21. In the last days

Meditations in Acts : 21 :  In the Last Days

Acts 2:16,17    this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: “`In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.

Again I work on the basis of what I know is true for me and true for many of us who read the Bible regularly – that familiarity has robbed me of so much of the truth that is here. It is so easy to bundle up these words or Joel’s prophecy and skim by them saying, they just describe what God is now doing, and leave it at that. This is the benefit of meditation; we can slow up, pause and reflect on the words before us.

Peter is first saying to us that we are in “the last days”. Don’t confuse that with “the end times”. The “end times”, I would suggest, refers to the closing time of earth’s existence before Jesus winds it up. The “last days” refers to the period of Church history between Jesus’ first coming and his second coming. The word ‘last’ adds a slight note of urgency to it. It is a period of last chance, the Gospel has been made very clear and if you don’t take advantage of it you have thrown away any hope. If you look up uses of the phrase “last days” in the New Testament, it is clear that it is referring to the period of the life of the church, and not the closing times of history.

So, says the prophecy, in this period of time God will pour out His Holy Spirit on all people. Now do those last two words mean upon every human being on earth, or is there something else? It is fairly obvious that it cannot mean upon every human being for God will not impose Himself on unbelievers and it is also clear on the day of Pentecost that the Spirit did not fall on every person in Jerusalem, only the believers. So “all people” must surely mean from every people group in the earth; there is no people group that is excluded from God’s love and from God’s blessing. The only condition is that they hear the Gospel and believe it.

What then follows is the outworking or expression of this outpouring of the Spirit. There is an interesting threefold description of what happens which I think we normally miss. There are three clear groups of people. First there are young men and women, then there are young men only, and then there are old men only. Now please bear in mind that this is Peter preaching the first sermon under the anointing of the Holy Spirit and he reiterates words originally spoken by Joel, and although the order is different in the quote here, the content is the same. Let’s consider what these three groups do and ponder on why they are the groups they are.

The first group are young men AND women who will prophesy. It is interesting to note from the outset that the fruit of the coming of the Spirit will be revelation. All three expressions here are about revelation from heaven. So this first group will prophesy. Paul was later to say, everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.” (1 Cor 14:3). That is the role of Church history prophecy – to build up the church by strengthening, encouraging and comforting the church – and any Christian, including young ones (!) can do that. Remember sons and daughters implies youth! Do we teach our young people to have this freedom in the Lord, to be open to hear Him and use what they hear to build up and strengthen one another and the church generally? Does this imply that no one else can prophesy? No, it simply puts an emphasis where it had not been before. Previously it had been the elders who did all the encouraging and strengthening. Now the Lord says everyone can do it whose heart is open to Him to inspire them.

Next young men will see visions. Why not young women? Well, whether we like it or not, and despite modern norms, the Bible clearly indicates that God holds men responsible for leading the church and obtaining vision. Visions are all about the future. Visions share God’s heart for the future and young men burst to achieve stuff in the future. Thus when the Holy Spirit comes, the Lord looks for submitted children, young Christians who will catch His heart, who will be open to receive fresh visions (to be tested, I suggest, by their elders).

But then old men dream dreams by the Spirit. This is still in the realm of revelation. Someone has said that dreams are built on the past, dreams tend to be less dramatic than visions, dreams are accepted by the wise and experienced in the faith. Younger men might question a dream and their young faith perhaps needs the drama of a vision coming to convince them. Old men wake up with a dream still clear in their mind and say, “God has spoken” (when He has, and it wasn’t just eating cheese last night). Their mature faith accepts such thing that much more readily.

Well here are just some reasons that I suggest are reasons why different people groups will receive revelation when the Spirit comes. When God turns up, we may expect revelation because He is a God who communicates. Have we got that truth well and truly under our belts?

But now, as we have concluded each of these last meditations, consider the preaching of this first sermon and what it says to us. If we didn’t make it clear enough in the previous meditation, let’s do it here: this preaching took the revealed word of God and applied it into the present situation. We see the present situation and are moved by God to speak. As He inspires us we consider His word and let Him shine His Holy Spirit on it, and then by His enabling we declare what it there are bring the two together to make sense of life today. That is New Testament preaching.

3. A Sense of Alone

Motivation Meditations in Acts : 3 :  A Sense of Alone

Acts  1:9   After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

How we take for granted what we read in the Bible! This has got to be one of the most amazing things recorded in the New Testament. There were the disciples, one minute standing with Jesus and the next moment, they are alone – apart from two angels who question them. Well we won’t say much more about this episode here for you can see it in the general series on Acts. The point we make here is that suddenly this most charismatic of figures who had been the centre of their lives for three years was now gone. Yes, that had happened once already at the crucifixion but now it has happened again in a completely different way. He has just gone up and departed from sight. At least before they had a body; now they have nothing but memories. Yet the two angels declare that he will return again one day, although they do not specify when.

Now I want to link this in with some teaching that Jesus gave which we find in Luke 18.  In Luke 17 we find Jesus speaking about the Last Days and again he indicates there will be an uncertainty about the ‘when’ and the ‘how’ even though he does give us many indications or signs to watch for. And then at the beginning of chapter 18 we find, Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” (Lk 18:1)  Of course people often take this out of context but when we see the context, we see that Jesus is saying, however long you have to wait for my return, remain faithful to what I’ve taught you and seek my Father in prayer and if you want things changed, keep on praying, and he does this via this parable about a widow. What is interesting is that at the end of that parable we find, “However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:8)

Again, when you see this in context, you will see its significance. Jesus has spoken about the uncertain Last Days and he has taught about the need to remain faithful in your relationship with the Lord and keep on bringing your needs to Him in prayer and when he gets to it, we can now see that what he is saying is, regardless of the days, regardless of whether you get your prayers answered, regardless of how difficult it is (this we imply in the light of the general teaching of the difficulty of those days), remain true, remain faithful to God.

Now this lays down a foundational principle for us that has wide application. Basically it says, whatever is happening – however difficult the days, however trying the circumstances, however aggravating people appear to be, and however silent God appears to remain – remain true and faithful.

Remember this is a series about motivations, about how we see people react in Scripture and what Scripture teaches us about people’s motivations. What this now tells us, and it should be born in mind throughout the series, is that if everything is taken away from us (Jesus has just left the disciples), if we suddenly find ourselves bereft by loss of loved ones or by peace being removed and us being left with upsetting circumstances, and if there seems nothing to indicate guidance and direction, even if all these things are true, we are still called to remain faithful to the Lord.

Put it another way. If everyone in our family is an unbeliever, or if everyone around us seems to desert the Lord – for Jesus did say in such times the love of most (for Him) will grow cold – even if that is true, we must still remain true. If I am the only Christian in my street, or my class or in my place of work, I am still called to remain true to Him, I am still called to be filled with His love and goodness, and still called to be filled with truth and honesty and integrity. If everyone around me is abandoning moral integrity, I will not steal, I will not commit adultery and I will not covet what belongs to others, and I will still worship the Lord!   When all restraints are removed in society and everyone else abandons church and worshipping the Lord on a Sunday, I will remain true. When everyone else becomes jaundiced and jaded and cynical, I will remain thankful and joyful and true to God.

Do you see this? We don’t really need to worry about motivations, we just have to determine to remain true whatever happens, because Jesus is watching and Jesus looks to see who will be faithful when he comes back. In a day of declining faith in the materialistic West of the twenty-first century, remember that faith isn’t declining everywhere. We may feel like Elijah and moan to the Lord that we are the only one left (see 1Kings 19:14) but the truth is, like then, that there are many others who remain faithful and true.

Joshua found himself in a time of compromise and had to declare to the people, But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” (Josh 24;15) i.e. you serve your idols if you will in your folly, but me and my family will remain true to the Lord. Stamp that last sentence on your heart.

Those words bring to mind the words of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Dan 3:16-18) That is commitment! Whatever you do to us, we will remain true to the Lord and put our future entirely in His hands. Hallelujah! May that be our response also!

27. No Judgement?

Meditations in 2 Peter : 27:  No Judgment?

2 Pet  3:3,4  First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this `coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.”

Have you ever noticed that you can have complete confidence in a whole range of Scriptural truths, but when there is one thing you don’t understand, it nags at you and can spread doubt over everything. Peter has been reiterating the truths about prophecy and Jesus Christ as foundation stones for belief but he is aware that there is a vulnerable area of belief that will allow people to question and subsequently doubt, and that is to do with Jesus’ second coming.

To the unknowing, Peter’s phrase ‘the last days’ might be thought to refer to the days just before Jesus returns again, but actually on the day of Pentecost, inspired by the Spirit, Peter referred to Old Testament prophecy (Joel 2:28-32) which declared, “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people,” (Acts 2:17) and clearly meant that it was then being fulfilled. The ‘last days’ are indeed those before Jesus returns but that may be a very long time. References to “the end times”, indeed, does refer to those days immediately before he comes.

The trouble with the return of Jesus is that we don’t know when it will be. When the disciples asked about when he would return and set up his kingdom on earth he replied, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.” (Acts 1:7). We know how he will return because the disciples were told by two angels as they watched Jesus ascend, “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11) but we still don’t know and won’t know until it happens.  Jesus himself warned against imposters: “At that time if anyone says to you, `Look, here is the Christ!’ or, `There he is!’ do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect–if that were possible.” (Mt 24:23,24)

Now all that we have said is very important and it becomes an issue of faith. We are told that Jesus WILL return but not when he will return and so every generation has wondered, “Will he come in my time?”  When I was a young Christian I remember preachers saying he would be coming soon but forty years later he hasn’t come. The best I can say today is that when I look at the prophetic things spoken of as happening in the end times in the book of Revelation, I can see that they are now easily possible – we do have the means to destroy a third or a quarter of the earth’s population and we do have the means to pollute vast areas of the earth’s oceans. The means are there, but whether it will be in my lifetime or in another two thousand years, only the Lord knows.

At the end of a parable Jesus laid down a simple principle for us: “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:8)  That is the crucial issue, not when the Lord will come but what he will find us doing when he comes. We may have to wait and wait but the crucial thing is that we remain faithful throughout however long a period that will turn out to be. That applies over everything we have to wait for, whether it be for the Lord’s return, for healing or for the righting of injustice, will we remain faithful and true however long we have to wait?

Now that waiting will be made hard because of the scoffers around us who say, “He won’t return,” or “He won’t heal,” or “He is powerless to deal with evil.” No, if He’s said it, He will do it. As we said earlier, this thus becomes an issue of faith. Will I believe God or will I believe the scoffers and doubters stirred on by the enemy? And even more, when it comes to a question of waiting for something will I not let that waiting cast doubts on the enormous field of sure beliefs that we do have – the beliefs that were stated in the Old Testament through the prophets, the beliefs that were brought into being when Jesus came, and which have now been passed on by the apostles who witnessed it all. Hold firm!