clear claim that he will rise from the dead, but that is for later on.

Mark and Luke have only one of these instances and John, presumably because he feels Matthew had covered it well, does not give any direct references such as these but we do see Jesus giving indication that his time with his disciples was almost up. In Jn 13:1 it is John who states that he knew what Jesus was thinking: “It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father.” The washing the disciples feet is also put in that context (see 13:2,3,11,18,21,27) then specifically he declares, “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.” (13:33, also 14:2,3, 28-31, 16:5,7,10,16,19,20,28)  Thus many times in that last discourse he alludes to the fact of his leaving them, though not the how or why.

Now these have all been warnings during the time of Jesus’ ministry and it is fair to ask, what about in the prophecies in the Old Testament, were there the same indications there, should the Jews (and thus, disciples) have been expecting this?

Perhaps, as a starting point, there is the reference, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone.” (Psa 118:22) which Jesus himself referred to (e.g. Mt 21:42) and which Peter referred to both when he was preaching (Acts 4:11) and in his first letter (1 Pet 2:7), though I wonder how many of the scribes associated that reference with the Coming One, the Messiah?

But then that might be true of other verses from the psalms, for example the cries of Psa 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (v.1) Many of the verses that follow can, after the event, be directly linked to the Cross and all Jesus went through, but when it was first written I wonder how many dared link it to the Messiah?

Then in Isaiah in the Servant Song of Ch.52,53 we find those mysterious words, “Just as there were many who were appalled at him– his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness.” (Isa 52:14) followed a bit later by, “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isa 53:5), words that we so easily attribute to what happened to Jesus but which, at the time, I suggest were utterly mysterious to the listeners to Isaiah.

A while later Zechariah uttered one or two things in this direction, which must have left his hearers somewhat mystified: “They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.” (Zech 12;10) and the even more mysterious words, “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is close to me!” declares the LORD Almighty. “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered,” (Zech 13:7) which was quoted by Jesus on the night of his arrest (Mt 26:31)

Although there are many prophecies we today call descriptions of the Coming Messiah, many of them just hung there as stars in the sky but leaving the listeners wondering and without much understanding. This, I suggest, takes  us right back to our earliest studies in this series where we referred to ‘the mystery of Christ’. The curse in the Garden of Eden is usually taken to refer to Jesus versus Satan: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Gen 3:15) Satan will be crushed while he injures, but not fatally, the seed of the woman – the Coming Messiah. Hints but no more. That is really all the Lord gave them. Little wonder they struggled when Jesus sought to tell them what was coming.

20. The Tide of Acceptance (2)

Meditating on Great Themes in John:  20. The Tide of Acceptance (2)

John 3:19  This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.”

We spoke about a ‘The Battle for Belief’, and said it is rather like the tide that goes in an out. Now that was true of the ordinary people, it seems, but it also seems that there was a constant undercurrent that flowed against the incoming tide, an undercurrent that was there in the religious people of the day, which is tragic when you think about it; they should have been the people to appreciate Jesus first, but when you accept second best and the best turns up, that is a challenge.

We noted this tide early on in the Prologue when John wrote, The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” (Jn 1:5) and then, “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. That was John’s overall summary of what happened in the long-term and our verse at the top which comes in what we called John’s Recap reiterates that and explains it. Where people are established in sin they will reject Jesus. You may find that difficult to believe but I once spoke with someone for five hours about Jesus and at the end of it they said, “I understand all that you are saying, and I can see it, but I like this life of sin and I want to hold on to it.” And with that they got up and left. People often reject Jesus because they want to hang on to the life they have, as wrong as it may be.

The thing that upset the religious Jews the most was whenever he referred to himself in divine terms, uniting himself with God, for example, “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds” (Jn 8:58,59).

A little while later, two chapters on, we find the same thing: “I and the Father are one.” Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?” “We are not stoning you for any of these,” replied the Jews, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” (Jn 10:30-33)

But this ‘undertow’ or ‘undercurrent’ first came to light when Jesus went and cleansed the temple in chapter 2. After he had done that we find, “Then the Jews demanded of him, “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” (Jn 2:18) which is a fairly natural question to ask in the light of what he had just done, but it was a seed of rejection rather than of acceptance as their future behaviour revealed. Chapters 3 and 4 are chapters of acceptance but they are to do with one man, Nicodemus and then one woman, the Samaritan, and her neighbours. When we come to chapter 5 we are back in Jerusalem and although Jesus heals a long-term invalid, the religious Jews were upset about it because it was the Sabbath, a day when no work was supposed to be done (Jn 5:9,10).

It was shortly after this we see the first of the Jews’ objection to Jesus’ references to his divinity: “Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” (Jn 5:17,18)

In chapter 6 we saw the feeding of the five thousand then Jesus walking on water and then his teaching on being the bread of life. It is within this that the Jews get upset again: “At this the Jews began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, `I came down from heaven’?” (Jn 6:41,42) After he later speaks of them needing to eat his flesh we find, “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” (Jn 6:66) Now this appears rejection more from lack of understanding that anything else and this is rejection by ordinary people rather than the religious Jews of Jerusalem.

As they approach the Feast of Tabernacles John notes, “For even his own brothers did not believe in him.” (Jn 7:5). The crowd in Jerusalem reveal the split opinions about him: “Among the crowds there was widespread whispering about him. Some said, “He is a good man.” Others replied, “No, he deceives the people.” But no one would say anything publicly about him for fear of the Jews.” (Jn 7:12,13) but it was when he started teaching in the temple precincts that it really warms up: “Then Jesus, still teaching in the temple courts, cried out, “Yes, you know me, and you know where I am from. I am not here on my own, but he who sent me is true. You do not know him, but I know him because I am from him and he sent me.” At this they tried to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his time had not yet come.” (Jn 7:28-30)

Again the opposition, although muted, is because of his claims to divinity. It continues, “On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.” Others said, “He is the Christ.” Still others asked, “How can the Christ come from Galilee? Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will come from David’s family and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?” Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him.” (Jn 7:40-43) There is clear division and those against want to take it to the next level.

The next attack on Jesus comes from the Pharisees and we find, “You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” He spoke these words while teaching in the temple area near the place where the offerings were put. Yet no one seized him, because his time had not yet come.” (Jn 8:19,20) and the hostility is because of his claims to divinity, yet again. We have already seen how this culminated in them wanting to stone him (Jn 8:58) The Jews’ refusal to believe becomes even clearer in their cross-examining the blind man healed in chapter 9. Again we have seen their desire to stone him in 10:31-33 for claiming to be God.

It is the Lazarus incident that really brings it to a climax: “Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. “What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation…… So from that day on they plotted to take his life. (Jn 11:47,48,53) In the closing stages of his public ministry, John records, “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet:” (Jn 12:37,38)

To summarise: In Galilee he was completely accepted; it was only when he came south to Jerusalem that Jesus received opposition  Mostly the ordinary people accepted him although they struggled at times with his teaching. The opposition came whenever he even hinted at his origins and it came from the religious authorities, and this gradually built until the tide was right out and the awful events of Good Friday came about.

40. Justice

Meditations in Romans : 40:  Justice Demonstrated

Rom 3:25,26 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished– he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

Justice is a key issue at the heart of life. The word ‘just’ means ‘equitable, fair, right, and proper’. Justice is about achieving ends which are equitable, fair, right and proper. In our relativistic age there is a lot of talk about ‘understanding criminals’ or understanding why people are ‘driven’ to do bad things and we excuse them on the basis of their bad backgrounds, their bad education or their bad parents – until they do something to us! The modern trend is to do away with rights and wrongs – until they affect me personally. It is easy to theorise about such things until they hit home personally. Rape is academic until I am raped. Murder is academic until someone tries to kill me. Theft is academic until someone steals what is mine. When any one of those things happens to us, we suddenly want justice! Until then justice, too, can be an academic thing. It can be academic until we are offended against.

Now put yourself in God’s position. He has made a perfect world, given us every form of provision possible for a good life, encouraged us again and again, and all He gets is rejection and reviling, and He has to watch as we abuse one another, abuse His world, and abuse Him. It is very personal for God for He is there and sees it all.

Justice demands that what is wrong is put right. Justice demands that what is stolen is returned. Justice demands that the offender is corrected, even punished, and stopped repeating the offence, for until he does we are all under threat from him. Justice looks at our sins – our wrongs, our failures, our rejections of God, our abuses – and demands they are dealt with, that they be stopped, that they be punished. The easy answer from God’s point of view would be to instantly wipe out and remove all signs of the offender so they no longer offend or threaten people or His earth. How easy that would be to God. But He doesn’t do that because we are told that “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16) and love wants to help, to change, to improve, to bless, to remedy. God wants to act to change the person or situation.

But justice is there demanding action. Justice has always been there demanding action. Something needs to be done, someone needs to pay! There is payment in that every sin does bring upon the person some sort of negative consequence. When we fail to ‘work’ as we were designed to work, then there are repercussions, but those are just normal consequences, natural outworkings of doing foolish things. Justice still stands in the wings and looks for the wrong to be righted, for the offender to be punished. How to punish every sin without destroying the sinner who God wants to draw out of Sin?

The answer has been for an eternal being to come and stand in the place of execution and to take our punishment. Only an eternal being is ‘big enough’ to take any and every sin’s punishment, and it happened in time-space history on the Cross at Calvary two thousand years ago when Jesus died for us. That was exactly what was happening, a ‘sacrifice of atonement’ or a means of fulfilling the demands of justice. This was God who had come ‘to demonstrate his justice.’ This was God ensuring that the demands of justice were fulfilled.

Prior to that there had been the sacrificial system which “left the sins committed beforehand unpunished.” The sinner was able to walk away unpunished. Yes, under the sacrificial system an animal died, and animal was seen to carry the punishment for the sinner, and that appeased the conscience of the sinner as they conformed to the law that God had laid down as a means of dealing with their sin. But that, we now understand, simply pointed forward to the coming of the Messiah who would be the eternal Son of God who would died in our place to carry the punishment for each and every individual sin we have ever committed.

This, Paul says of God, he did .. to demonstrate his justice at the present time.” Yes, now in history, he says, we have witnessed justice being administered as an eternal being has died in our place. He did it “so as to be just.” He made sure that justice was genuinely administered, and in so doing Hejustifies those who have faith in Jesus.” Yes, all those who will come in repentance on the basis of what they have been told about what Jesus did on the Cross for them, are forgiven and released from the sentence of death that hung over them. They have been ‘justified’ – made right in God’s sight – because their punishment has been taken, their sins have genuinely been deal with, and justice is satisfied. THAT is what this is all about. Receive it humbly and rejoice with thanksgiving for the wonder of what God has done for us.

22. Ending & Starting

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 22 :  A Time for Ending or Starting

Eccles 3:3   a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,

I sometimes think that people that live in large towns or cities are less aware of the realities of life than those who live in the country. In the country there seems a greater awareness of ‘nature’, of animals and the seasons. When our children were small we kept rabbits, a number of them. From time to time that scourge of rabbits, myxomatosis, struck and it was left to dad to put the poor creatures out of their misery. It was a time to kill. In the past decade we have had disease scares with cattle and with chickens and thousands have had to be slaughtered to stop the spread of disease. There are times when it is better to kill to preserve life than allow the living to remain alive and infect the rest of the population. When I read Genesis and read of the violence that plagued the world, I suspect that this was why the Lord had to bring the flood to put the world out of its misery and to start again. When I read of the Lord instructing his people to totally wipe out another people, I think we are on the same unpleasant ground: destroy in order that a spiritual virus will not spread and cause more destruction.

In the New Testament I find the words,Put to death” and realise, it is a time to kill! Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” (Col 3:5) and a little later Paul adds to that list,But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” (Col 3:8). There are these ‘viruses’ which if allowed in our lives will grow and flourish, and the only answer is, without pity, to destroy them. It is a time to kill!  Death is necessary when there is a threat to life and this is the only way out. When it comes to sin, we have got to kill of any remnants lest they grow and destroy us. It is a time to kill.

My wife, I think, must be a descendant of St. Francis of Assisi. We can look back in our family memories to the times when she rescued and sought to revive an ailing vole, a pigeon with a damaged wing, and numerous Bumble Bees that had run out of energy and just needed a little honey on a teaspoon to give them the ability to get up and go again. She was the one who patched up our children time and again when they cut themselves. She was the one who knew what to do when their temperature soared or they were violently sick. She knew it was a time to heal. Today, possibly more than at any other time perhaps, we live in a society with damaged people, people who have simply been told they are stupid, or people who have been rejected as children when their father walked out, or people who were abused by the fathers before they walked out. As every new person becomes a Christian, it seems they come with an even bigger list of things that need healing up. When a whole society turns from God as ours has done, then the whole land needs healing:I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land,” (2 Chron 7:14) was God’s response to a people who repented and sought Him. Healing of the mind, the body and the spirit is the work of Jesus. Sometimes we refer to ‘the Great Physician’ because of His tendency to heal. Where there is ailing life, unless as we saw yesterday it has come to the end of its allotted time, the Lord comes with healing power. Jesus did it again and again when he walked the earth. Today, when he is given the faith, he does it still.

We have a long garden and I build sheds. It’s almost a hobby and my family make fun of me for it. When we first moved into this home with its long garden the grass was very long, the garden unkempt from lack of attention by an elderly couple. Hidden away were a variety of sheds. As we slowly restored the garden, I found this new hobby, restoring sheds! But there were some that were too far gone and the only thing was to pull them down. It was a time to tear down. As a church leader for many years, I have watched church activities that have reached the end of their useful lives, and now the blessing of God had clearly left them. It was a time to tear down.

But there have also been times in our family’s history when there was a new need was presented and so a summerhouse was constructed on a spare space. It was a time to build. When we first moved into our house and our family was just about to increase, we needed another bedroom and so it was necessary for me to build a big dormer across the back of upstairs to extend. It was a time to build. From time to time when we as a church have looked out on the community, and perceived a new need that the Lord was burdening us with, we realised we needed to put into operation some new work. It was a time to build.

This is what life is about. It is rarely static. We see bad things in our lives and we realise it is a time to kill. We see people coming in with hurts and anguishes from life and we know it is a time to heal. We see things built in the past which have passed their useful date and are now merely acting as monuments to the past, and we know it is a time to tear down. New needs are presented and new structures of caring, or whatever, are needed, and we know it is a time for building. Yes, there is an ongoing kaleidoscope of activities that make up the constant change of what we call life. Don’t be afraid of it; it’s what we do to ensure ongoing life and vitality to ourselves, our families, and our churches. Enjoy it.

8. Respect Life

Lessons from the Law: No.8 : Respect Life

Ex 20:13 You shall not murder.

Because of the modern media, rarely a week passes by without us hearing of a violent death. The call to not murder is thus highly relevant and in a complex age, it is not always easy to be specific. From the family,  the Law moves to laws for society, the way we interact with other people. We need to deal with a confusion straight away. It is NOT, “You shall not kill“. If it was it would contradict a variety of other verses in the Law.

For instance IN WAR, Israel were commanded by God to kill all the enemy forces – simply to stop come-back. When Israel first entered the Land at God’s command, the choice for the people of Canaan was either to leave, to join Israel, or to die. Killing was a legitimate action under those circumstances.

In SOCIAL LAW killing was a requirement for a number of serious crimes, i.e. capital punishment was a legitimate means of punishment. The death penalty was at God’s instruction.

Then there was ACCIDENTAL KILLING, which we would refer to as manslaughter.  Where it was a legitimate accident then the penalty was strictly limited, which we’ll see in later laws.

In each of these cases there was killing that was not murder. Murder was purposeful killing of another human being under circumstances not covered by one of the above three categories. It is killing that is not part of war, not capital punishment and not accidental. Is every other form of killing murder? In the case of terrorism, killing a terrorist who is out to kill you before he can kill you has perhaps become another form of war – war without borders. Similarly the police killing a man brandishing a gun or a bomb, whether he is mentally unstable or not, is usually considered in our society as legitimate. In all of these cases killing (which is not murder) is surely the last thing that any civilised society wants, but in a Fallen World where sin and evil prevail, killing to prevent more killings is a sadly acceptable option, indeed often the only apparent option.

The foundation for the sanctity of life is found in the early chapters of Genesis: But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it. And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.” (Gen 9:4-6). Life is special because it comes from God. Human beings are special because they have been made in the image of God.

Because of this we are required to be very careful about how we take life. Although war may be legitimate to protect against an evil, we should do everything we possibly can before we go to war, to prevent it. The history of the First World War suggests that a number of friendships or pacts between nations unwisely meant nation after nation joining in what became one of the most horrific blood baths in history. Yet history also suggests that Neville Chamberlain was naïve to think he could hold back the might of Germany with a piece of paper prior to the beginning of the Second World War. Were such wars the judgment of God or the glory of Satan? We may only know the answer when we get to heaven.

In many Western nations capital punishment has been ruled out, which may be an indication that in reality we don’t honour life sufficiently. Capital punishment, as we’ll see in future meditations, was used to prevent the spread of sin. The argument against capital punishment is often stated as, it doesn’t act as a deterrent, but the truth is that it does for most people. The thought of being put to death for taking a life purposefully may not be a deterrent for everyone but it is for many. We have strange views about death. We are happy for police to kill killers on the run and we are happy to allow our soldiers to kill enemy combatants, but we don’t like capital punishment because of the thoroughly unpleasant ways that we presently use to kill the offender – so we don’t. A bullet through the head would be painless and instant but we reject that. We resist capital punishment for another reason to do with sinful mankind: the police may have tampered with evidence, manufactured evidence or suppressed evidence. The number of cases where on appeal (possibly years later) evidence is found ‘unsafe’ and the sentence quashed, is worrying, but it is a symptom of a Fallen World.

The question of abortion hinges entirely on whether we consider a foetus a human life. If it is, then we are committing hundreds of thousands of murders every year and will have to account to God for that. The question of voluntary euthanasia hinges on whether you believe “You shall not murder” includes killing yourself. Yet even here it is not a clear picture. If by medicines and machines we are prolonging a human life, and that beyond reasonable lengths, is it murder to stop taking the medicine or turn off the machine?  In modern life, the ethics of death are not always clear.

Although there may be many shades of grey in modern life, the injunction is still one of the shortest and simplest in life: “You shall not murder.” It is a demand to respect human life and perhaps we might say, in the light of modern news accounts, we should be duty bound to do all we can to avoid getting into situations where a life may be taken violently, and so the carrying of weapons of any kind should be discouraged strongly. TV and video and computer games have made the taking of life a mundane thing. We almost take it for granted, and then are surprised at the number of lives that are taken in modern society. Perhaps, again, it is a measure of how little we value or worry about the loss of human life, that we really do so little to avoid violent deaths in the modern world. One day we might wake up and do something to change this.

12. God of Righteousness

Lessons from Israel: No.12 : God of Righteousness

Ex 4:24-26 At a lodging place on the way, the LORD met Moses and was about to kill him. 25But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it. “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me,” she said. 26So the LORD let him alone. (At that time she said “bridegroom of blood,” referring to circumcision.)

We move on now to a rather strange incident in the life of Moses. His interview with the Lord has come to an end and so goes back to Jethro his father-in-law and asks permission to go back to his people in Israel (v.18) and Jethro sends him on his way with his blessing. We then have a little recap which explains Moses next actions: “Now the LORD had said to Moses in Midian, “Go back to Egypt, for all the men who wanted to kill you are dead.” So Moses took his wife and sons, put them on a donkey and started back to Egypt. And he took the staff of God in his hand.” (4:19,20). Now we mention that because, as at the end of the conversation at the burning bush, it appears that he is on reasonable terms with the Lord. The Lord has sent him on his way with a reassurance of safety, and so Moses takes his family and sets off. Now in doing this, he is indicating his acceptance of the Lord’s task for him – and that is significant. Up until then he had been on a different footing, but that fact that he takes on the task changes everything.

Sometimes in Scripture there seems a vast understatement or lack of detail and verse 24 is such a verse: At a lodging place on the way, the LORD met Moses and was about to kill him.” Now, we aren’t told how the Lord met him and how He was about to kill him. The fact that his wife was able to take remedial action suggests that Moses was struck down with an illness that was getting progressively worse. A question that naturally will come to mind here is, why should the Lord want to kill Moses, and the answer from those who know the Lord and understand a little of His ways, is that He doesn’t!

Parallel situations that we might consider that shed light on such a time are, first of all, Abraham being asked to sacrifice Isaac (Gen 22) and, second,  the Lord’s anger on Mount Sinai when Israel made the golden calf (Ex 32 esp. v.10). It is clear that in neither case did the Lord want the outcome that was apparently being suggested. In the former case He wanted Abraham to show his willingness, and in the latter case He wanted Moses to plead for his people. So what is the point of the Lord looking like He is apparently going to kill Moses?  Now if He had wanted to do that, He could have done it instantly but instead, as we have already noted, He gives time for remedial action to be taken.

So what was it that saved Moses’ life?But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it. “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me,” she said.” The next verse indicates that she referred to circumcision, meaning you are a son of the covenant and your sons should also be sons of the covenant. So what was the covenant that she referred to? That between God and Abraham: “This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised,” (Gen 17:10) which was supposed to be for all following generations as well. Moses had obviously been circumcised as a baby as part of the family of Israel and he should have circumcised his own boys, but obviously he had felt that he no longer had any link with Israel and so had not bothered.

As he makes his way back to Egypt, he is coming on the Lord’s terms and is coming as an Israelite and is required to come in righteousness, conforming to all that had been agreed in the past about Israel. Moses cannot enter into the work of God on his own terms. No, he is an Israelite, part of the covenant people of God and he should be doing all he can to conform to all that that means. If he tries to enter the will of God on his terms, death awaits him. He can only enter on the agreed terms. Now whether Moses told his wife to circumcise their son or she heard from the Lord directly is unclear, but whatever it is, she carries out this act of separation. It is separation of a small piece of skin but it is also a recognition that this boy is being separated off to the people of God. Touching Moses’ feet with the skin is a form of identification of the dying man with the covenant of God and it is on that basis that the Lord lifts His hand off Moses and he lives.

This was simply God’s way of emphasizing to Moses that he goes as God’s ambassador and therefore he should go righteously. Righteousness simply means conforming to all of God’s laws for His people. The law here is simply the sign of a covenant agreement between God and His people. Moses (and his family!) goes as a representative of the covenant people and he himself must therefore conform to that covenant. For us this concept of covenant may not be very significant but it was basically God saying to the family of Israel, you are my family. Today the New Testament speaks about us being the children of God (Jn 1:12,13, 1 Jn 3:1,2) or members of God’s household (Eph 2:19) and the emphasis is on the relationship with God, which goes as far as us being able to call him ‘daddy’ (Rom 8:15, Gal 4:6).

David displayed great awareness of the significance of this covenant relationship when he came against Goliath and asked, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Sam 17:26). He’s saying, why are you allowing this character who has no relationship with God to dominate you, the people who do have a relationship with God? The relationship is all important, and that is something that Moses is having to learn the hard way. No, this is not a strange little incident; this is a very significant little incident, and we would do well to learn from it.