15. A Most Remarkable Description

Focus on Christ Meditations: 15.  A Most Remarkable Description

Jn 1:29    The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

Hindsight is a deceiving thing; it makes us think we would have understood the circumstances we read throughout the Bible, whereas the truth would more likely have been that we heard the words and our reply might well have been, “er….yes?” This truth has been there in the back of my mind constantly throughout this series. We read the words in our completed Bibles, or we hear them expounded so easily by a preacher on a Sunday and so we give so little thought as to the way that message would have come over to the original listeners. Bear that in mind with today’s verse.

We have examined some (not all) of the accounts of what happened surrounding the coming of the Christ in the form of a baby. We saw an angel tell Mary the child’s name will be Jesus which, we noted means, ‘the Lord saves’. Then there was the angel in Joseph’s dream who told him to name the child Jesus because he will save his people from their sins. Then there was the angel coming to the shepherds to tell them that Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ.  Again and again this idea that he will be a saviour comes through. Yes, we saw in the early Isaiah prophecies that he will be mighty, a great and lasting ruler, and so those early people could be forgiven for thinking that, apart from that unclear reference to ‘sins’, this ‘saviour’ will be a mighty ruler who will overthrow all of Israel’s enemies.

And now we jump forward thirty years and John the Baptist comes with further confusing and apparently contradictory messages. You’ve never noticed them?  First of all we have, John testifies concerning him. He cries out, saying, “This was he of whom I said, `He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.” (Jn 1:15) Then, “but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” (Jn 1:26,27) And from Matthew we have, “after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Mt 3:11,12) Each of these verses speak of power, authority and greatness. Well that fits with the early Isaiah prophecies.

But then, “John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” There’s that sin reference again, but what makes it more confusing, especially in the light of all that has just gone before, is John identifying Jesus as “the lamb of God.”  Sorry, I think this is another of those “er…yes?” moments. And John says it twice (Jn 1:29 AND 1:36) as if to make the point quite clear, no, he wasn’t speaking out of turn the first time, he was speaking prophetically.

Now you are struggling not to be all-knowing-it at this point because we know Revelation 5 where Jesus is enigmatically described standing before the throne in heaven and then described as a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain,” (Rev 5:6)  so yes, today, post-Crucifixion, and with all the teaching of the New Testament, we are comfortable with the idea of Jesus being God’s sacrifice for our sins, but what if you had been back there, standing next to John, what might you be thinking?

A lamb? What does that imply?  A lamb conjures up a picture of meek and mild. How does that fit with the ruler-deliverer picture? So where does a lamb come in the Old Testament? That might give us clues. Well, clearly a lamb was the usual offering to God even back in Abraham’s day (see Gen 22:7) because Isaac expected there to be one, and Abraham spoke those immortal words, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” (Gen 22:8) before he bound up Isaac and laid him on the altar, before another angel intervened and stopped him.

Lambs also appear in the sacrificial laws of Leviticus (e.g. see Lev 3:7) but it could equally have been a cow, a sheep or a goat, so a lamb wasn’t especially significant. No, the lamb gets its primary significance in the story of the Passover in Ex 12 where every family (of this mainly shepherding community) were to take and kill a lamb without blemish (i.e. one of the best ones) and take some of its blood and put it around the doorposts of the home so that when the destroying angel came he would see it, know it was a Hebrew home, and pass over it while he went on to kill every oldest son throughout Egypt. The lamb was thus the classic symbol of God’s means of salvation for His people.

So when John suddenly calls Jesus ‘the lamb of God’ is he implying that somehow Jesus is going to die as a sacrifice for our sins? How does this fit with the king-ruler-deliverer pictures? Now it is possibly so familiar to us today that the idea of this is no problem to us, but in a day when this had not been expounded, it was a mystery.

Consider how Jesus’ disciples struggled with this, especially in the light of all the miracles that showed that Jesus was completely in control of everything (water into wine, walking on water) and Jesus did such wonderful things (healings, deliverances, raising people from the dead) that surely no one would wish to harm him? When Jesus, obviously fully aware of his destiny, started talking about his death, they found it impossible to cope with.

The classic was with Peter: “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (Mt 16:21-23) Please, please, please, put off your twenty-first century knowledge and try and catch the mystery that confronted these followers of Jesus, a mystery which explains so clearly the struggle they had when confronted with his death.

The apostle Paul said it later: “Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” (1 Cor 1:22,23) As we later go further into this study we will see why death on a cross was such an anathema to both Jew and Gentile.  This was one of the greatest and most staggering mysteries that has ever been hidden from the eyes of the world – and it’s wonder and reality is still hidden from many today.

To reflect upon: Lord, please forgive me that so often I treat your word so casually and only scratch the surface. Please give me greater understanding.

2. Revealing the Lamb

Meditating on Great Themes in John:   2. Revealing the Lamb

John 1:29   The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

Moving away from the prologue John the writer picks up the thread of John the Baptist that was there in verses 5 to 8 of the Prologue but before he moves fully into John’s testimony he gives us a summary in verses 15 to 18, first of how John proclaimed Jesus (v.15) and then in his own words how Jesus has brought grace and blessing to us (v.16). The Law had come through Moses but Jesus brought grace and truth (v.17). That’s the third time he has mentioned grace and the second time he has mentioned truth in just a few verses. Another way of putting that? All of God’s goodness and reality. Finally, Jesus  is the only one to have seen God and now he’s at his Father’s right hand (v.18) There is enough in those few verses for a few meditations but we are simply seeking the big themes here so we will move on.

Verses 19 to 35 show us John the Baptist’s testimony. First of all it is negative – he is NOT the expected one. Some think John the writer is including this in this way to counter those who had created a cult of following John as the Messiah. John the writer’s aim here is to steer us through John’s testimony to Jesus. John had spoken about the coming one who was already there (v.26,27), but suddenly we get the first of a number of testimonies or declarations about Jesus that fill the remainder of this first chapter. He sees Jesus coming the first time and declares, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (v.29) He links this statement with all he has said before about the coming one – this is he, this Lamb of God (v.30).

He then testifies how he saw the Spirit come down on Jesus (v.32) and explains how God had warned him to watch for this to happen, for this would be the sign that this was the one he had been speaking about (v.33).  But now he has seen this and he makes this amazing testimony, “I testify that this is the Son of God.” (v.34) Whether he fully understands what this means in reality or not we don’t know but he testifies in this way.

But then the next day John sees Jesus passing by and again heralds him, “Look, the Lamb of God!” (v.36) and with that John fades out of the picture for the time being at least. But consider what John has said about Jesus:

  • He, John, is not the Messiah.
  • The Messiah is coming and He will baptize people in the power of the Spirit
  • He heralds Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world
  • He testifies to seeing the Holy Spirit come down on Jesus
  • He declares him to be the Son of God
  • And a second time he heralds him as the Lamb of God.

John the writer has painted that amazing picture of the Word who was God who had now come to earth but has now turned up the magnification, so to speak, to show how this man, the Word, first came into the public eye through the ministry of John the Baptist. He moves from Greek philosophical concepts to Hebrew historical language – Messiah – Lamb of God. He doesn’t explain these concepts, he simply introduces them via the means of the narrative of what happened. Jesus has said and done nothing yet but be baptized and heralded by John. We know nothing of him so far beyond what the two Johns have said; first the writer John through his lofty language of the Prologue, and then through the Baptist as part of his ministry of revealing him.

Within what John the Baptist says of him, the twofold work of Jesus is merely hinted at. He will take away our sin and he will baptize us in the Holy Spirit. They are mentioned in that order and indeed the reference to being baptized in the Spirit is sandwiched, so to speak between two declarations about Jesus being the Lamb of God. The truth is, of course, that we are only saved and can have a conversion experience because Jesus has died for us, and then we receive the Holy Spirit to empower us and enable us to have transformed lives,, but all the way through life we still have to rely upon the finished work of Christ on the Cross.

The picture of the sacrificial lamb comes, of course, from the Passover (see Ex 12) where the blood of a perfect lamb was shed so that the destroying angel would pass-over the homes of the Israelites and they would be saved when he saw the blood and passed them by. The apostle Paul understood this when he wrote, “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” (1 Cor 5:7) Likewise the apostle Peter: “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” (1 Pet 1:18,19)

The pinnacle of this comes in Revelation before the throne of God: “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.” (Rev 5:6-9) There is no question that the Lamb is Jesus and in the chapters that follow it is ‘the Lamb’ who is mentioned again and again as the one who undoes the seals on the end time scroll.

So, from the great description of Jesus as the word, the light bringing life, John quickly moves us to the key reason for the coming of Jesus, the Son of God, to give his life as a sacrifice for sin, to take the punishment due to us. It is there from the word go in this first chapter – he is God, he has come in the form of a man and he has come to offer his life as a sacrifice for sin to win us back. Hallelujah!

14. Jesus, the Ultimate Gem

Meditating on the Gems of the Bible:  14. Jesus the ultimate gem

Mat 1:20,21  “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

The name Jesus or Jeshua was fairly common and is akin to Joshua of the Old Testament and it means deliverer. The thing about this particular baby, this particular Jesus, was that he would not deliver people in a physical sense but in a spiritual sense. The claim of the angel speaking to Joseph in a dream was that this Jesus would come and do something that no other person on earth could do, he would deliver people from their sins. Now when we think about that we realise that it must mean that he will deliver them from the guilt and punishment that their sins deserve AND he will deliver them from the actual sins, from continuing to do them. That is what salvation through Christ does, and just in case you have never seen it like that before, let’s repeat it: he delivers form the guilt and punishment of sins AND from the ongoing having to continue to sin. The first is what puts us right with God and the second is the life we live out subsequently with Him. This, as briefly as possible, is what Jesus has come to achieve, and he has done it for millions and millions of people.

How, again as briefly as possible, did he go on to do it, this? There were two parts to his ministry. First of all, for three years he lived out a period of ministry from about the age of thirty, revealing his Heavenly Father’s nature. In the words of the apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost, he was revealed as a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him,” (Acts 2:22)  Later on, to Cornelius and his Gentile family and friends Peter declared, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.” (Acts 10:38)  Jesus himself had declared to John’s disciples, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” (Mt 11:4,5) In the things he did he revealed Himself as a unique being.

Three times his Father testified to the wonder of who he was. First at his own baptism, “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Mt 3:16,17)  The second was on the Mount of Transfiguration: “Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” (Mk 9:7) The third time appears to have been on Palm Sunday, as recorded by John, “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 12:28,29)

The second part of his ministry was dying on the Cross to take the punishment for our sins. Jesus knew exactly what he was doing when he allowed this to happen: “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Mt 16:21) Also “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” (Mt 20:18,19) He spelled out the purpose of this at the Last Supper: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mt 26:28) The apostle Peter also spelled this out: “The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead–whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.” (Acts 5:30,31) God raised Jesus from the dead and then took him back to heaven with him, confirming who he was and his purpose.

This is the unique ministry of Jesus Christ, the revealed Son of God. After he ascended and returned to sit next to his Father in heaven, ruling at His side, we find there are three people who saw him there. First there was Stephen just before he was stoned to death as the first Christian martyr (see Acts 7:56). The second was Saul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-6) and the third was the apostle John in his revelation on the isle of Patmos. In the first part of the vision he saw Jesus as the one holding the seven churches of Asia Minor in his hands – the Lord of the Church (Rev 1:12-18). In the next part of the vision he saw him before the throne of heaven, as the Lamb of God, the Saviour of the world (Rev 5:5-10).  In the latter part of Revelation he saw him as the returning conquering king (Rev 19:11-16).

So when Joseph gets this message from the angel in a dream, we have all this wrapped up in a short description. The wonder of the New Testament is that being opened up and revealed to us in much greater detail. Of all of the gems we might find in the Bible, this surely has to shine the brightest.

13. Divine & Human Interaction

Meditating on the Gems of the Bible:  13. Divine and Human Interaction

Acts 2:23   This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.

I was reviewing what I had written earlier in this series and at the end of the first meditation I note I had written the following: “If we have known the Lord any length of time … we can reflect on our testimony and see His hand that has been on us, and we can marvel and wonder and feel great pleasure and we can bow and worship as we delight in Him.”  Getting on in years a little these days, I do what older people do and reflect back on the years that have been and I do marvel at the wonder of God’s blessings that have come to us as a family (as I wrote in that first meditation).

Now the marvel is not just that God has poured out blessing upon blessing upon us over the years, but He has done that despite the people we are – failures, inadequate, with tendencies of getting it wrong. Yes this is the fuller truth. I know what I am and I look back at what I was and I cringe at the memories of what I said or did, at my immaturity, my lack of grace, my confusions, and I marvel that despite all of this – and it is very real, I am not just trying to sound humble, this is how it was and is – yes, despite all this God blessed me and used me.

And then I come to this gem of a verse in the middle of Peter’s preaching on the day of Pentecost. For a guy who had been an uneducated (probably) fisherman, he did OK in that sermon. He has understanding, he quotes the Old Testament and he is full of passion. That’s what the Holy Spirit does for you! But there in the midst of it, is this gem of understanding. When Jesus went to the Cross it was a combination of two things.

First it was the plan of God worked out before the foundation of the world. Moreover I dare to believe that my life also fits that category, “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world,” (Eph 1:4) so that now I am, “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10). There was no mistake back there two thousand years ago when they arrested Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. It was not the world getting out of control; it was the plan of God reaching a climax.

Second, it was the work of sinful men. God didn’t make us band together against Christ and crucify him, but God knew we would given the circumstances. I use the pronoun ‘we’ because I dare not exclude myself from what went on. I would hope that I would not have been part of the crowd baying for Jesus’ death, and I certainly hope I would not have been part of the religious or civic establishment that brought about his death (but even there I may delude myself) and the best I could hope for was that I would have been one of those disciples who hid themselves away and left him to his fate on his own.

Am I being too hard on myself (or you)? I don’t think so. As I said earlier on, when you have a lot of years to play with, you have more examples of life to put under the microscope and although God’s grace has genuinely been there in some good measure, if I am honest if the Lord in heaven took me back through my life and we reviewed it together, I would have to agree that there were times where I would like to change how I spoke or acted in the years gone by.

We are all of us less than perfect this side of heaven and the wonder and marvel of God’s love and grace is that those imperfections didn’t put Him off from being with us there and prompting and using us, despite our inadequacies and, on rare occasions, because of them. Sometimes He can only use us when we have lost all sense of self-confidence and the ensuing words and actions come out of weakness or even failure but He still uses them to His purposes.

It is not good, this down side of humanity. It was not good that the religious and civic authorities schemed together to bring Jesus down, or in Pilate’s case just abandoned him to injustice.  It was not good that the crowd allowed themselves to be manipulated into crying out for Jesus’ death. It was not good that  most of the disciples ran away and hid. No, none of these things were good but nevertheless God used them to sacrifice the Lamb of God.

I come across people who preach a hard form of holiness and present a God who is hard and holy and demanding, but when I examine Scripture and I examine human experience I find that this preaching is false and untrue  and unkind and fails to see the wonder of who God is. Here is the paradox: yes, He is holy and He does call us to be holy and after the apparent debacle of the events in the Garden of Eden you might have expected God to abandon this planet and go and find another one in some other galaxy, but He didn’t. Before he released His power in Creation He knew that giving us free will would mean the very early arrival of Sin in mankind. He knew that justice (and Satan, the accuser)  would cry out for justice and demand that Sin be punished and so the Godhead planned how justice might be met and mankind (or at least those who would receive it) could be saved.

And so He took the sinfulness of mankind and used it to bring about the means for justice to be satisfied, by the death of His own eternal Son. No one less than God Himself could take punishment for so many sinful beings, and so we find the awful events of Calvary appearing like a blot on history. Yet out of that blot comes redemption, salvation available to you and me if we will bow and receive it. When we do, it is the direction of our life that is all important. Yes, I will stumble and on occasion fall, but He will be there to get me back on my feet and help me take further tottering steps in the direction of heaven. My desire is to do His will and that, it seems, is enough now. I may miss it or get it wrong but as I keep directed towards Him, His grace will be there again and again to turn my fumbling efforts into something glorious that will bless Him and others. How amazing!  This verse is indeed a gem and it genuinely releases a sense of wonder and awe and worship. Hallelujah!

29. The Lamb Revealed

Short Meditations in John 1:  29.  The Lamb Revealed

Jn 1:29    The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

We come to what I believe is the pinnacle of this chapter. The questioners from Jerusalem have had their day. Whether they have hung around to see what happens is not clear, but John continues his ministry and the day after Jesus appears. Is it coincidence that it is after they have been that Jesus comes? Perhaps, or perhaps he knew they were coming and waited so as not to be interrogated by them. It’s not his time for that yet.

So Jesus comes, as the other Gospels tell us, to be baptised by John and, as John sees him approaching, he says to those around him “Look the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” Now that is incredible in what it says. It answers so many of the questions that the academics had argued over in the ensuing years of prophecies about the Coming One. First John declares who he is and then what he will do, and both in such a clear way that they can be no doubt.

A lamb featured very largely in Israel’s history but never the phrase before, “the lamb of God.” A lamb first featured in the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac: God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” (Gen 22:8) A substitute sacrifice for Isaac. Then of course there was the Passover Lamb (and this is probably the main reference): “Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household.” (Ex 12:3) It was the blood of the lamb that was a sign to the destroying angel of judgment that stopped him killing anyone in the house. In the famous Isaiah prophecy about the Messiah we read, “he was led like a lamb to the slaughter.” (Isa 53:7) The thought of one giving their life for the sake of others was strong in the Old Covenant, pointing forward to the Coming One.

But it continues in the New Testament. Philip the evangelist clearly saw that Isaiah prophecy as apply to Jesus (see Acts 8:32-35) Paul also applied the imagery to Jesus (1 Cor 5:7), as did the apostle Peter (1 Pet 1:19) and of course John himself in his amazing vision on Patmos saw “a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the centre of the throne.” (Rev 5:6) Thirty times in the book of Revelation there are references to “The Lamb” who is clearly Jesus who came to take away the sin of the world –  but we will see more on that in the next meditation.

24. House Church

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 24. House church

Mk 1:29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew.

Such a simple verse but such profound meaning!  Think of religion in general and what religious people across the world think. So often it is the picture of a big, awesome, unreachable God who makes such demands, that adherents of the religion have to jump through hoops in performing their pious acts – which they only can hope will please their deity.

Then you come to this verse and look at what is behind it. A preacher, a rabbi goes into a home of some of his followers. Nothing remarkable about that until you realise that the Gospels declare that this rabbi is the Son of God himself, come from heaven for a temporary (33 years) time on earth. The Son of God? The second expression of the Godhead – this is God Himself walking into this house.

But there has been no preparation. If this had been a king the preparation team would have gone ahead and checked the place out to see if it was worthy of his visit. The security people would check that there were no likely risks to him in this poor dwelling with these fairly poor people. The people haven’t prepared themselves. They haven’t washed or carried out special rituals to enable them to meet this personage.

In fact, when it comes down to it, they are completely blind to his greatness and they just think of him as another man – and he’s not bothered by that. He is not upset that they are not falling on the ground worshipping him. He’s not upset that they don’t refine their language or clean up their habits to acknowledge his holiness – for he is holy, even if they do not realise it. No, he is not put out by their ignorance and their ordinary approach to him.

No, this is the One real God, supreme and almighty and he has nothing to prove. He doesn’t need people to give him glory – it’s his anyway and he is comfortable in being the King of Kings and Lord of Lords in disguise! In fact if they did recognise him they would flee from him and he wouldn’t later be taken by them and sacrificed as the Lamb of God for the sins of the world. No, he comes in simply humility and gentleness.

Lord, thank you that this is how you are!

60. Lessons in Love

Meditations in Job : 60. Lessons in Love

Job 33:14,17,18 For God does speak…… to turn man from wrongdoing and keep him from pride, to preserve his soul from the pit, his life from perishing by the sword

Now I know the word ‘love’ is not mentioned in this chapter but I would suggest that everything the Elihu says about the way God works, describes God as a God of love.  Elihu has listened (33:8) and heard Job say that he is pure and without sin (v.9) yet Job has blamed God for finding fault with him and for making him an enemy (v.10), the way He has dealt with him (v.11), and with this Elihu has a problem (v.12)

Now the truth we know from earlier in the book is exactly the opposite: God hasn’t found fault with Job, He has praised him for his righteousness and there is no way that God considers Job an enemy.  In fact, without realising it, he is God’s emissary, displaying faithfulness on behalf of God in the face of Satan’s attacks.  There has been a wrong assessment of the situation by Job.

But then comes Elihu’s second complaint: Job says he’s cried to God but the Lord hasn’t answered him. Elihu launches into a declaration that God does speak again and again, “though man may not perceive it.” (v.14b)  The Lord speaks in a variety of ways (v.14a), in dreams or visions (v.15) or directly into our ears (v.16).  The REASON God speaks is then given: to turn man from wrongdoing and keep him from pride, to preserve his soul from the pit, his life from perishing by the sword.” (v.17,18)  When God speaks He is trying to get man to turn away from those destructive attitudes and ways of behaving so that he will be saved.  If we refuse to heed his voice we may simply end up in hell, and we may even go there through a violent means brought on by our own folly.

Another way that the Lord ‘speaks’ to us is through personal suffering that brings us to the edge of death (v.19-22), yet Elihu is aware that God sends angels as personal messengers “to tell a man what is right for him” (v.23c) and also to remind the Lord that He has provided a ransom to save this man (v.24) so that this man might be saved and restored (v.25).  Now whether that ransom is reference to the sacrifices made for sin (see 1:5) or whether it is a prophetic reference to the Lamb of God, Jesus, is unclear.  Such a man will pray and be restored (v.26) and then he will go and confess to others that he had sinned but had not received what he had deserved (v.27) because God has redeemed him (v.28).

He reiterates that God does this sort of thing, “twice, even three times– to turn back his soul from the pit, that the light of life may shine on him.” (v.29,30)  Yes, God uses this sort of thing to bring people to their senses.  We see this exactly in Jesus’ parable to the Prodigal Son (Lk 15:14-17) where the bad circumstances drive the son to his senses.

Elihu concludes this chapter with a call to Job to answer up if he has got an answer.  Now the only trouble with all this is that, of course, Job doesn’t have an answer because neither he nor Elihu know what has gone on in the courts of heaven (ch.1 & 2) and they don’t know that this actually has nothing to do with Job’s sin.  Everything Elihu has said has been absolutely correct – except it doesn’t apply to Job, because he is a special case and he is going through trials for no other reason than God has chosen him to go through them – and that because he IS righteous!

So, having looked at this chapter, there are various things we need to check out in ourselves.  Elihu maintains that God does speak to us in a variety of ways.  Are we open to believe that?  Do we believe that the Lord speaks to us personally – and if so, what have we done with what He has said?

Second, are we aware that in God’s sanctifying processes, making us more like Jesus, He uses physical suffering and circumstances generally?  Can we, therefore, when things aren’t going well, be open to learn from Him?

Third, do we realise that whenever God ‘speaks’ it is to extend our experience of salvation and keep us away from things that would harm us or draw us away from Him?  Are we so aware of God’s love that we can be utterly secure in all that happens to us, secure in the knowledge that He loves us and is working to bless us?

Finally, can we learn that lesson that we have observed previously but which arises again here, that unless we have had revelation from God we should be slow in assessing people negatively (judging them).

Moses asked the Lord, “teach me your ways so I may know you.” (Ex 33:13). In this meditation new have been touching on the ‘ways’ of God, the way He works and why He works as He does. May we learn these things!

19. Ownership?

Lessons from Israel: No.19 : Ownership?

Ex 13:1,2 The LORD said to Moses, “Consecrate to me every firstborn male. The first offspring of every womb among the Israelites belongs to me, whether man or animal.”

When we come to this next chapter, there appears this particular claim by God on the lives of certain children. Let’s examine it and see why and what are the implications. This, of course, follows the last of the ten plagues whereby every firstborn male in every family across Egypt died in God’s judgment on this land. “So Moses said, “This is what the LORD says: ‘About midnight I will go throughout Egypt. Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the slave girl, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well. (Ex 11:4,5) This death toll had thus been entirely inclusive – no family escaped – except those who followed the Lord’s instructions and who killed a lamb and put its blood on the doorposts of their homes. That night of the Passover saw a dead body in every home; either a first born son or a lamb.

Now why the first born son? We aren’t told specifically so we must speculate. First the question, why not every single Egyptian? There were other times in Israel’s history when the command was going to come to slaughter every person and as one theologian has commented, the big question is not why God judges but why He doesn’t wipe us all off this planet. If we were master beings and were growing creatures in a laboratory and we saw that they started turning on each other and killing each other, we would cull them and quite happily destroy the aberrant ones, but God doesn’t seem to do that much of the time; He seems to give second chance after second chance as we’ve noted in a previous meditation. It is a sign of His mercy and His desire to bring Egypt to their senses that He only takes the first born.

But why the first born? Well, as we said, we can only speculate, but is it because all the hopes and dreams and pride of a family are wrapped up in the first born? Why males only and not firstborn girls? Perhaps it is because in that period men were clearly dominant and were seen as the name bearers of the next generation. Even today the woman usually takes the man’s surname at marriage. So in taking the first born from every family, the Lord was taking their hopes, their dreams and their pride. For the rest of their years the survivors would remember that they had been a humbled generation.

Now when we come to the Israelites they still have their first born, but it is only by the grace and mercy of God and so the Lord lays claim to their lives. Does He really want them? Probably no more than He wants the hearts of all His people, but He wants them to remember this, that they still have their hopes and dreams for the future and their pride and family name, purely by the mercy of God. The killing of a lamb was not magical and had no power in itself, but it was an act of faith by the Israelites. That was all they contributed to the salvation of their children. Their children were alive because God, in His mercy, had given them a way to avoid premature death.

Verses 3 to 10 that immediately follow refer back to the Feast of Unleavened Bread which in turn refers back to the exodus after the Passover. The consecrating of the first born comes immediately before that and immediately after it in verses 11 to 13. It is to be seen as all linked together, and then the following verses again were instructions on how to tell the future generations about it when they asked what this meant. The ‘consecrating’ or setting aside as holy to God of the first born son was a reminder or acknowledgement that their lives had been spared by the mercy of God and they owed their hopes, dreams and family name to Him. They were what they were; they were still families, because God in His mercy had made it so.

Do we, I wonder, view ourselves similarly? Do we who are Christians see that our lives belong to God because it is only the grace and mercy of God that allows us a future? All our hopes and dreams are wrapped in our salvation that has come because The Lamb of God was slain in our place. There is a very practical outworking of all this, as the apostle Paul was to see: “Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.” (Rom 6:13) We too, he was saying, have been saved from eternal death and given eternal life and so we belong to God. Later in the same book he reiterated it even more clearly: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship.” (Rom 12:1). Did you see that? “In view of God’s mercy.” That is the key!  God’s mercy means that now we have been saved we belong to Him. Is that how we see our bodies?

18. Why Shepherds

ADVENT MEDITATIONS No.18

18. Why Shepherds?

Luke 2:8,9 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

Being of a limited mind, there are a variety of things I would like to ask the Lord when I see Him. For instance, why the Shepherds? Why did an angel come to a bunch of shepherds on a hillside outside of Bethlehem?  I’ve got various ideas but the Bible doesn’t actually tell us why shepherds. You’ve probably taken them for granted in the Christmas story, most of us have. But why do they get included?

Is it that God is just so happy that He’ll send His angels to whoever happens to be around? Was it because they were the only ones awake at the time the baby was born? Was it that God saw this bunch of social outcasts – because that’s what scholars tell us they probably were – and just took pity on them and so laid on an angelic visitation? I mean, those sort of things are typical of God. Rejoicing overflows from heaven, and the Lord is concerned for the poor.

Perhaps it is an object lesson for the world, as if the Lord is saying, see here, look, my Son is available to be seen by anyone. You don’t have to be rich; you don’t have to be religious. You can even be an outcast, and he’s there for you. That would certainly be true of Him.

Perhaps it is a symbolic gesture, sending shepherds to go and check out the latest birth of a sheep, or rather of a lamb to be more precise, one who would later be referred to as the Lamb of God (Jn 1:29) who was slain in the place of sinners.

So how do those suggestions resonate with you? Do you know the God who is so full of joy that it overflows to His world (see Prov 8:30,31) or is the God you think about a miserable, vindictive old man in the sky who you do well to avoid? If He’s that latter, it’s time you readjusted your thinking about God because He’s far more like the former picture (see Isa 62:5, Lk 15:7,10). Oh yes, heaven is not a miserable place!

Do you still think you have to earn God’s love by being good or by being religious? Oh no, these shepherds challenge that, if nothing else in Scriptures didn’t – but it does! No you don’t have to earn the right to come into the presence of the Son who is now seated at his Father’s right hand in heaven reigning; you just have to acknowledge that you’re on the same level of these shepherds.

Do you still think you have to try and appease God and make up for the wrong things you do? You’ve never taken in the truth about the Lamb of God then, who died in your place to take your punishment, so all you have to do is come to the Father with gratefulness. If this story tells us nothing else, it tells us that God is the One who takes the initiative in coming to men, and He’s not put off by anyone – shepherds, you or me! God doesn’t look for good people, just receptive people – and we’ll soon see how receptive these men were!

But at the end of it, we still don’t know exactly why the shepherds, but that’s typical of God as well. He leaves some questions unanswered until we see Him face to face in eternity. Can you live with that? Have you that assurance? This is a very reassuring story, so if you’re not completely sure of your place in eternity with God, go back and reread some of the things above. They are true. The way is open for you. Rejoice with the shepherds.

Walk of Death

WALKING WITH GOD. No.7

Gen 22:6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife….. the two of them went on together

Time has passed by but we are still with Abraham. At the age of one hundred his heart-ache of the years has been removed and Sarah had a son, Isaac. God’s promise that had come again and again was being fulfilled. He had been promised that he would become a great nation and a nation starts with one. The one has arrived! Whether there will be many more children for Abraham and Sarah, or many children through Isaac or many children through Isaac’s children (which did happen) was not made clear at that point of time. All Abraham knew was that God’s word had been fulfilled and Sarah, who was past child-bearing age (i.e. past the menopause) had had a miraculous child. Yes Isaac was a miraculous provision from God. And so Abraham walked on with God until one day the Lord had a conversation with Abraham that we find at the beginning of chapter 22.

What is amazing about what followed was that Abraham must have been absolutely certain he was hearing God. It is amazing because everything about what God said seemed to go completely against all that had happened. God tells Abraham to go to the area of Moriah (present-day Jerusalem) and offer Isaac as a sacrifice. Now this was the sort of thing that other religions demanded of their adherents, but so far all Yahweh (the Lord) has done is bless Abraham.

So Abraham, apparently without dispute, saddles his donkey, loads it up with firewood and sets off with Isaac and two servants (presumably for protection). They travel for three days and when they near their destination, Abraham and Isaac leave the donkey and the two servants and walk the rest of the way.

It is on this walk that Isaac starts asking awkward questions. We have the wood for the fire but where is the lamb for the sacrifice? Isn’t that interesting! Some thousand or so years later (a long time you might think!) the Son of God came and was referred to as the ‘Lamb of God’ (Jn 1:29) and he too was sacrificed at the same place. Now it’s interesting that Abraham doesn’t say, “You’re the lamb, my son,” although that must have been in his mind. He simply says that God will provide a lamb. How prophetic that was! When the time came, and they arrived at God’s appointed place, Abraham built the altar, put the wood on it, and then tied Isaac and placed him on top. This has turned into a walk of death! He takes the knife and is about to kill Isaac when God intervenes and stops him. It had never been God’s intention to kill Isaac, He merely wanted to see Abraham’s willingness to surrender everything to God. The writer to the Hebrews said, “Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead” (Heb 11:19). That was the extent of Abraham’s belief. God who could bring life to a womb beyond child-bearing capability, God who could bring life where none existed, could also bring back life when that life had been given up. That was the extent of the belief in this amazing man.

Now that the Lamb has come, we know that we will never be asked to make such a sacrifice because that would be murder, yet we find in our walk with God we do find a call, again and again, to give over to God people or things that are dear to us. It starts with our own lives. Unless we are willing to die to our old life, we can never be born again and receive the new resurrection life that God has for us. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (Jn 12:24,25).

We can never plan beforehand what God will ask of us, or when He will ask. That’s part of the faith equation, but we do know that God asks us to give up pride, selfishness and anything the Bible calls ‘the old nature’. Those things are truly to die. Sometimes God calls us to give up our reputation or our rights of defence. Many times in the Christian walk the Lord calls us to give over to Him something that has become precious that challenges our love for Him. It won’t be someone or something that enhances our love for Him, but it will be those things that compete for His love. Surrender is at the heart of the Christian faith, a surrender of life that is followed by resurrection, so that we can say, “The Lord will provide” (Gen 22:14 )