10. Supernatural

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 2 – A Different People

10. Supernatural

Jn 3:3-8   Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

And So? In the previous studies we made the point that to be a Christian, to be a member of the Church, is to be different, to be different from a sports club or a social club or even a political club, and the difference is – God! We are called by God, but calling is merely the start and so, in the days to come, we will examine in more detail how this calling comes about and where it goes. But we did also say that everything about ‘being a Christian’ is different from being an unbeliever, and that it what this series is really all about. But having said the first difference is that we have been called by God, the second difference is that God does NOT simply lay down a lifestyle and expect us to work on it and live it, He gives us the means to do it.  But in these verses in Jn 3 that we have above, Jesus uses three sets of words which are really important. This will be very basic but, for anyone who has never really thought these things through before, are really critical to this subject. The three sets of words we need to start examining are, the kingdom of God, being born again and the (Holy) Spirit.

Focus on the Kingdom: no one can see the kingdom of God unless…..”  So we start with the first ones, ‘the kingdom of God’. Put very simply it simply means the realm, or the existence, or the experience, of being under the rule of God. ‘Church’ we will go on to see later is simply an expression of the rule of God, expressed through the people He has called out as we considered previously. Now some people immediately get nervous about this because they don’t like being ‘told’ what to do and so talk of the ‘rule’ of God may conjure up pictures of a despot who has serfs who he bosses around, but what we have here could not be further from the truth. We are really in this paragraph jumping the gun because we will need to consider this in more detail in the days ahead but, if we are to understand this whole package, we need to understand what is at issue here. If I may explain in brief skeleton outline form what we will consider in detail later, the truth is twofold: first, we haven’t made a very good job of life so far, and second, God’s desire is to help us live the best possible life that a human being can live. As I say we’ll explain that more in the days to come, but for now can we just take that as read?.

When Jesus first appeared at the start of his three-year ministry we read, “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mk 1:15) Perhaps we might put that latter part, “Do a complete turn around and dare to believe the wonderful news that I am here to bring all of the love and goodness of God to this world.”  That is what we struggle to believe, that everything God has for us is an expression of His love and goodness and so when Jesus ‘ruled’ it was to get rid of sickness and cast out demons to free people and bless them.

Let’s use some different analogies. Suppose you go on holiday and part of the package is to learn rock-climbing. The instructor says I need you to do everything I tell you. Or suppose it was scuba diving and the instructor says the same thing. You wouldn’t get upset with that and respond, “I’m not going to have anyone boss me around and tell me what to do!”  That would make you stupid! Why? Because the instructor knows better than you and if you ignore them you may be putting your life or the life of someone else at risk. So we think we know better that Almighty God who designed and create this world? We need to give ourselves a severe talking to!

Born Again: So when Jesus said to Nicodemus, “No one can see the kingdom of God unless….” he is saying, no one can come into the place where they can receive all of God’s love and goodness unless….. and that brings us on to the second phrase ‘born again’. “no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” Now good old Nicodemus tried to take this literally and so he starts chatting on about how you can’t restart life by going back into the womb. Absolutely not, Nicodemus, you’re completely right, so what does Jesus mean?

Water and Spirit: Jesus explains: “unless they are born of water and the Spirit.” Commentators get themselves in a bit of a twist over the water bit and go on about baptism, and indeed baptism does have a part to play as we’ll see in the future, but it is more likely that Jesus means ‘natural birth’ and ‘supernatural birth’. We talk about the ‘waters breaking’ as a woman goes into labour, and this understanding is reinforced when Jesus adds, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”

In other words, to become a Christian and part of the Church, it requires a work of God, of the Holy Spirit, a work of the third person of the Trinity. Later when teaching his disciples about the Holy Spirit, he says, “you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (Jn 14:17). Just to pick up one or two of the many references to the Spirit indwelling believers, let’s note the apostle Paul’s words, all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you?” (1 Cor 3:16) and “Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God?” (1 Cor 6:19) When the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Day of Pentecost, it meant that from that moment on every real Christian, every true believer, would be indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

Thus, to use Jesus’ language, when we come to him and surrender our lives to follow him, the Holy Spirit comes to indwell us. The apostle Paul was most specific about this: “if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.” (Rom 8:9) i.e. no Holy Spirt = no Christian. Just in case I should be addressing anyone who has been a church goer for years and has considered themselves a Christian but who has never been ‘born again’, never come to that point of surrender to God, never received the empowering of the Holy Spirit, it’s never too late. It’s not about being religious, it’s not about ‘going to church’, it’s not about keeping the rules, it’s not about trying to be good, it is about surrendering to God and receiving Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour as we spoke about earlier, so that he places his own Holy Spirit within you to empower you and provide a new channel of communication within you.

I think my testimony is fairly common. I was living on my own, heard the Gospel and so before I went to bed, knelt down and prayed and surrendered my life to God and accepted Jesus as my Lord and Saviour. I then got into bed and fell asleep, and that was that. Except the only thing is that next morning when I woke up I realised I was a different person and went out and shared what had happened to me with others. I started to learn to pray and read my Bible but they were merely add-on things to what had already happened IN me. I was different, I was changed. Nothing about turning over a new leaf or making a resolution, this was an act of God. And that is what is available to whoever comes to God in humility so that He can not only put them on a new course in life, but also empower them to live it. You can pray in the same way.

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43. Relevancy again

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 43. Relevancy Again

Luke 4:18,19 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor”

May I take a couple of quotes from earlier studies in this Part of this series. First, “Will we confront the truth of His word and seek for a church where Jesus speaks, lives change, and the world is changed?” Look at those last words: “a church where Jesus speaks, lives change, and the world is changed”. Second, “I will go on to ‘listening evangelism’ in a later study as well as ‘listening to His written word’ as well as listening for healing or deliverance and listening for changing the community.”

Now I want to link these quotes back to the study that I am sure raised some questions, about the relevancy of our faith in the face of the enormous changes that are taking place in our world, social and environmental changes as well as scientific, cyber and technological changes. The whole teaching about the kingdom of God is incredibly practical. Consider the things that took place in the simple imaginary story about the prayer meeting and the things that followed it:

  • It brought a change in faith expectancy in Alan
  • That led to him being able to help his younger member of staff.
  • It also opened up the way for Alan to offer to pray for his boss’s family and then pray over his boss, which opened his heart to Alan.
  • It also changed his approach to his client which in turn brought a complete change in him.

That prayer meeting? Part of “a church where Jesus speaks, lives change, and the world is changed”. The changes that took place could be summarised as:

  • Faith released
  • Compassion, care and concern released
  • Faith for further prayer, including healing prayer
  • Three sets of circumstances, involving unbelievers, changing.

Now you might say, yes, but no one got saved! Hold on, it was an imaginary story and so I could have made the office junior, the boss and the client all come to the Lord, but I left that hanging, a possibility for the future. The changes that will take place in respect of the kingdom of God will

  1. Come as we pray (and listen)
  2. Occur as we step out in faith, and
  3. Involve the sovereign working of God to change people and circumstances.

In the light of the prophetic words from Luke’s Gospel above

  • The (spiritually) poor (the unbeliever) will hear the good news
  • Those who are in prisons that are emotional or mental will find freedom
  • Those who are (spiritually, and maybe even physically) blind will be enabled to see
  • Those who are spiritually oppressed will be released
  • And those we touch with His love will realize that this is indeed the year when He favor is available to them.

Changed lives, changed circumstances, the coming of the kingdom or rule of God. And how?  Through “a church where Jesus speaks, lives change, and the world is changed”. That is what all this talk about Jesus being glorified through his ascension goes, this is where it ends, these are the practical outworkings. Is that your church? Is that mine?

There is another facet of all this that we haven’t really touched on because it was necessary to first of all pick up on the fact of the largely absent belief in much of the modern church that Jesus is alive today wanting to do exactly the same things he did on earth two thousand years ago. It is the aspect of the compassionate and generous and hospitable expressions of the church. It is the practical ministry summarized so often as ‘caring for widows and orphans’ but which has been observed throughout the church era as establishing schools, hospitals, clinics and so many other things that have impacted our worlds for good.

“Good works” (Mt 5:16) are not to be one thing or another, but both spiritually supernatural and humanly natural. The ‘supernatural’ may include the miraculous or simply people and circumstance changes, as we’ve recently been considering, or they may be the incredible grace that sometimes enables believers to act as they do beyond usual abilities. The ‘natural’ is being kind, compassionate, caring, hospitable and generous and, of course, all these are expressions of Christ, expressions of his grace in believers. It’s not one or the other, it is both. Both require the power and the presence of the Lord and both reveal the kingdom of God in action – but it is action.

I have just now suggested why we have taken so much time working on our faith levels for the works of Jesus through the body – the absence of it so often in the modern church – but there is something else linked to this that I have observed in the modern church. It is the ‘good intentions’ that people have to reach out to the world around them with the good news of the Gospel of Christ, and even start community projects which are in themselves good.

However, what I also witness is an absence of the manifest presence of God so often in these things, absence of clear direction to start these things, or how to go about these things, i.e. their origins that should be clearly coming from the heart of God, people ‘doing stuff’ but with the absence of the presence of God or the revelation of God (because they haven’t learn to listen) or the power of God to bring changes. i.e. often such ‘projects’ seem such hard work because they come from human enthusiasm, and they operate with human effort so that when crises come (and they do) the resources are not there to cope. The truth is that a lot of charities and other ‘good works’ operate in a godless environment. Our activities must originate from the Lord and be carried out with the revelation of the Lord and the power of the Lord. When this does happen, the world will know, and God will be glorified. That is what all this kingdom stuff is about. May it be so.

27. Goodness in the Body

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 27. Goodness in the Body

Ex 33:19   the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you

2 Pet 1:5  make every effort to add to your faith goodness

Theory & Practice Overlap: In the previous study we considered love as an expression of Jesus in his body on the earth, revealing the kingdom on earth. Between the previous study and this one and then the ones that follow in the next sub-Part under the heading of practicalities, there is much overlap and it is difficult to decide whether these present two studies should come here under the heading of ‘Theory’ or under the next heading ‘Practicalities’. Love is a very practical expression of the kingdom of God through the church as is our next subject, ‘goodness’.

Defining Goodness: Forgive me is I take a section from something I have written elsewhere as we try to tie down just what good or goodness is, and does it apply to God? A dictionary defines ‘good’ as “having suitable or desirable qualities; promoting health, welfare or happiness; benevolent, not troublesome” and goes on to give reams more uses of ‘good.’ ‘Good’ signifies in our thinking something that is pleasant, something positive that we are happy with. Moses declared of God, “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he” (Deut 32:4) and all of that description could be summed up in, “He is good!” This was Moses’ declaration. Everything that God thinkssays and does IS good. Moses knew God more intimately than any other man in the Bible apart from Jesus and so he is good for a character reference.

David reminded himself of this truth when he needed lifting up:

  • according to your love remember me, for you are good, O LORD,”(Psa 25:7) and
  • Taste and see that the LORD is good, ” (Psa 34:8) and
  • You are forgiving and good , O Lord,”(Psa 86:5) and
  • You are good , and what you do is good,”(Psa 119:68) and
  • Praise the LORD, for the LORD is good(Psa 135:3)

And Us? But what about the body of Christ? The apostle Paul declared, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness.” (Gal 5:22) and the apostle Peter added, “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge.” (2 Pet 1:5) But what really is goodness? How should we expect to ‘see’ it in evidence in the life of the church, in the life of the kingdom? Well look up synonyms of ‘goodness’ and you find, virtuousness, decency, kindness, honesty, integrity. On the other hand, badness is linked with evil, immorality and so on.

Modern Scandals: Now one thing I have observed over the last ten to twenty years, is that scandal has hit every public institution from the monarchy, all main political parties, the police and so on. What is a ‘scandal’ you ask? Something that brings, shame, dishonour, and disgrace to individuals and the institution because of their ‘bad’ behaviour. When it comes to the church (in the USA & the UK) what has been a tragedy has been the number of leaders who have fallen into adultery and, we can only say, it should not be. Perhaps it is not surprising that there have been so many divorces in the life of the Church, and in one particular wing of the church so many scandals to do with child abuse. At one point the apostle Peter declared, “it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household,” (1 Pet 4:17) and one cannot help wondering if the church in the West will soon come under the judgment of God (or is maybe under it even now.)

Our own church? But to backtrack, do we find virtuousness, decency, kindness, honesty, and integrity as fundamental, observable characteristics of our local church? In our dealings with one another and our dealings with the people round about us, are we known as being trustworthy, people with whom it is good to interact? And ourselves? Can people say of us, “there is not an ounce of negativity, gossip, unwholesomeness, and unkindness in them”?

The Example of Leaders: Let’s put some more content to this by considering leaders who the New Testament sometimes calls elders, and sometimes overseers, for they should be examples of what the church should be: “Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” (Titus 1:7-9) Similarly Paul wrote to Timothy, “the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect.  …..He must also have a good reputation with outsiders…” (1 Tim 3:2-7)

Facing the Truth: I suggest here is a good ‘map’ to chart the possibilities of the way that ‘goodness’ is to be seen in the church so that it can go on to express the kingdom, a handful of positives and a handful of negatives. In respect of free-will, someone has said, ‘God has dignified us with choice’. The truth is that the unbelieving world is blinded by the enemy and their hard-hearts prevent them from seeing the truth until the Holy Spirit uses their circumstances to convict them and show them their need.

But here is something quite terrible: we, the church, have the word of God and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and, in that sense, we have no excuse if we abuse grace with our disobedience. And yet we each have to face our imperfection – more so when you have the courage to look back on your earlier years with honesty – and then realise that God still chose us, still convicted us and still drew us to Himself and still blessed us in amazing ways – that truly is grace.

A Call to Awareness: And so the call must be a call to awareness that we are called to be good, called to express goodness and wherever we see anything in ourselves that mars that, to seek to put it to death. Two of my favourite New Testament verses challenge me in all this: we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph 2:10) and “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:16)  In the light of this study, should we perhaps see those as ‘works of goodness’ and ‘deeds expressing goodness’? There are some grounds for further thought.

26. The Caring Church

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 26. The Caring Church

1 Cor 14:3 the one who prophesies speaks to people for their  strengthening, encouraging and comfort.

Recap our Goals: In the previous study we laid out our strategy again: we are examining things that will help us grow. We are examining that through the perspective of being seated with Christ in the heavenly realms, and we are examining aspects of the ministry of Christ through us in bringing in the kingdom of God on earth through the body of Christ, the Church.

The Challenges of Change: We went on to reflect on the incredible changes that are coming in our world and the challenges that the enemy would make to our faith in the light of those changes, the challenge of relevancy. I suggested that these things did not affect the reality of the existence of God nor the fact of human sinfulness and our need for salvation.

The Nature of the Church/Kingdom: Now, before we move on into practicalities, I think we need to highlight something that comes out of these two things I have just mentioned, and it is the nature of the church and the nature of the kingdom of God that we have been considering earlier.

Human Need: My starting point is to face the reality of life, and that includes for Christians. Put in its most simple form, it is that each of us needs to feel loved; it is a basic human need. Put another way, each of us from time to time (if not most of the time), need strengthening, encouraging or even comforting. We go through times of feeling weak, we go through times of discouragement and we even go through times of worry or anxiety or pain – and so we have needs to be met.

The Caring Saviour: The second thing is that we have a Saviour who cares for us and who wants to help us. If we had been one of the twelve travelling with Jesus and we were looking down and dejected, I don’t believe Jesus would have ignored us or even chided us; I believe he would have strengthened, encouraged or comforted us privately. But now he has a different body, you and me, but his intentions do not change. His intention is still to strengthen the weak, encourage the downcast, comfort the grieving.

Failure Talk? It may be that someone reading this comes from a military background or a background of high achievement expectations (family expectations can often lay some ungodly perfectionist expectations on us) and emotions get suppressed by macho “get a grip on life for goodness sake!” outlooks. In some churches there is an inability to be honest – everything is just fine (always!) – and any talk about weakness etc. has been made to sound like failure.

Reality: Look, Paul would not have written, “Do not be anxious about anything,” (Phil 4:6) if we didn’t get anxious sometimes, and as for, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God,”  (2 Cor 1:3,4) he certainly wouldn’t have described God like this if we didn’t need comforting from time to time “in all our troubles”. When it comes to times of contact with God or His angels, there are numerous “fear not” or “don’t be afraid” times (e.g. Jud 6:23, Mt 1:20, 2:22, 8:26, 10:26,31, etc. etc.) so that when we are real we can see there are many, many situations where the natural response is fear and so God comes to lift us above that – but it is the natural thing!

Beware Hardness: The problem that also arises here is that when we have been brought up or trained or disciplined into this hard-nosed way of confronting life, not only do we suppress our feelings, but we also look down on those who appear weak or who are showing their feelings. Over the years I have been to many funerals, and taken quite a few, and the spectrum of human feelings is more clearly revealed at a funeral than any other place. Some people stand in the funeral service absolutely stony-faced, while others cry or even wail in ways that are symptomatic of Old Testament Judaism. There is no ‘right’ response and if we look down on people who don’t grieve like we do, or down on people who find it difficult to express their emotions, we are not walking the walk of Jesus. “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn,” (Rom 12:15) said the apostle Paul.

Carriers of Love: Now why am I saying these things in this Part when we are thinking about reigning with Christ to bring in the kingdom of God? I am saying this, because whatever else we might say about this, if we are not a church of love brought into being by One who is described as love (1 Jn 4:8,16) we are missing the goal. The kingdom is an expression of the love of God and the way we ‘reign’ over circumstances is, at the very least, to be a demonstration of God’s love. When I witness to someone, when I pray over someone, when I preach to people, when I share a word from God with someone, if I do not do it in love, I am missing the point! And that goes for you too!

To Church & World: When I look around me in the church, if my heart is not moved by compassion for those expressing obvious needs, I am missing the point. When I encounter people in the world expressing their needs, if my heart is not moved by compassion to pray for wisdom to know how to act on their behalf, I am missing the point. The kingdom, I say again, is all about bringing and expressing the love of God. That has to be of paramount importance. There is another of these things to be considered in the next study before we move on to the practicalities but these things, I suggest, very much flow over into the practicalities.

25. The Relevant Church?

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 25. The Relevant Church?

Mt 7:6 (Msg) “Don’t be flip with the sacred. Banter and silliness give no honour to God. Don’t reduce holy mysteries to slogans. In trying to be relevant, you’re only being cute and inviting sacrilege.

(NIV) “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

Psa 1:1,3  Blessed is the one That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither – whatever they do prospers.

Relevancy? I am breaking a habit of a lifetime, for I have a sense of what we ought to be covering and yet I do not have a verse upon which to hang it.  In scanning for the word ‘relevant’ it does not appear as such in any translation and the verse from the Message version is the only hit that I could get, and that seems a warning against trying to be relevant! And yet it weighs on my heart. That seems a bit of a leap in the paraphrase from that verse 6 that we probably are more familiar with. Now I’ve got into this conundrum when I finished the previous study with the comment, ‘so often the world considers the Church irrelevant.’  So what, I think, does the Bible say about us being relevant. Well, actually, nothing! So much for those leaders who carry out surveys in their local neighbourhood to find the perceived needs that they can then address! Well, actually there is some value in that, but perhaps we miss a key point.

Goals restated: In case you think I am straying badly from our objectives, let’s restate them. We are examining things that will help us grow. We are now examining that through the perspective of being seated with Christ in the heavenly realms and we are examining aspects of the ministry of Christ through us in bringing in the kingdom of God on earth through the body of Christ, the Church. Right, we know where we are going.

Threat of the Days: So why am I worrying about being irrelevant or being relevant? The answer is because I believe we are moving in such a time of development in science and technology (and those words are really inadequate to cover this) that for some of us (and this applies especially to the younger generation) there is a very real danger that we will lose perspective and the enemy will lead many to think that the things of the Bible belong to a long-distant past and have no relevance today in the light of modern developments.

Days of Change: It has been suggested that we are living in a period of such dramatic change that is greater by far than the changes seen in the past with the agricultural revolution and much later the industrial revolution and in the last century the technological and cyber (Defn. culture of computers, information technology, and virtual reality) revolution. The possibilities that are already realities are likely to mean the most dramatic changes in the lives of probably every human being on the earth. If you doubt these things, as a start try doing a Google search for ‘bit-chain’, ‘quantum computers’ and ‘Artificial Intelligence’ and if you have never been in these areas before, be ready to be blown away.

Relevancy of my Faith? It is at this point that you, and certainly your young people and children, may find yourself wondering, what is all this talk about the kingdom of God? Is it really real? Is it meaningful? I am shortly, according to the preaching rota of our church, to do a sermon on Abram.  What relevance has Abram got in my world of cell phones, of new genome projects redesigning the human being, of politics through social media, of computing power that is doubling almost every year, of nanotechnology that looks at unbelievably small cell manipulation, of lives that will interact with ‘smart computers’ or ‘thinking computers’ at every turn, where physical money ceases to be used, and face recognition means accountability wherever you are in the world. It is either here now, or it is literally just around the corner. In the light of this, how relevant is the church, how relevant is the Bible, how relevant is my faith?

For instance, the ‘elephant in the room’, as we might say today, for Abram, was the fact that his wife was barren. If you have ever watched one or more of the Star Trek series, you will have seen a future where sickness has been overcome (today the Gates Foundation is making great strides in this realm in Africa) where injuries are healed up within moments, where violence is abhorred and so on. And yet even there in that fictional future world, people are people and have their personal worries, get stressed with other people and so on. One of the big discussion points at the present (early 2018) could be summarized as the Pessimistic Outlook versus the Optimistic Outlook.

Whether it be scientific or technological revolutions, political upheavals or threats to global existence (nuclear winter, ozone holes, or over population) the Christian is going to be challenged over the relevancy of their beliefs, so let me lay down some markers to anchor our thinking in these days of dramatic change.

First, God is still God. He is there, and nothing changes – except perhaps our perception of Him. Years ago I did a study of developments of inventions etc. through the ages and observed it alongside the development of the revelation we observe in the Bible. When we used to not know things in science, we attributed things to God – the ‘God of the Gaps’. As knowledge increases, science suggests answers for questions about the world, those gaps close up, and ‘scientific reasons’ for the need for God disappear. Let’s get a perspective that is Biblical that sees and understands that a) God created all things and knows all things, b) God has given this world to us for us to enjoy and find out about and, I suspect, nudges inventors and researchers to find ways to make life easier and better for the human race, and yet c) God still gives us the ability (and duty?) to consider how to wisely use these things – to avoid a nuclear winter, or avoid destroying the ozone layer and stop being so self-centred we care little about those who have less than us.

Second, Sin is still Sin: Human beings, despite the fact of their cleverness at developing, researching, at finding out and using knowledge, still struggle with themselves and with others because they have, as someone has put it, a ‘God-shaped hole’ in their life which, unless it is filled, will always cause a sense of emptiness, a sense of questioning and so on. Human beings, until they encounter God through Christ, are still contaminated by this thing the Bible calls Sin, that I define as self-centred godlessness which leads to behaviour that is contrary to God’s design and is therefore destructive.

And So? The things I have mentioned earlier in this study, will certainly change the landscape of human living but God and the human condition remain the same and God’s salvation for us through Christ remains exactly the same.  For the record, when I read the Abram story I see a) the effects of living in a Fallen World – barrenness and the anguish it brings, b) a God who communicates with us and reveals just a glimpse of His plans to provide a way for us to be rescued from this godless, self-centredness, plans that give purpose to the present and hope for the future…. and lots, lots more, and every bit of it is relevant to me, to my life, to my plight, today – and to you! I will return to this question of relevancy again and again as we think more and more about being the body of Christ that brings in the kingdom of God. Tomorrow, we’ll show how this can work in very practical ways.

54. Christ’s Kingdom Prophesied

Focus on Christ Meditations: 54.  Christ’s Kingdom Prophesied

Mk 1:14,15   Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”

In our search for the Christ, we have seen him ascend to heaven where he rules at his Father’s right hand, but in order to understand this rule more fully that is now operating from heaven, we need to backtrack to our earlier studies to see the prophetic background for this kingdom. Now we will look at the prophecies, not as mystified seekers but observers after the event, or maybe observers watching the event being rolled out, for we will see the coming of the kingdom both on earth and from heaven. Our verses above show us Jesus commencing his ministry with this declaration and in so doing he was declaring that the prophecies of old were about to be fulfilled, and the outworking of that we will see in the following study. We will recap many of the things we’ve seen previously, but now we will see them in the light of knowledge we have gained of the Coming One and his ministry.

The signs of conflict are there from the outset, in the account in the Garden of Eden. Remember the Lord’s words to Satan: 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 have followers (demons?) but there will be offspring of the woman (humans) and, in the conflict that follows, her offspring (one of them) may get injured but Satan’s offspring will have their head (him) crushed and defeated.

The picture that follows in Scripture is of a world living in Sin, ultimately following Satan (see 1 Jn 5:19), enticing them to reject God’s presence and wisdom, i.e. they do their own thing and live in unrighteousness. The centuries pass and eventually kings come and go in a nation that is formed, Israel, a nation that so much of the time, despite having been called by God to be a light to the rest of the world in the way they reveal the Lord, stagger or hobble in that relationship, so much of the time getting it wrong and only rarely rising to greatness. Into this context the big prophets speak.

The first glimpse of something different on the horizon, comes from Isaiah, with talk of a son to be called Immanuel or ‘God with us’. (Isa 7:14) Was God coming to this people in a new way? But then, a little later there is talk of another child: “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. He will 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) I have taken out the power words in the middle to see the simple and fundamental work of this coming child – that of a ruler, whose rule will go on and on, and who will be modeled after king David, a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam 13,14, Acts 13:22) who will bring justice (righting all wrongs) and righteousness (establishing right living). This is the first real talk of a coming ruler bringing in a new kingdom. In the middle of those verses were those words we have stumbled over previously, that this ruler, will be called God!

A little later in Isa 11 we have more talk of a Coming One and the nature of his work is spelled out even more: “with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist.” (v.4,5) and this is followed by amazing pictures of peace and harmony on the earth.(v.6-9). Again a bringer of right living and right dealings for all people. In Isa 32:1 we find a similar but vague reference: “See, a king will reign in righteousness and rulers will rule with justice.” (v.1) and the following verses show how righteousness will prevail, but it is not clear who or when. However, as a statement of God’s will it again puts righteousness and justice high on His agenda.

Jeremiah has only hints of a new reign: “they will serve the LORD their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them.” (Jer 30:9) and, “Their leader will be one of their own; their ruler will arise from among them. I will bring him near and he will come close to me.” (v.21)

Ezekiel challenged an existing reign with a hint of a new future: “O profane and wicked prince of Israel, whose day has come, whose time of punishment has reached its climax, his is what the Sovereign LORD says: Take off the turban, remove the crown. It will not be as it was: The lowly will be exalted and the exalted will be brought low. A ruin! A ruin! I will make it a ruin! It will not be restored until he comes to whom it rightfully belongs; to him I will give it.’” (Ezek 21:25-27) but again the intent is vague, simply that God will not tolerate the reign of sin and will replace it with a reign of righteousness.

It is only as we come to Daniel again that we reach the clarity of the coming ruler: “there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” (Dan 7:13,14)

Now you might have been asking, why have we been covering this ground again? We’ve been here in earlier studies, so why are covering it again? When we first looked at it, it was an investigation into what was actually there. After that we had a look at names of Jesus and the things he did. Having covered all that ground, what we are now doing is going back over that ground to see what it really meant and how it was really worked out, and then how it really affects us today.  Now in those two verses from Daniel, laying a foundation for the coming one to be seen as a ruler from heaven, there are two words used that we might think are the same, but aren’t; there is a subtle difference.

The first word is “Dominion” and synonyms for it speak of dominance, domination, and the power to rule. It is all about the one who is above or over others. Thus Paul speaks about “the dominion of darkness” (Col 1:13) where, when it comes to Satan, “We know that …. the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” (1 Jn 5:19).  That is the unbelieving world, but “he (God) has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves,” (Col 1:13) So dominion focuses on the one who is over others. (The psalmist was able to say, “dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations.” – Psa 22:28 i.e. God is over and above all the nations of the world, sovereign ruler, even though he allows Satan delegated power over unbelievers).

The second word in those verses is “Kingdom” which speaks of the realm or territory or area where his reign exists. When we talk about ‘kingdom’ we start thinking about the expression of the reign of the king, how he shows he is king as he reigns. Now we are drawing near our goal. What does it mean that Jesus reigns? A clue: ‘Reign’ is about exercising sovereignty, about being in control. Be prepared for some surprises as we seek to move into deeper understanding.

5. A Serving Body

Short Meditations on the Body of Christ:  5. A Serving Body

Eph 4:12  to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up

Some of these meditations are bound to overlap as we mention various things and then build more on them in later studies. We have at least twice spoken about Jesus’ body that was formed when the Son left heaven and was born on earth with a human body, come to do the will of God. Now it is easy to speak of ‘doing the will of God’ but what does that mean?

Well if we take an earlier verse from Ephesians it might shed light on this: For 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) Now if we changed the words, “to do good works” for “to do the will of God” or even “to serve the purposes of God,” we have a variety of expressions that all point in the same direction but what they do is link the concept of ‘doing the will of God’ with the idea or action or service.

Expanding on the point we made from the beginning, the whole point of Jesus having a human body was to enable him to interact with other human beings to bring changes to their ‘fallen’ lives – which often involved healing but also, essentially, brought about changes of mind, attitude and heart so that they came into the arena of God’s kingdom. As he did this, so he was working out the will of the Godhead, planned from before the foundation of the world. It was a one-man strategy to touch and change the lives of others so that they in turn could touch and change the lives of even more. Thus today there are millions upon millions whose lives have been transformed and form ‘the Church’ and (hopefully) express the kingdom of God.

We will in the next two studies consider how this ‘service is both inward and outward but for the moment we remain focused on how it is upward. We are what we are and we do what we do because of the Godhead. It is all because of what the Father, Son and Holy Spirit agreed would be the plan to redeem fallen mankind, a mankind that they saw even before creating us, that would fall because of free will giving way to temptation, and yet free will was essential if love was to operate, under girding everything. Without it we would not truly be human beings, capable of freely receiving and giving love – or indeed rejecting it and withholding it.

And so here we are today, with free will, drawn by the love of the Godhead, to express that love back as we respond to them and do what they put before us, prompting us, guiding us, inspiring us and empowering us to do the same works Jesus’ single body did (Jn 14:12).