22. Plans Misfiring? Palm Sunday

PART THREE: The Last Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazing!

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

6. God’s Son

Reaching into the Psalms 1 to 4:  6. God’s Son

Psa 2:7    He said to me, “You are my son; today I have become your father.

Approach: We noted previously the structure of this psalm, as four sets of three verses in our Bible: v.1-3 The rebellion of the World, v.4-6 God’s sovereign response, v.7-9 His answer – His Son, and v.10-12 Warning to the World

We further noted this this Psalm is all about God. We said v.1-3 is about the rebellion against God, and yesterday we considered v.4-6 which are God’s attitude towards this rebellion. Now we start to consider v.7-9 which are God’s answer to this rebellion.

‘My King’: We might note in passing, as an addendum to the previous study, that when God says, “I have installed my king”, it is a case of Him saying, “You may think that you are rulers, but I – yes I, me the eternal, all-powerful Creator of all things – have set in place MY king, the One I have chosen, and you had better know that He is very different from you. This is a completely different ball game, so you’d better understand it!” This we will see more fully in the next study, but for the present there is another issue to be considered.

Decree: Moving into verse 7 we note a change of speaker, the son. He starts with this declaration: I will proclaim the Lord’s decree.” (v.7a) Now synonyms for ‘decree’ include pronouncement, declaration and ruling, so the son comes to the fore to declare God’s will, God’s intent, God’s activity. He brings us revelation, things we would not know unless told. He is explaining the heart of heaven. Now remember we finished the previous study with the awareness that God laughs at, scoffs at the folly of godless rulers (v.4) and, we were told, rebukes and terrifies them (v.5) by the declaration that followed, that He had installed His king in Zion (v.6). The significance of that we will shortly see but we’ll have to wait until the next study.

The Son: The present speaker now tells what has happened, but before we get into that we need to remove the idea or possible suggestion that this ‘king’, this ‘son‘, as we shall see, is the human writer of this psalm. The descriptions that follow of what God has done for this one goes far beyond anything that might apply to a human being, so we read, “He said to me, “You are my son; today I have become your father.” (v.7b) Whoever this ‘son’ is (and yes, you can jump to the conclusion that it is Jesus Christ, the Son of God) there is first of all awareness of relationship. This ‘son’ is who he is because of his direct relationship with God (who we often refer to as ‘the Father’) But there is a mystifying ‘today’ in this verse which implies a beginning.

Struggles with the Son: Now history shows us that the church and theologians have struggled not only with the ‘incarnation’ (the becoming human of God) but with the very fact of the ‘Godhead’ comprising Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Westminster Confession of Faith declares quite fully of Jesus, “The Son of God, the second Person in the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance, and equal with the Father, did, when the fullness of time was come, take upon him man’s nature, with all the essential properties and common infirmities thereof; yet without sin: being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, of her substance. So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion. Which person is very God and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man.”   Wow   Didn’t they do a good job!  Pretty meaty and takes some reading but it seeks to cover all the bases.

So ‘today’?  The Nicene Creed of AD 325 says, “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father.”   The word ‘begotten’ simply means ‘out of’  and so the Son is saying to us that there was a time – yet out of time in eternity (and yes, that is beyond our understanding) when God, who is one, expressed Himself in such a way that there were two consciousnesses, that’s the only way I can describe it, and whenever ‘they’ express themselves it is in yet a third expression of the same consciousness. Let’s try it another way. Imagine an idea, a thought or, as I just said a consciousness, energy with personality as I’ve written previously. This idea, as with all ideas has a life of its own, but now (then) it has an idea and the second idea takes on a life of its own – Father and Son – but now two consciousnesses, energy with personality. Yes, OK, I give up trying to explain it, but at some point in His existence (which thwarts our understanding) He, God, expresses Himself and the Son also exists, He comes ‘out of’ (begotten) the now Father.

Resurrection Context: The apostle Paul uses part of this psalm in an interesting way: “What God promised our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: “‘You are my son; today I have become your father.’” (Acts 13:32,33) It is a strange application of Psa 2 and of the various paraphrase version I think the Living gets the closest where it puts it, “Today I have honoured you as my Son,” which could be taken to mean, “By the fact that I have raised you (Jesus) from the dead, I have confirmed your sonship, MY Son, with me being your Father, and honoured you in this way before the watching world.” It is the Father’s way of confirming His Son’s divinity, through the resurrection.

The Son’s Role: So the Son is divine, which is why Jesus spoke about coming down from heaven where, by implication, he already existed. (see Jn 6:41-) When we see Jesus in the Gospels, the Son has a variety of roles. He comes as the Lamb of God (Jn 1:29), God’s means of salvation, he comes as the Word (Jn 1:1,14), God’s communication, he comes as the prophetic Son of Man (Mt 8:20, Dan 7:13,8:17) the Messiah from heaven, he comes as the son of David (Mt 12:22,23, Isa 16:5, Jer 23:5, Ezek 34:23,24) and he comes as the unique Son of God (Mt 3:17, 4:3, 8:28,29, 14:32,33, 16:16, 26:63,64, 27:39,40) All of these descriptions are true and highly significant, but now in these verses there is yet another role that should make these foolish kings quake, that of God’s King! To see this more fully, we need to stop here and pick up the subject afresh in the next study. Let’s finish with the announcement of heaven through the angel to Mary: ”You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Lk 1:31-33)    

13. Regicide

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 13. Regicide  

Jn 19:19 Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews.

As we look at this verse, I suggest we need to consider two things: first, the use of that phrase, ‘king of the Jews’ and then, second, the significance of it being used here.

In chronological order, we see it first in the Gospels when the ‘wise men’ come asking, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? (Mt 2:1,2). Next, we see Nathaniel using it directly of Jesus when he meets him: “you are the King of Israel.” (Jn 1:49). After feeding the crowds, John comments, “Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.” (Jn 6:15). On Palm Sunday the crowds welcome him into Jerusalem with “Blessed is the King of Israel!” (Jn 12:13).Then at his interrogation by Pilate, the governor asks him, “Are you the king of the Jews ?” “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied.” (Mt 27:11) Note Jesus acknowledging it.

More as an aside we should note that in the prophetic scriptures the Messiah would, reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.” (Isa 9:6,7) and in Psa 2, God declares of His Son, “I have installed my King on …. You are my Son;” (Psa 2:6,7) and of course there is the prophetic reference in Psa 110:1,2 echoed by the apostle Paul in 1 Cor 15:24,25.

By why is this so significant when it comes to the cross? Well, from Pilate’s point of view, especially in the light of all the turmoil caused by the religious authorities beforehand, demanding Jesus’ death, to put this notice over the head of Jesus was almost like Pilate declaring, “I am Governor from Rome and we Romans are the supreme power and so don’t you Jews dare allow any upstart to come forward as a rebel leader to challenge my authority! If this is your king, see what we do to such pretenders”. Of course, that was a double insult to the actual religious authorities because they were the ones who had insisted on Jesus being executed. Nevertheless, for the ordinary people it was still a real put down.  Thus, Pilate was using Jesus as a poster-board – Rome rules OK!

But there is also another possibility. We have indicated above that the Messiah was to be a ruler and it was clearly there in the prophecies. So, was this action by Pilate prompted by Satan who, not foreseeing what would follow, also used it as a put-down of the Son of God as if to say, “See, all your plans have been foiled by me. I win, you lose!” Short sighted folly!

17. The Waiting Game

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 17. The Waiting Game

1 Sam 16:1b  Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”

Yesterday we saw Samuel in this same chapter being obedient to the word in our verse above, but that was all about Samuel’s expectations. Now we move on to the expectations that David must have had, and how they worked out.

The Present: First of all, observe the present circumstances. The Lord has referred to a new king in the verses above. When David appears, the LORD said, “Rise and anoint him; he is the one.” (v.12) i.e. there is no question but that Samuel is anointing David to be the new king: “So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came upon David in power.” (v.13) Now there is a question mark over the record: did Samuel make clear to David that this is what he was doing? He does not say it in the record. Sometime later when David fled to the Philistines we read, “the servants of Achish said to him, “Isn’t this David, the king of the land?” (1 Sam 21:11a) but that was only because of what they heard had been said in Israel: “Isn’t he the one they sing about in their dances: ” `Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands’?” (v.11b) Similarly, later still, Jonathan said to David, “Don’t be afraid, My father Saul will not lay a hand on you. You will be king over Israel, and I will be second to you. Even my father Saul knows this.” (23:17) but again that was possibly not because of what happened at Bethlehem, but simply because of his rise to fame. It is probable that Samuel would have said something to David but it is not made public and David, in his humility, does not refer to it.

The Future: So let’s summarise what went on in the following months and years:

  • David carries on looking after his father’s sheep.
  • Because of Saul’s need, David enters his service to play the harp and be a part-time armour bearer for Saul (1 Sam 16:14-23).
  • Nevertheless David still looked after his father’s sheep (17:15), eventually killed Goliath (and we’ll consider that tomorrow) (17:48-51), stayed with Jonathan (18:1,2) and entered Saul’s army (18:5) and was so successful that it started making Saul hate him (18:6-9).
  • Twice Saul sought to kill David while he was with him (18:10,11 & 19:9,10).
  • When Saul gives the instruction that David is to be killed (19:1) David eventually flees and leaves the army and fled to the Philistines (21:10) at Gath.
  • He leaves Gath and settles in Adullam (22:1) and collects a mini-army of followers (22:2) and carried our guerilla warfare against the Philistines (23:1-5).
  • Twice Saul came after him and his men and twice David refused to take the opportunity to kill Saul (24:3-22 & 26:1-25).
  • David escapes to the Philistines for protection from Saul and joins them (27:1-6) but carried on his guerilla tactics against the enemies of Israel (27:8-12).
  • Eventually Saul is killed in a battle with the Philistines (31:1-).
  • David is made king over Judah (2 Sam 2:1-4) and reigned there for seven and a half years until all Israel made him king (2 Sam 5:1-5).

Israel’s Expectation: It is only then that there is any reference to any prophetic words: “In the past, while Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel on their military campaigns. And the LORD said to you, `You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler.’ “ (2 Sam 5:2) but one wonders if that refers back to a word spoken by Samuel to Saul which was public, when he rebuked him: “But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the LORD’s command,” (13:14) or whether more had been said and it had got out when Samuel had anointed him.

The Time Factor: The main point here, which we would do well to learn, is that between the time of being anointed, and possibly having a prophetic word spoken over him, to the time when he eventually became king over all Israel, many things happened, many of them not good. We’ve seen that before in the case of Joseph and it frequently happens with us. We need to distinguish between prophetic words that are time-specific, e.g. “This time next year you will have a baby,” and the more general ones such as, “the Lord is giving you a ministry of leadership where you will be known for your perseverance and strength of character.” That latter sort are the ones that involve process. How do you learn to persevere? You are given tough, slow, difficult circumstances! How do you develop strength of character? Time and trials and tribulations!

Changing Lives: The Lord uses the experiences of this fallen world to develop us. When the apostle Peter said, “make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love,” (2 Pet 1:5-7) he was inviting our cooperation in these things. To achieve that list you need time and change – your change! And that change comes about as you cope with life in this fallen world. The end result? You are anointed, filled with the Spirit, and with the character of Jesus, and you are a blessing to the world, just like the Lord intended. The ways of the fallen world surround us and hinder our lives and are there for us to deal with by His grace, so we might as well let them change us, knock off the rough corners and so on, and make us more usable!

I drive a nail in my own coffin, if I may put it like that, when I pray every day, ‘Please Lord use me,” because I know His word indicates that those He loves He disciplines (Heb 12:6) which means trains and transforms and that is what this is all about. He loves us just as we are but He loves us so much He wants something better for us than we have at the present, and that means us being changed, and change means process and process means time. He will be there with us every moment, and His grace will be available for us, but it is still a process of change.

The Future Goal: If you think it is tough sometimes, then look past the present to what He is achieving through this: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:2) There it is; Jesus looked past the Cross to the joy beyond it, to the wonder of the kingdom being established and millions being set free and brought into the divine family. Look past the present process and know it is going somewhere and that ‘somewhere’ is glorious, even here on this earth! Hallelujah!

28. The Kingdom of the Son

CHAPTER 1: Part 4: The Wonder of Jesus

Meditations in Colossians: 28. The Kingdom of the Son

Col 1:13,14   For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption (through his blood) the forgiveness of sins.

I have commented many times about how easy it is to skip over words in Scripture, taking them for granted and failing to get to grips with them.  My original intent had been to move on to the next paragraph which is all about Jesus, but then I realised that Paul had eased us towards that subject within the end of this present paragraph. But it starts right at the beginning of the letter where Paul’s opening words were, Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus.” (v.1) He doesn’t say an apostle of God, but of Christ Jesus and there is a clear reason for that.

The ‘Christ elements’, if I may call them that, are limited in the early verses of this letter.  The church he writes to is “in Christ” (v.2) and Christ is identified as the Son of the Father (v.3). Salvation is based upon “faith in Christ” (v.4) and Epaphras is identified as a “minister of Christ” (v.7) but these are all very peripheral references to Christ. It is only as we get to the paragraph starting with v.15 that the focus turns wholly to Christ. However in v.13 we have this subtle, almost-in-passing, reference to “the kingdom of the Son,” and suddenly we see why Paul is an apostle of Christ, because Christ is administering God’s kingdom. Let’s examine various facets of this.

First, Christ seated at the Father’s right hand: The scriptural testimony is quite clear: “Jesus …was taken up into heaven and sat down in the place of honour at God’s right hand,” (Mk 16:19) and “Now he sits on the throne of highest honour in heaven, at God’s right hand,” (Acts 2:33) and “He is seated in the place of honour next to God, and all the angels and authorities and powers are bowing before him.” (1 Pet 3:22)  See the same in Acts 5:31 / Acts 7:55 / Rom 8:34 / Ephes. 1:20 / Phil 2:9 / Col. 3:1 / Heb 1:3 / Heb 8:1 / Heb 10:12 / Heb 12:2  Nowhere else in the world do you find this incredible testimony about any man except here. Seated at the Father’s right hand on the thrones of heaven is the highest position it is possible to have, and the abundant testimony of the New Testament is that that is where Jesus now is.

Second, Christ who has all authority:  The testimony is equally clear that Christ is there at the Father’s right hand and the Father has bestowed upon him all authority, for example, “And God has put all things under the authority of Christ, and he gave him this authority for the benefit of the church,” (Eph 1:22) and, “You gave him authority over all things…we .. see.. Jesus… crowned with glory and honour” (Heb 2:8) See also 1 Cor. 15:25,  Isa 9:7  and Psa 110:1.

Third, Christ who reigns with a purpose: Indeed in the 1 Cor 15 reference we see something very significant: Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” (1 Cor 15:24,25) First, note that God is working towards an end, a specific time when He winds all things up that we know at the present. Second, Jesus is reigning or ruling at the present time. When we considered the difference between a kingdom and a dominion we noted that the kingdom is overseen by a king but a dominion is overseen by a governor on behalf of the king who reigns over all. Thus Satan may have been given power over those who reject God and rebel against Him, but Jesus is still the King of Kings who rules over all. Indeed Psa 110:1,2 prophetically suggests that he rules in the midst of his enemies. The verse above says he rules until a point in time when he has subdued all his enemies. Rev 19 suggests that that will be when he returns as a conquering king.

However there are clues in scripture that suggest that Jesus’ kingdom on earth began when he started his three year ministry and continues on growing and growing. It is interesting to note that when Jesus started preaching he spoke of the kingdom or rule of God and demonstrated it by healing people: “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.” (Mt 4:23) The apostle Paul was later to teach, “the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.” (1 Cor 4:20) No wonder Jesus said, “anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12) The church is supposed to continue to demonstrate the kingdom.

When Jesus told a parable that started, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed,” (Mt 13:31) he pictured it as starting from a very small beginning (a mustard seed) but growing into a large tree: “when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree.” (Mt 13:32). It is not the only ‘tree’ in the world, but it is certainly the largest! We should not expect the Church to get smaller and smaller, for it is the instrument that Jesus uses as his ‘body’ to demonstrate and exercise his rule.

The 1 Cor 15 verses above show us that temporarily the administration of the kingdom of God has been put into the hands of Jesus who is working through his body, the church, up until some future climax when he will bring all things to an end and then hand it back to the Father. We are presently in the era of the Son who administers the kingdom of God through the work of his Holy Spirit on behalf of the Father.

Ultimately all glory and authority is the Father’s but for the moment the administration of the end times has been handed to the conquering lamb, Jesus: “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne….. He came and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. ….. . And they sang a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” (Rev 5:6-10) Hallelujah!

1. A Life of Strife

Meditations in David’s Psalms : 1 :  A Life of Strife – Psa 3

Psa 3:1,2   O LORD, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! Many are saying of me, “God will not deliver him.”

The heading over this psalm declares, “A psalm of David. When he fled from his son Absalom.” So much of David’s life was taken up with strife and battle. As a shepherd boy he fought lions and bears, as a soldier for Saul he fought Goliath and then went on to be a great army commander. As king he went on to subdue enemy states around him. Yet when the Lord disciplined him for his sins, he finds himself on the receiving end of the challenge from his son, Absalom, and has to flee Jerusalem (see 2 Sam 15-17).

It appears to be in this context that David writes this psalm. There are two interesting things to note before we get into it. First, that David took time so often to write down what he was feeling in poetic form, presumably to be sung, for he was a musician at heart (e.g. 1 Sam 18:10)

At this point David is aware of those around him who are against him: “O LORD, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me!” (v.1) It’s not just one person (Absalom) but he is aware of many people who have banded together with him against David. So often when we find someone against us, they are not alone for others gather to them to pull down the children of God. It is not uncommon.

David has a reputation for being a man of God but now the negative voices are raised against him. Thus far he has received the blessing of God but now it is the discipline of God. What was taking place was to fulfil the word of the Lord after David sinned with Bathsheba: “”This is what the LORD says: `Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity upon you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight. You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’” (2 Sam 12:11,12)

So now the negatives rise against him: “Many are saying of me, “God will not deliver him.” (v.2)  They saw what was happening and assumed that this was the end of David, but the Lord is not going to destroy him, just chastise him, for the Lord loves him and he is still the man who was described as “a man after God’s own heart” (see 1 Sam 13:14, Acts 13:22).

David has to cast off and reject these negative words and so declares what he knows through his experience of the Lord: “But you are a shield around me, O LORD; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head.” (v.3) He has known the Lord’s protection, he has known the Lord lift him up from being a humble shepherd boy to a great king, and he has known the Lord exalt him before others. That is what he relies upon now. If you have known the Lord for any length of time, think back to what you know He has done for you and rejoice in that, so that that becomes a stay in the face of anything you may be battling with at the moment.

What is the answer in such situations? “To the LORD I cry aloud, and he answers me from his holy hill.” (v.4) Note the foundation stones of David’s praying. He prays to the “I AM” (Lord in capital letters in your text). He knows to whom he calls, the One who is Lord over all things, the Eternal One, the God of Moses, the One who has had dealings for centuries with this people. He cries aloud. He is not afraid to be public and extravagant with the Lord, for the Lord looks for those who will be wholehearted in all their dealings with Him: “you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deut 4:29) and “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deut 6:5). But he also knows that the Lord is a God who answers. Not for David a God of silence. God talks to His child.

In the midst of such times of struggle and strife, anxiety can be the name of the game, and so David’s testimony is outstanding: “I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me.” (v.5) In other words the Lord gives him peace in his sleep, despite what is happening. With this peace David can proclaim, “I will not fear the tens of thousands drawn up against me on every side.” (v.6) If the Lord grants us peace, really it doesn’t matter the scale of the problems facing me; all that matters is that He is in charge and He will oversee me in this and He will bring a good outcome, so it doesn’t matter if it is a thousand or ten thousand!

With that established in his thinking, he approaches the Lord boldly, confident in his relationship with Him: “Arise, O LORD! Deliver me, O my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked.” (v.7) In such a situation there is only one thing to ask for – deliverance! And when that is deliverance from an enemy the only way that can happen is if the enemy is brought down and defeated. Jaw? Teeth? Perhaps he likens his enemies to the bear or lion he defeated in the long distant past (1 Sam 17:36,37) who came ravenously to devour him with its teeth. To smash its teeth renders it harmless. This is David’s colourful way of saying, ‘Lord, render this enemy harmless.” Maybe within this there is a reticence in David to say, ‘Destroy them, Lord’, because he is talking about his son here. Yes, he is the enemy leading others against him, but his later behaviour when Absalom is eventually killed, indicates this is something David didn’t want to happen. Thus his cry to the Lord is, render him harmless, but don’t kill him!

To conclude he makes a testimony and requests a blessing: “From the LORD comes deliverance. May your blessing be on your people.” (v.8)   In his heart he knows this will not end in his death and so, to the end, he desires God’s blessing on His chosen people. That blessing is a decree of God, and whatever has happened in the past and whatever is going on now, still David’s desire is that God will bless this people. Excellent!

17. King of Israel

Jesus in John’s Gospel : 17 : Jesus, the King of Israel

Jn 1:49 Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”

Kings don’t figure very highly in our modern world. In fact some are very negative even about the thought of a king. For Israel, kings had always been a mixed blessing. Initially God had been their ‘king’, their ruler, but in Samuel’s time the people declared,You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.” (1 Sam 8:5). Their reason had a twofold aspect to it. First, they had no confidence in Samuel’s sons who he had appointed to follow him and second, they looked around and saw other nations with kings and saw strong leadership and wanted that. Kings feature over 2300 times in the Bible, so that indicates their significance. They direct and control the way a nation goes.

The record of the human kings of Israel was not good. Saul the first was soon characterized by disobedience to God, David committed adultery, ordered assassination and had pride, Solomon disobeyed God, had many foreign wives, gave way to idolatry and ended his days in jaded cynicism. After the kingdom was divided all the kings of Israel, the northern kingdom were bad, while good and bad kings came and went in the southern kingdom until perpetual idolatry meant an end to that kingdom. After the exile there was never another king.

It took David and the other psalmists to prophetically restore God to the position of king in their hearts: I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill(Psa 2:6) the Lord declared.Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray.” (Psa 5:2) The LORD is King for ever and ever; the nations will perish from his land.” (Psa 10:6) Lift up your heads, O you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle.” (Psa 24:7,8) etc.

In the prophetic stream there was also the promise that the Messiah would be a ruler. First to David: When your days are over and you go to be with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom.” (1 Chron 17:11) Next to Solomon: I will establish your royal throne, as I covenanted with David your father when I said, `You shall never fail to have a man to rule over Israel.” (2 Chron 7:18). Then through Isaiah, For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders….Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.” (Isa 9:6,7).

Thus in the back of their minds, Israel were expecting a king, a deliverer from God. All the Gospel record the feeding of the five thousand but only John recollects: Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.” (Jn 6:15). Before the crucifixion we find: Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ ‘Yes, it is as you say,’ Jesus replied.” (Mt 27:11).

Was Jesus a king? Yes, God had declared it (Psa 2 above). Was he a conquering king? Yes, but not in the way the people expected with an army to overthrow the Romans. Jesus came to reign and bring in the kingdom of God (Mt 4:14 etc. etc.). Jesus came to overthrow sin and win the hearts of people to God. Today he reigns (Psa 110:1,2) over millions of hearts across the world.  Yours?

14. Fulfilment

Jesus in John’s Gospel : 14 : Jesus, fulfilment of prophecy

Jn 1:45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote–Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

If there is one thing that comes over very clearly in the Bible it is that the coming of Jesus was no accident, no last minute idea of God, but part of a long-stated plan of the Godhead, formulated long before in heaven.  For the educated people of Jesus’ day the fact that God had spoken in the Old Testament period about a Coming One is quite clear, so let’s consider some of the prophetic verses that they knew about.

Gen 3:15  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.” i.e. someone in the human race would crush the work of Satan yet be injured by him in the process.

Gen 22:18 through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed i.e. the earth will be blessed by a descendent of Abraham’s family.

Gen 49:10 The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his i.e. a ruler will eventually come from the tribe of Judah who will rule over the nations.

Deut 18:15 The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers.” i.e. God will raise up a great prophet out of Israel.

2 Sam 17:12,13 When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” i.e. from David’s family will come an eternal ruler.

Psa 2:2,6,7  The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One..…I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill… You are my Son” i.e. God has an anointed one, a king, His Son who is coming.

Psa 110:1,2 The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet. The LORD will extend your mighty scepter from Zion; you will rule in the midst of your enemies.” i.e. God has a ruler who will come from heaven.

Isa 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanueli.e. a coming son will be called ‘God with us’.

Isa 9:1  in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan i.e. Galilee will be a place of special blessing.

These are just a sample of what some suggest are at least three hundred prophetic references in the Old Testament to the coming Messiah. It seems almost that every time prophets got tuned into heaven something of the theme of the Coming One broke through. It was almost as if it was something constantly there in the background of the Father’s mind, so even when He was sharing with His servants other present day issues, something of the blessing He had planned for the earth through His Son broke through in His thoughts. Throughout the whole of time prior to two thousand years ago, the Father had it in His mind, something they were constantly working towards. The Son leaving heaven and coming to the earth to save mankind was THE big event in the hearts in heaven, and then two thousand years back, all of the past planning came into being. He came!

9. To David

“God turned up” Meditations: 9 :  To David

1 Sam 16:1,12 The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.” …. So he sent and had him brought in. He was ruddy, with a fine appearance and handsome features. Then the LORD said, “Rise and anoint him; he is the one.”

Sometimes life just carries on. The soap operas on TV convey it well, if only they didn’t focus on the seamy side of life. But life does just carry on. We are part of a family, we have a job or part to play in life and life just carries on without anything special happening. And then God turns up and everything is changed.

It must have been like that for David. He was the youngest of a big family and his job was to look after his father’s sheep. From things that happen later, there is a sense that he’s been doing it for some time. Again from things that occur later it seems that perhaps he wasn’t the only one looking after the sheep and so perhaps they took it in turns and now, at the moment we break in to the story, it’s his turn.

The first anyone has any inkling that today is going to be a different day is when the present judge and seer, Samuel, turns up. He’s quite an old man now but everyone has at least heard of him so when he arrives in Bethlehem and seeks out the elders of the town and reveals who he is, there is great consternation. Why should the judge turn up here? Have we done something wrong? No, it’s all right, I’ve come to hold a solemn sacrifice here. Oh, right, it’s the religious thing. Now whether Jesse was one of the town elders who he just happened to be there is unclear but old Samuel picks on him and sets him apart to take part in the ritual (that’s what consecrate means): Samuel replied, “Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the LORD. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.” (v.5). Yes, not only that, he tells Jesse (I’m supposing) that he’ll give his sons the privilege of being part of it and so will set them apart to take part in ‘the service’ as well – if you’ll just get them all here please.

Which is why it comes about that Jesse lines up all the sons before Samuel, for him to do whatever judge-seers do to set people apart to serve God. So the old prophet carries out a parade ground inspection. “When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’s anointed stands here before the LORD.” (v.6) He looked good. A big guy who looks like he could take over the leadership, but the Lord has other ideas and we find Him making a most important declaration: “But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (v.7) Oooops! OK, so this isn’t the right one. He moves down the line and doesn’t get the go ahead from the Lord to do anything. He gets to the end of the line. There must e a mistake, for the Lord hasn’t approved any of them. He pauses and thinks and then turns to Jesse. There can only be one other possibility: “So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?” (v.11)

Jesse reveals that he’s got one more, the youngest who is out looking after the sheep, so they send for him and thus we meet David for the first time, and Samuel promptly pours oil all over his head. Wow! What’s this? What is happening? Think! This is what priests did of old when they anointed a new priest. Is that what is happening here? Is David a new priest – or what? And we are told, “from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came upon David in power.” (v.13) That’s it, end of story! Well for the time being at least. The old prophet departs and all the brothers look at David and wonder, but that’s all that is said. It all seems a bit open ended and unclear and we have to wait for the unfolding of events before it gets any clearer.

Yes, given the passing of time it is clear that God had anointed David to be king but it would be some years before Saul is killed and the way is open for David to step up to the plate. In the meantime there are a load of odd things that are going to happen to him but he’s never the same since God turned up.

This account tells us that sometimes when the Lord turns up He doesn’t make it abundantly clear what He is saying and why He’s saying it. Yes, from the outset of chapter 16, Samuel is told what is happening but basically he’s keeping it quiet in case Saul hears and comes and kills them all!  In the meantime, there’s a new kid on the spiritual block, who’s been anointed by the prophet and only time will tell why.

When God first turns up and draws us to Himself and we are saved, it is rare that He explains what He’s got on his heart for us and when He does share things they’re not always terribly clear. Yet Paul, speaking of our lives says, “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) Oh yes, God knows what he can do with us, so He’s got a whole agenda lined up for us. He’ll drop hints along the way, but that is probably all you’re going to get. We’re just called to be faithful and He’ll do the rest as we walk it out with Him, so don’t be put off by the fact that you aren’t very clear about where it is that God is taking you – He knows!

36. Pilate

People who met Jesus : 36 :  Pilate

Jn 18:28,29 Then the Jews led Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace; they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?”

Pontius Pilate does not read well in history. He is the Roman Governor in Jerusalem and he is backed by the might of Rome. He features strongly in these closing hours of Jesus’ life. While the name of Caiaphas is mentioned only 9 times in the Gospels, Pilate’s name appears 61 times. As the Roman Governor he is the final authority in Jerusalem and although Caiaphas may be the topmost man in Judaism, while Israel is under the dominion of Rome, Pilate is the man with ultimate authority.

He enters the story when Jesus is brought to him early on the Friday morning by the senior Jews who are seeking his death, for only Pilate has the authority to bring the judgment of death. When they come to Pilate he asks, what are the charges? They reply that Jesus is a criminal (Jn 18:30) and so he tells them to go and judge him by their own laws and they object that they have no right of execution (v.31). It is then that Pilate takes Jesus inside to interrogate him and he asks him if he is the king of the Jews (v.33) Now this may appear a strange diversion except Luke tells us what led to this: And they began to accuse him, saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king.” (Lk 23:2) In their accusations they try to bring out things that would get Pilate’s interest.

Thus the conversation with Pilate now revolves around Jesus being a king which ends in Pilate feeling that he is harmless and so for the first time he declares him innocent: “Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, “I find no basis for a charge against this man.” (Lk 23:4) At which point they declare, “He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here.” (Lk 23:5). This gives Pilate a way out: “On hearing this, Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean. When he learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time.” (Lk 23:6,7). So, so far we have one declaration of innocence and one grabbing at a straw not to have to make a judgment.

Thus Jesus is sent to Herod who interrogates him – unsuccessfully – and sends him back to Pilate, so next we find, Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. Therefore, I will punish him and then release him.” (Lk 23:13-16) Note: a second declaration of innocence and a further attempt at getting Jesus off from the death penalty.

Pilate then offers the choice of Jesus or Barabbas to be released as was the custom at the Passover (Mt 27:15) but the crowds call for Barabbas to be released. This further ploy to get Jesus off has not worked. So again we find, “For the third time he spoke to them: “Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him.” (Lk 23:22). Now the crowds get stirred on: “they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!” (Mt 27:23) and at this point Pilate caves in: “When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!” (Mt 27:24) But Pilate, you can’t do that; it IS your responsibility! You alone have the power over death in this situation; merely washing your hands doesn’t absolve you of your responsibility!

Thus it was that Jesus was then taken away to be crucified. The man with the final authority had failed to use it. At least three times he had declared Jesus innocent. Several times he had sought to avoid making a judgment against Jesus, yet at the end of the day he condemned an innocent man by appearing to opt out – but he was in no position to opt out. He was Rome’s representative in Jerusalem. He could have done what the high priests feared and used the power of his legions against them – but it was easier not to and so an innocent man was condemned. What a travesty of justice!

Pilate screams across history at us, you cannot avoid your duty, if you are in positions of power, and expect to get away with it. You will go down in history as a coward and you will be answerable to God. Public figures have many perks that go with their positions but they also carry greater responsibility and will answerable to God when they fail to exercise it rightly. Pilate’s terrible failures to stand up and be counted for justice bring warning to all who hold similar positions of power. be warned, you are answerable to God.