12. Righteousness Arrives

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 12. Righteousness Arrives

Isa 32:17,18 The fruit of that righteousness will be peace; its effect will be quietness and confidence forever. My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest. 

Fruit of New Birth = Righteousness: I often think that there are things about the Christian life that, for most of the time, we take for granted and so perhaps they are things to which we don’t give much thought. For example, we have observed a number of times already in this series, that the change from our ‘old life’ to the new born-again experience is quite dramatic and the product of being born again, if we may put it like that, is righteousness. 

Two Sorts of Righteousness: Now there are those who argue about these things, but I do believe there are two levels of righteousness that we experience. The first is imputed’ righteousness which is attributed when we come in repentance and submit to the Lord for Him to take and change our lives. On the basis of our belief in the finished work of Christ on the Cross, we are declared righteous by God (see Abraham’s example – Gen 15:6 and affirmed by the apostle Paul in Romans 4). It is all about our standing now.

The second is imparted’ righteousness whereby the Lord imparts His Holy Spirit to indwell us, and as He leads us He enables us to live righteous lives. This is all about practical living.

But what is righteousness? Well apart from the two suggestions above, put most simply, it is ‘living according to God’s design, the way God has designed us to live’. Using the two definitions above we might say it is about a new attitude, knowing we are justified children of God, justified by the work of Christ on the Cross and appropriated by us when we surrendered to Christ. It is also about a new way of behaving, as we work it out in our everyday behaviour.

NT Examples: Now at one level this is very simple for it is living according to the teaching of the New Testament and so there are very obvious statements that in some ways are the equivalent to the Old Testament Law. For example in both Colossians and Ephesians there are times when Paul says “put off” or “put to death” certain things and “put on” other things. (e.g. Col 3:5-9) so you have obvious things such as putting to death, “sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed,” and “Do not lie to each other.” There are lots of these sorts of instructions in the New Testament.

If you want some of the more positive ones, a bit later there is, “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love.” (v.13-15) There are lots of these sorts of instruction throughout the New Testament and we might summarise their description as ‘living according to God’s will and God’s design’. This is what He wants for us.

A New Focus: Whereas in our old life, we just lived according to what seemed right for us, now we have specifics to obey. Indeed, the fact that we have this goal – to please God by obeying His will – is the first thing that marks us out from our non-Christian neighbours. As we purpose to obey these things, the indwelling Holy Spirit helps us and enables us. When you look at Jesus’ teaching near the end, in John’s Gospel, we find that he told us that the Holy Spirit would testify in our hearts the truth about Jesus (Jn 15:26) and about sin, righteousness and judgment (16:8-11) and will generally guide us into all truth (16:13), i.e. his primary way of working within us, to help us clarify our purposes, is by convincing or reassuring or convicting us of things that are the truth in respect of God and His desires for us.

Dead & now Alive: Whereas before we came to Christ we were ‘dead’, now God has made us ‘alive’: you were dead in your transgressions and sins …. God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions …. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” (Eph 2:1,4,6)   Previously we were spiritually dead, insensitive to God, and unaware of His presence. Now, by His Spirit He has made us alive – hence the resurrection analogy. The analogy of being lifted up to be seated with Christ, we will consider in the later Parts.

Change! The first sign of this resurrected life, therefore, is a change of direction, a change of purpose and, as I suggested at the beginning, it may be so obvious that we take little notice of it and yet it is the absolute basic foundation of our new lives. We were saved to be changed; we came to Christ because we acknowledged we needed to be different, and so we died to the old way of doing things and the Lord established a new way in us through His word and by His Spirit.

Spirit Direction: Note how we finished that last paragraph. It isn’t merely following a set of written instructions because there are times when the written instructions are inadequate for dealing with a particular conundrum that is before us. Problems arise and we really need some form of personal guidance and direction – and He is there within us, and then we find something strange: He doesn’t seem to be saying anything and so we have to go to Him and ask in prayer for help, for wisdom or revelation, to know what to do – and then we enter into a whole new world, the world of learning to listen to God. This is the world of relationship, not merely following a written list of rules; this is a world of trying to catch His heart, of hearing His quiet whisper, this is the world of the resurrected Christian who is now “alive to God”, empowered by God to, if nothing else, hear God.

Revelation brings Releasing: How rarely is this taught in church! How many there are who know so little of this relational living! How few put a premium on hearing God! Righteousness starts with us being told that we now ARE righteous in God’s sight. It continues as we turn to ‘the Law’ of the New Testament and start living according to this new paradigm, BUT the power of it is revealed in the relationship the Holy Spirit enables, which lifts being a member of the body of Christ, the Church, out of the realm of a club with a constitution, into a living, active body that receives revelation from heaven. This may be revelation about individuals, insight into situations, wisdom to know how to counter the works of the enemy and bring peace and harmony around us, freedom and liberty to individuals.

Righteousness means Peace & Security: Our starting verses from Isaiah, spoke of a righteousness that God would bring and the effect it would have “The fruit of that righteousness will be peace; its effect will be quietness and confidence forever. My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest.” What a picture is conveyed of the fruit of this righteousness working in our lives: peace, quietness, confidence, security.  The fact that so often, it seems, in Christian lives today these things appear to be absent, suggests we may not be living lives of righteousness that I have described above.  Perhaps we might need to think again.

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7. The Angst of Anxiety

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 7. The Angst of Anxiety

1 Pet 5:7  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

Trust issues: It is possible – if not probable – that you left yesterday’s study with a slight (all right, great) air of, ‘I’m not sure’ because these issues we are touching on here are things we take for normal and yet are somewhat intangible, but are still things that can exist in us and hinder our growth. They are things, therefore, that we will struggle with to put to death, to release us to go on. Now yesterday was about trusting in people or things to the exclusion of God, yes, trust issues.

From my experience over the years of observing people, I think I am addressing three different groups of people in this study; first of all there are the people of the world, then there are Christians who have still got some of the past with them, and then there are Christians who are going on but who come to new boundaries of a ‘new promised land’ to be taken by faith, and who find themselves struggling.

Angst & Anxiety: Trying to be clever with my title I have used the word ‘angst’. Angst is “a feeling of deep anxiety or dread, typically an unfocused one about the human condition or the state of the world in general” to quote a dictionary and to add their secondary meaning, “Angst is a feeling of persistent worry about something trivial.”  Anxiety, with which we are probably more familiar, simply means “worry, unease, nervousness, apprehension, disquiet, concern.” Angst, I believe, describes well what many non-Christians feel and it is so normal that they just live with it. Where it hangs over someone like a cloud, it is a means of keeping out the sun, keeping out the light and yet when it is confronted, it can be a motivating force that drives people into the arms of Jesus.

In Us? Anxiety appears often in all of us and sometimes it can act as an alarm to tell us there is something we need to be doing.  Perhaps it is because it is so common that the apostle Paul wrote, Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6,7) From this we might suggest that peace is the opposite to anxiety and in this particular context it comes from the knowledge that you have put everything in God’s hands through prayer, and then as He shares a sense of His presence with you, that comes in the form of peace. Focusing on Him is a primary way of dealing with anxiety because the more we do that, the more we come to realise that He is all-knowing and all-powerful – and for us! Isaiah declared, “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.” (Isa 26:3)

The Unbeliever’s Norm: The non-Christian struggles with angst because they are living in an uncertain and, at times, very fearful world and the enemy uses this truth to bear down on them with a dread that people struggle to cover up in a variety of ways.

The Christian who has entered the kingdom but never yet learnt to totally trust the Lord and constantly put every care into His hands, will continually be blighted and limited by ongoing anxiety, until they learn to draw near and, as Peter says in our starting verse, cast their cares on Him in the knowledge that He loves them and is there for them.

Faith Experiences: But then we come to the bigger issue of faith, which affects all Christians, because everything to do with God is an act of faith. Imagine you were sitting in the boat with the rest of the disciples, in the middle of a gale when Jesus comes walking across the water (Mt 14:25-) and some bright, full-of faith character in the boat, stands up, talks to the Lord and steps out and walks on the water. Let’s be honest. Most of us will be thinking, “I’m glad that was him and not me!” and deep down we may have this growing niggle that perhaps Jesus will ask me to do that – and we know it is humanly impossible. In the third study of this series I imagined a conversation between Levi and Jesus when Jesus called him to “Follow me.”  When it comes to us, it becomes upfront and personal and we wonder, “Can I do this? How can I do that?” but we don’t just ‘wonder’ we worry.

Abram’s Example: Getting to grips with the ‘faith worry’ is at the heart of our lives with Christ which will either help us to grow or hinder our growth. I have often pondered about God’s call to Abram. How easily do we read the words: “The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you.” Gen 12:1.2) Imagine Abram sharing this with Sarai: “I’ve been hearing this voice… well not exactly a voice, more like someone in my head talking to me…. It’s a who, it’s someone….. It feels like a big voice…. it  … he… the voice … seemed to be saying we’ve got to leave here and go and live somewhere else….I don’t know where, we’ll know when we get there….a great nation from a barren wife …. I don’t know …. He said he would bless me and make my name great….I assume he’s going to enable you and me to have children….. ‘great name’? ….. I don’t know. …all people on the earth would be blessed through me? I don’t know.”

Faith involves Trust: Did you notice the most common words? “I don’t know.”  Faith = “I don’t know but I’ll do it.”   And that, has to be at the heart of our Faith. It’s about trusting God for no other reason than you trust God. It feels right. For us we have the whole book which encourages and builds us, but when it comes down to the individual act of faith, it still comes down to, “I will do this, simply because I trust God.”  Before I became a Christian I trusted me – but that didn’t work out too well so, to go along with Peter, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (Jn 6:68)

Full of angst? Turn to Jesus. Full of anxiety? Turn to Jesus. Worried about the next step?  Turn to Jesus. He’s your answer – every time.

30. Expectations of Peace

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 30. Expectations of Peace

Matt 12:18,21   “Here is my servant whom I have chosen….. In his name the nations will put their hope.”

Hope of Justice: Jesus has been healing the sick and so Matthew adds a prophetic quote suggesting that all that had been happening was a fulfilment of God’s word through Isaiah and he quotes Isa 42:1-4, referring to the ‘servant’ of the Lord whom He loves and who will come to “the nations” (v.18) and who will bring justice, so that people from every people grouping around the world will put their hope in him.

Now that is an interesting phrase, and a very significant one for this series of studies: they will “put their hope in him”. When we hope for something we are talking about future expectations, we are talking about something we anticipate will happen in the future, in the days ahead. So why is this so significant?

A World at War: Stop and consider the state of the world. Back in study 22 I spoke about human history and how one historian has spoken of the history of the world is the history of wars, or of human upheavals. This is the truth of human mankind, as much as humanists and atheists would like to pretend otherwise as they speak about how we have been developing. The sad truth is that in the world in which we live TODAY, there are still wars, still national struggles, still religiously motivated struggles, still fears of nuclear warfare, still as many slaves as there ever have been. In my history reading recently I read how historians rationalize our state by saying that proportionally, in the light of the growth of the world population, the numbers killed in the last century were proportionally less than in previous centuries when the world population was smaller. But that is just playing with figures for last century it is probable that as many as a hundred million people died violently, either in war or at the hands of dictators. That is a lot of people however you rationalize it.

Realism leads to Yearning: So why am I being so negative? Well, if it is negative, it is simply being realistic, and it explains something we have just read from Isaiah – people want justice and they will find it in Jesus. What does that mean? Justice means an end to wars and to wrong doing, justice means the world working as it should with peace and harmony prevailing. In the face of this fallen world that is plagued by wars at national and international level, and upsets and divisions and separations at individual levels, we all of us have a deep inner yearning for peace and harmony, of justice, of fairness to prevail, of an absence of anguish. This is why Isaiah’s prophetic word is so wonderful, about the child who would usher in peace and harmony, seen in those amazing pictures of animals living in harmony again (Isa 11:6-9). This is the yearning people have, even if they are unable to verbalize it.

Misunderstandings: Sometimes we tend to only think of these prophetic pictures as being fulfilled in the time post Jesus second coming, but the truth is that the Servant, Jesus, comes to bring peace in us, peace between us and God, and peace between us, between each other, here and now. I recently finished reading a modern novel by a well-known atheistic writer – good writing, poor philosophy and theology – where the writer had someone declaring, “Religion cannot claim morality as its own… I am a good person because I am a good person. God has nothing to do with it,” and I couldn’t help but think, utter deception! As Jesus said, “Who is good but God alone?” A little later he had a minister declaring, “Religious communities cooperate better than non-religious communities and therefore flourish more readily.  That is a scientific fact” and the ‘hero’ begrudgingly acknowledged that: “The minister was correct… anthropological data showed that cultures practicing religions historically had outlived non-religious” as he added, “Fear of being judged by an omniscient deity always helps inspire benevolent behaviour,” and there, as with so many atheists, he revealed his ignorance and misunderstanding.

Motivated by Love: You see, although there are ‘religious’ communities and other world religions who do fearfully serve a scary God, the wonder of the Gospel is that Jesus came and revealed a loving, heavenly Father who is for us, and the lives we live are lives of love not fear. You and I don’t live ‘good’ lives and harmonious lives because we are forced to, but because we can! Because He has accepted us and adopted us into His family and because He has given us His Holy Spirit, the whole of our life is enveloped in His love and it is His love that motivates us, here and now.

Sin Undermines Peace: It is only when Christians fall away, backslide, call it what you will – cease to believe in and live the life revealed in the Gospels and the letters of the New Testament – when they stop being ‘Christians’ when they fall off the rails, fall into adultery, fall into sin in a variety of ways, that they lose this life of peace and harmony. This is a hard word I know, but when you fall purposefully into those things you are no longer covered by the work of Christ on the Cross – you have abandoned it, because he came to deliver us from that sort of behaviour and deliver us from the power of Sin. Yes, there is a way back to forgiveness through repentance, but while you consciously live in Sin, knowing it to be contrary to Jesus’ will, we are in the place where the atheist can mock us for living in unreality.

Jesus, bringer of Peace: Reality is the wonder of living in the will of God. Yes, less than perfect this side of heaven because we do sometimes stumble, but that is different from purposefully turning your back on Christ and doing things the Bible expressly forbids. Jesus has come to set us free from unrighteousness that causes stress and anxiety; he has come to give us a life of peace and harmony as we receive his forgiveness and his power and his identity.

This is the hope, the sure expectancy, that you and I read about in Matthew and Isaiah, that Jesus has come to bring us, a hope of justice and fairness and love and peace that is far more than just head knowledge, but is the very air we breathe as his children. It is what we are, what we know, what we experience, and it is a gift of God, not something to be strived for. The more we live it and share it, the more it will spread. That is Jesus’ desire for us. Let’s not disappoint him.

5. A Bringer of Peace

Nine Lessons of Christmas Meditations: 5. A Bringer of Peace

Reading 4: Isaiah 11: 1–3a, 4a, 6–9

Isa 11:6     The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling[a] together; and a little child will lead them

Context: The Lesson header reads, “A peace that Christ will bring is foreshown” which is a good summary of the second half of these verses, but they must be seen in the context of the first four verses. So remember what has gone before in the first three readings – the Fallen world with a problem, a problem that God has in mind from the start. And then there was a person who would ‘fight’ Satan and his works and overcome, a person in the family tree of Abraham, a person who will become a ruler over a kingdom without end, a ruler called God. We must not forget this context, part of “the development of the loving purposes of God” being rolled out in these none readings.

The Reading: We should note in the reading that it leaves out v.3b  ‘how’ this man works – not by human intellect – and also v.4b the judgment aspect of his work. We assume this is because those who set up these verses wanted to emphasise the key element in the light of all that had gone before, the light that this one will bring that was referred to before, will result in him bringing peace to the tumultuous earth.

The Man – his nature: This fourth reading starts, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” (v.1) Jesse was the father of David and his family referred to as a tree stump, will bring forth a branch. Then comes the nature of this one referred to as a Branch: “The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord— and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.” (v.2,3a) Perhaps we may summarise this as ‘this person will be filled with the Spirit of the Lord in every way, with a heart that is all out for God’.

The Man – his activity: So much for his nature, what about his activity? “with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.” (v.4a) This person is going to be concerned for the needy and the poor and all his actions will be right in God’s sight (righteous) and justice (what is right and fair) will be the basis on which he makes decisions. Now this passage does not speak about him being a ruler but the fact that he will come doing these things implies he is a ruler bringing his will upon the earth, his will which is to care for the poor and needy who are suffering because it is a fallen world. Isn’t that why people are poor and needy? Because it is a fallen world whereby individuals make a mess of their own lives or other people oppress their lives or, at the very least, do not help when they see needs.

The Man – his fruit: Now verse 1 concluded with “a Branch will bear fruit”. The fruit of this work of ministering to the poor and bringing justice is shown in the following very graphic description: “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.” (v.6-8) In the previous prophecies in Isaiah, there has been mention of a child and that continues twice here. Whether this is figurative or will literally come about with the advent of a new heaven and a new earth (Rev 21:1) only time will tell. If it is figurative it is still a beautiful picture of peace and harmony as we might imagine it was when God first created the earth. It is all summed up in the final verse of the reading, “They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (v.9) It is a place of peace and security, filled with the presence of God.

The Lessons: Again we must remind ourselves, the object of these studies is to ask what these readings teach us. If we fail to do this, we leave these ‘Lessons’ as romanticised words jammed in between a lot of carols, the packing to build up this beautiful composition – but it will be no more than that!

Something More: The first thing these verses tell us is that on God’s heart, God’s plan if you like, there is a strategy that is working towards an end goal. What we experience at the moment is not it; it is merely the vehicle that carries us towards the end goal. In the big picture there are three stages: Creation – which was perfect, the Fall – which we experience now and is far from perfect because of our sin, and the Restoration of all things, the new heaven and new earth which will be made perfect again.

Brought by a Man: The second thing these verses tell us is that God was going to use a man to bring change to the life on earth, that will eventually culminate in the winding up of the present and bringing in of the new. Linked to that, or flowing on from that, is the teaching that we have picked up before, that God will now use you and me, individuals within His plan, that He is working out towards that end goal. It is an amazing truth that, although on occasion God does intervene in the affairs of mankind sovereignly, much of the time He prefers to involve us.

The classic case of this has to be Moses, where the Lord says He had seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land”, which all sounded wonderful until He said, “So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” (Ex 3:7-10) He uses US as part of the answer to the problem.

Historic Context: We might also add a third thing here, that it is clear than the Messiah was not only merely a human being (Gen 3), not merely a member of Abraham’s family (Gen 22) but also a member of Jesse’s family tree, through David. There is a strong family tree context here which says to us, that today you and I live in a stream of history. The world around us is like it is because of history, what has already happened (which, I suggest, behooves us to learn about it, how we got to this point!) and in a large measure we are like we are because of a) our family genes and b) our upbringing and experiences. Having said that we have a free will and these things do not MAKE us behave like we do, they only prod us in that direction, but we can choose with the grace and power of God to be different.  Serious lessons!

Goal determining Process: A fourth lesson: we are living out a life-process but we’ve just been shown God’s end goal – peace on earth – and so while living in the process, although we’re not at the end, nevertheless, working for peace should be within our present goals (Mt 5:9), bringing peace within our families, peace in our colleges, peace in our workplace, peace wherever we are, and that will require a lot of prayer, grace and wisdom, but all those are available with His help. He wants it, so let’s work for it.

12. Aspiring to Know Peace

Aspiring Meditations: 12.  Aspiring to know Peace

Num 6:25,26    the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.

Gal 5:22   the fruit of the Spirit is …. peace,

Jn 14:27  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

2 Thess 3:16  Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.

Because virtually all of the apostle Paul’s letters start somewhere in the first few verses with the desire for ‘grace and peace’ for his readers, peace, like grace, is probably fairly high on our awareness of Bible words and yet, I would suggest, it is something that is so often absent from the lives of modern Christians. It is after all, a very uncertain world that we live in during these years in the middle of the second decade of the twenty first century and, it seems, it gets more uncertain as every month passes.

So what is peace? Peace, I find in a Bible Dictionary is an undisturbed state of mind; the absence of mental conflict; serenity, or it is freedom from conflict, argument or disagreement. So when the apostle Paul spoke about it as he did at the beginning of his letters he was recognising that we needed God’s grace as His resources to help us through each day, and we needed this ‘undisturbed state of mind’, especially in the light of the difficult things that confront us.

For the Christians of his century it was the fear of persecution that stood out. For us today, for most of us in the West at least, persecution is not the main issue, but the issue of global security. Threats of global violence are just below the surface and that is worrying and worry and anxiety are the main enemies of peace.

The Aaronic blessing, of Numbers  6 above, recognized that peace was a blessing that came with the presence of the Lord. Gal 5:22 declares it comes from the Holy Spirit. Jesus declared peace over his disciples, especially in the light of the impending chaos that was about to break out with his arrest and death. Yet within hours peace fled from most of them as they forgot his words. Paul in his second letter to the Thessalonians prayed for peace for his readers but note the words that immediately followed that: The Lord be with all of you  It was yet another reminder that peace comes with the presence of the Lord.

So when all is upheaval around us, how do we get peace? Paul wrote, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6,7) As we pray it is like the presence of God draws near and with it His peace.

Nothing may have changed in terms of the world around us, in fact it probably won’t, but that is not the point. The point is that the presence of the Lord is there. This is the God who is sovereign Lord of the Universe. Where He is, there IS peace because He is supreme, He is all powerful, all knowing, all wise. Nothing is outside His control and because the world cannot be a threat to Him, He is at total peace.  Imagine His peace as a gentle musical hum. The nearer to get to Him the more aware of it you are. Close to Him you are surrounded by it. That is what it is like with His peace.

David wrote, “The LORD is the stronghold of my life– of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psa 27:1) David knew about strongholds. The ‘stronghold’ he knew was a high place he knew in the mountains, hidden away from Saul’s armies, and there he was secure. Because of his relationship with the Lord, he saw the Lord as just such a stronghold. Listen to the ‘song of ascents’ known as Psalm 121: “I lift up my eyes to the hills– where does my help come from? 2My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.   3He will not let your foot slip– he who watches over you will not slumber; 4indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.   5The LORD watches over you– the LORD is your shade at your right hand; 6the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.   7The LORD will keep you from all harm– he will watch over your life; 8the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”  When our children, when they were young, suffered nightmares, we taught them this psalm. As one of our granddaughters today, hearing all about the terrorist attacks round the world and all the other fearful things children share with each other in the playground, we advised our son to teach her the same. Look at the promises there are in those verses. Learn them yourself, declare the truth of them in prayer. Commit your many anxieties to Him in prayer and let His peace overshadow you.

Is peace something I must aspire to knowing and having? Oh yes, definitely! The world is too unstable, society is in too much of an upheaval. Without the presence of the Lord, without His peace, we will be nervous wrecks like the people around us. The numbers of people visiting therapists and the numbers of people taking medication for their anxieties is phenomenal today. If you are one such person, a course on ‘Mindfulness‘ is not what you need, it is simply time in the Lord’s presence. I despair almost at the numbers of people who are resorting to the former because their faith is so weak that they will not do the latter. We’re living in perilous times so ‘mindfulness’ will not do it. “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near.” (Isa 55:6) “may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you;” (Psa 40:16) “those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.” (Psa 34:10) Amen!

68. God who Equips

Meditations in Hebrews 10:  68.  God who Equips

Heb 13:20,21   May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.  

So Jesus, the great Shepherd has come to earth and drawn us to himself and sometimes some of us just focus on our conversion as if that was all there is, but of course the truth is that our conversion, our being ‘born again’, was merely the start of a life with Christ. We may have before us, years and years of living out the Christian life.

God’s Initial Purpose for us: Now because God has given us free will, I believe a lot of the things to come are things we choose but behind whatever we plan and want, the Lord is working in and through us to bring about His plans and purposes. These are spoken about by Paul to the church at Ephesus in general terms: For 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) Add to that his words to the church at Corinth: “we… are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit,” (2 Cor 3:18) and we can see that God’s initial purpose in us is to change us to be more Christ-like which, I would suggests means both in character and in service. Add to this another important truth, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it,” (1 Cor 12:27) and the teaching that goes with it in that chapter, and we see that God gifts us in particular ways that harmonise with the gifts of other believers, so that together collectively we express the life and ministry of Christ which, in itself, was to fulfil the will of the Father.

God’s Primary Resource: So there is our target to become like Christ and do his works as he leads; that is the will of the Father. So how does He quip us to go about this, for this is what our verses above are all about? I think different Christians would put this order in different ways, but I am convinced that THE primary resource that He gives us, is Himself, His own Holy Spirit. The New Testament is quite clear that when we are born again we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit who remains in us for the rest of our existence. Jesus taught that the Holy Spirit would teach us and guide us and empower us. I have often said that I believe every practical expression of God’s grace is in fact an expression of the indwelling Holy Spirit. He is, without doubt our first resource.

God’s Second Resource: But then coming a very close second is God’s revealed word, the Bible. Those most famous of Paul’s words speak of this: All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16,17) As we take and allow the Holy Spirit to apply God’s word to us, we are changed and that change makes us morel like Jesus in character and service as we said above.

Put on equipment: But how does this work? Well, the apostle Paul explained it in his graphic ‘warfare passage in Eph 6: “Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Eph 6:11-17)

There are certain aspects of the Christian life that we have to ‘put on’ (v.11) just like a soldier puts on armour.  We have to realise that all these things we are talking about, whether it be in respect of equipping or to do with armour, are all in the spiritual realm (v.12) so we are not talking about material or physical things here, we are talking about expression of the life of the Spirit in and through us. These things that we have to ‘put on’ are things that will equip us and enable us to stand in the face of the attacks of the enemy. (13). The things we are to ‘put on’ or apply to our lives to equip us are truth and righteousness (v.14), ready with the Gospel of peace (v.15), faith (v.16), the fact of our salvation and God’s word itself. (v.17). In Paul’s analogy truth and righteousness protect the upper body, covering the heart. The fact that the soldier’s feet are covered with the readiness to bring the Gospel of peace says that we are constantly ready to be God’s ambassadors, peace bringers, and as such we will come with the authority of God. Both faith and the facts of our salvation  equip us to ward off the lies of the enemy and then, as the Holy Spirit directs us, we can wield His word to defeat the enemy, release captives and generally do the will of God.

Jesus’ Mission: Let us again put God’s will in context as we consider Isaiah’s words that Jesus read out declaring to be his mission: 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 favour.” (Lk 4:18,19) THAT is why we need to be equipped by God, for this is His will for us to bring to the earth. That is why we pray with the writer, May the God of peace,… equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” As we receive His equipping, so we will glorify Him. Indeed, may it be so!  PS. Just note in that His equipping it will be with “everything good”. The God of peace, the God of goodness, equips us with all good things to bless us and make us a blessing. Yes? Yes!

67. The God of Peace

Meditations in Hebrews 13:  67.  The God of Peace

Heb 13:20,21   May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

There are some things that are so fundamental to our faith that I believe we often forget them and the whole issue of peace and God being a God of peace, being one of them. Now we will look at these two verses in more depth in the next study where we will consider ‘God who equips’, but for the moment we will simply focus on ‘the God of peace’ because it is so simple, so obvious and yet so fundamental to our Faith.

The God of Peace: Sometimes it comes to us so simply in scripture, for example, The God of peace be with you all.” (Rom 15:33) It was also there is the message to the shepherds by the angels heralding the coming of baby Jesus: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (Lk 2:14) i.e. God’s desire for all mankind is peace for everyone and Jesus is His way of bringing peace to everyone.  The apostle Peter brought this same message to the first Gentile converts: “You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.” (Acts 10:36)

Lacking Peace in the world: But this all supposes that peace is lacking from mankind – and of course it is! Now the Hebrew word that is used for peace is ‘shalom’ which does mean peace but it is bigger than that and really means ‘wholeness’, or ‘completeness’. We are made to have a relationship with God but where that is missing, we are incomplete and we lack peace. It is simply how mankind is designed. Of course it is sin that separates us from God and keeps us from being whole. It is only the teaching of the New Testament that reveals this in the world. Nowhere else is there this realization. Various other world religions recognize that there is dysfunction in us but no other declares that it is because of our Sin and that God has provided an answer through His Son.

Jesus makes peace: The apostle Paul spoke of this: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Col 1:19) God is the maker of peace by reconciliation. He reconciled us to Himself by Jesus taking our punishment for our sins, and satisfying justice.

Zechariah declared it: This message was delivered right at the beginning of the Gospel story when Zechariah was filled with the Spirit and prophesied over his son, John, later to be known as ‘the Baptist’, when he declared, “And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” (Lk 1:76-79)

What an amazing word! John would go before his Lord to prepare the people to receive the salvation that God had planned for them, a real salvation that provided for forgiveness of their sins so that no longer need they feel guilty and apart from God. Previously it had been as if they were living in darkness, a place of fear and questions and doubts, but once this salvation came it would be like they were living in a new world, in the light where everything was visible, seen by God but no longer fearful of His judgment, death coming on them, because He had provided a salvation that included being a peace between them and Him.

Palm Sunday: One fascinating place where peace is referred to is when the crowds welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem at the beginning of his last week (Palm Sunday) before Passover (our Easter):“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Lk 19:38) The crowds welcomed Jesus as their Messiah, the conquering king who had come to save them (from the Romans they thought). Their cries signified that they recognized, for a moment at least, that Jesus had been sent by heaven to bring God’s blessing to them which meant ‘peace in heaven’. Now they may not have realized what they were saying but that was exactly what he had come to do by taking the punishment for all sin and thus bringing peace in heaven, peace in God’s heart as He could receive sinful men to Himself.

The effect of Justification: The apostle Paul spoke of this work or process of putting us right with the demands of the Law and of justice as ‘justification’ which some have paraphrased as “just-as-if-I’d” never sinned; that is the effect of the work of Jesus on the Cross, and the end outworking of that work is peace for us: “since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rom 5:1)

The outworking of Sanctification: But it isn’t just about what happens when God puts us right with Himself through Christ and we first receive it, it is also about how God views us throughout our following lives and what He intends for us, His changing us, which theologians call ‘sanctification’: “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through,” (1 Thess5:23) and His overall intent for us: “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way.” (2 Thes 3:16) In every aspect of our lives, God intends that we should be at peace.

From before the world: Now our writer is going on to say what is an outworking of this peace – that God equips us to live as He wants – but in so doing he summarizes all that we have been saying in a power packed verse that we saw at the beginning: “May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep….” (v.20) Note, first, He has done what He has done because as we have noted earlier in this series, the plan of salvation was decided upon by the Trinity before time-space history came into being, i.e. it was an ‘eternal covenant’  set up right back then.  Note, second, this covenant involved Jesus’ blood being shed, his life being given up, again agreed before the foundation of the world. Note, third, once he had given his life it opened the way for the Father to step in and raise up the body from the dead because it had achieved what it was sent to achieve. Note, fourth, Jesus had been sent to do what he did, and that included to act as a shepherd to collect and return to the Father, all who would hear his voice and return to him and follow him (“When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.” Jn 10:4)

Conclusion: God wants your life to be founded on peace. Peace is to be the bedrock of your life. Know it, live in it and rejoice.