69. Outright Declaration

Short Meditations in John 6:  69. Outright declaration

Jn 6:69  We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Peter has just said that Jesus has the words of eternal life, and we considered that briefly, but why could he say that? Because of what he says now, that they now understand that Jesus is “the Holy One of God”. Now that is an interesting description and I suggest that it does not mean “You are the Son of God” as we would now say. Yes, he does say at one point, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” (Mt 16:16) and John identifies him thus in his Gospel – written a lot later to remedy the earlier omissions (see Jn 1:49, also 3:18, 5:25, 10:36, 19:7, 20:31) but mostly the apostles seem reticent to call Jesus the Son of God until a lot later on (e.g. Acts 9:20, Rom 1:4,9, 5:10, 8:3,29 etc.) For now, Peter gives Jesus that more general title, “the Holy One of God,” meaning in their terms, the Messiah, but that is sufficient; Jesus is the miracle worker, the healer, the deliverer, the amazing teacher from God, the anointed one from God and that is sufficient for Peter to be able to say, “Lord, we’re with you!”

Again, note he speaks for the others: We have come to believe….” and no one chips in, “Hold on Pete, that’s going a bit far.”  No, these committed hard-core followers are in agreement: they’ve seen it all, heard it all, and they are convinced.

Note also the process: “We have come to believe.” That’s honest. When they were first called, there was something about Jesus that made them follow, but as the days passed and they saw and heard it all, they were utterly convinced. Yes, there was going to come a time when they were all in total confusion and fear when he was crucified, but for the moment, they are sold on him, and it has grown and grown as the have followed him. The depth of belief that I have today is much, much deeper than I had over fifty years ago when I first came to Christ. Why? I have read, I have listened, I have watched, and I am convinced. We start from a basic belief, but he will build on that.

But I am also intrigued by the middle of the verse: “We have come to believe and to know that…”  It’s those two sets of words; there is a significant difference between ‘’believing and ‘knowing’, and it indicates the growth that takes place in us. When we ‘believe’ something we are making a basic declaration of acceptance about something. We may not have concrete ‘proof’ but we have sufficient evidence to enable us to say, “I believe.” But ‘knowing’ is different. If I say, “I know this is true,” I am adding a confidence, an absolute assurance that this IS what is. The evidence may not have changed but in this instance my encounters with Jesus (God) leave me with Peter. We know!

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21. Peter

PART FOUR: Lessons through People (2)

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 21. Peter

Luke 5:8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”

 Focusing on Peter: As we move into the New Testament we pick up again on specific people and there is no better starting place than to consider Peter.  Now to put this in context, let’s remember what we are doing: we are considering the whole subject of redemption and seeing how God perseveres with individuals (as well as with Israel as a nation) to bring them through into a good place from a not-so-good-place. Peter’s is a ‘bigger than life’ type of story, and yet one with which I suspect many of us could identify.

Early Encounters: Peter, the brother of Andrew, first encounters Jesus in Judah, presumably because he has taken time off from fishing (his occupation) to go to see John the Baptist (see Jn 1:40-42) and has his name prophetically changed by Jesus. We don’t know how Andrew and Peter got there, but it suggests a heart willingness to see what God was doing through this newly appeared prophet, and in so doing, they meet Jesus for the first time. When they return to Galilee they find Jesus has also relocated there and he calls them to give up their fishing to follow him (see Mt 4:18-20 and Lk 5). It is Luke who gives us the fuller account. Peter, in what took place, recognizes that in Jesus, there is something about Jesus that makes him feel very inadequate, a sinner. It is a moment of real self-revelation and revelation about Jesus.  So far we see a seeker and a responder. Good stuff, the sort of people we like in church – but he is a fisherman so that might suggest more of a rough and ready character who braved the uncertain weather of the Sea of Galilee for a living.

A leading light: And so Peter goes with Jesus and the others. As I have studied Peter in the past, I have been struck by the number of times he is an ‘out-front’ sort of guy, so often opening his mouth and putting both feet in it, and yet there are other times when he is the one who steps out in faith. Here are some of the key times:

  • In the boat in the storm he steps out in faith (Mt 14:28)
  • He asks questions about Jesus’ teaching (Mt 15:15)
  • He makes a bold declaration about who Jesus is (Mt 16:16)
  • He even rebukes Jesus (Mt 16:22)
  • He speaks out on the mount of Transfiguration (Mt 17:4)
  • He gets involved in the question that arose over paying temple tax (Mt 17:24-27)
  • He questions over forgiveness (Mt 18:21)
  • He questions about what’s in it for them in the future (Mt 19:27)
  • He initially refuses to let Jesus wash his feet, but then all-in capitulates (Jn 13:6-9)
  • He declares his over confidence in his own loyalty to Jesus (Mt 26:33)

A Summary of Peter? He appears bold, brash, impetuous and yet all for Jesus, having brilliant flashes of faith and revelation every now and then. He appears a real mixed bag of instability. He’s a live wire who is out front and going for it with a strong measure of self-confidence. He seems to revel in the wonder of the life with Jesus that impacts people and communities.

And then the Fall: Peter’s three-times denial of Jesus (Mt 26:69-75, Mk 14:66-72, Lk 22:54-62, Jn 18:15-18, 25-27) is well documented in all four Gospels. There are relatively few things that come up in all four Gospels, but this is one of them. It is the classic example of betrayal of friendship. Peter had denied that such a thing would happen: he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death,” (Lk 22:33) when Jesus had prophesied, Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers,” (Lk 22:31,32) and then, Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.” (v.34)

Spiritual Dynamics: There is something here we so often miss: “Satan has asked to sift all of you.” Job 1 & 2 gives us insight of Satan’s access to the throne room of God and the biblical teaching would appear to be that Satan is allowed access to our lives where we tolerate less than godly characteristics. The Lord allows this that we might be chastised and humbled and brought to a place of repentance and cleansing and change. It is the same thing that we have seen again and again in these studies, that God, in His work of redemption, often has to bring discipline into our lives to help bring change to them so we can more fully become the people He has designed us to be.

Now in this situation Jesus reveals that the enemy has claimed opportunity to ‘sift’ all the disciples in what is about to happen. The Message version puts it, Simon, stay on your toes. Satan has tried his best to separate all of you from me, like chaff from wheat. Simon, I’ve prayed for you in particular that you not give in or give out. When you have come through the time of testing, turn to your companions and give them a fresh start.” Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen and although he prayed for them, he wasn’t going to shield them from it; Peter is going to find himself facing a particular temptation and he’s going to find that he’s not yet up to it, despite all of his ‘out-front’ leadership type words. God is looking for more than words; He’s looking for life transformation.

Peter’s Life Transformation: So Peter falls and he is devastated. In some ways, in the studies we have considered, I think he’s rather like David, and certainly would like to think that he’s a man after God’s own heart, but in experience he becomes more like Moses whose self-esteem was utterly demolished by forty years looking after sheep after having been a Prince of Egypt. For Peter it is a crash course. His failure matches that of Moses, but in his case, he kills a friendship and steps back to let his master be killed. But then Jesus comes back from the dead and meets them all in the locked room but says relatively little. They are told to go to Galilee where he will meet them.  When I considered this at Easter it struck me what a turmoil Peter must have been in. He knew Jesus knows what had happened and he knows there is going to come some sort of accounting.

Personal Testimony: I have been through something a number of years ago with vague similarity to what happened here. In my case, to cut a long story short, I felt an absolute failure but had an opportunity at a conference to be prayed over by a top-flight group of prophets. I reasoned if God was going to have to chop me to pieces, it might as well be done properly. I found myself before this group and expected the worst. Instead, from the first word to the last, and it went on for over fifteen minutes, I received total and absolute acceptance from the Lord that reduced me to a blubbering wreck of gratitude.

And Peter: You find it in the last chapter of John’s Gospel where, to put it as simply as possible, Jesus makes Peter face his real and genuine love for Jesus three times (which makes the denial even worse in some ways) and then, instead of Jesus casting him away and saying (as we might expect), “Well, Pete, they were three good years but you didn’t pass the test so I release you to go back to your fishing,” we find Jesus basically saying, “OK, Pete, we’ve been through some pretty terrible days together haven’t we. I’ve got to be on my way back to heaven soon, so I place my church in your hands. OK!” And if I was Peter I think I would sit there flabbergasted, but that is what the love of God does. It devastates us!

And us? Now this isn’t just a nice story, this is God speaking His heart into us. You have failed in a big way?  No worse than Peter. You feel bad about it? No worse than Peter. Yes, there has to be a facing up to it and maybe some days, weeks, months or even years of corrective therapy by heaven, but the last thing the Lord wants is for us failures to sit around in little heaps of guilt, shame and hopelessness. This is all about redemption – the ongoing sort from God, and that for me AND you. Amen? Amen!

6. Abandoned – Denied

Meditations on Aspects of Easter: 6.  Abandoned – Denied

Mt 26:34,35    I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same.

We have considered two aspects of the fact that Jesus was abandoned at the end of this Passion Week, betrayal and rejection, and now we come to the third expression of this abandonment, the denial of Peter. We did very briefly allude to it in an earlier meditation but now we have to look more closely at it. It is not comfortable reading. However, before we really get into it, we must note that this is different from the previous two aspects for they were both essential to the whole work of the Cross.

Unless Judas had betrayed Jesus and told the authorities where and when to arrest him without public upheaval, it would not have happened. Unless the religious establishment had not made such a strong case for his death, it would not have happened. Unless the crowds had not bayed for his death and unless Pilate and Herod had both just shrugged their shoulders of all responsibility, it would not have happened. Unless the Father had allowed the Sin and sins of the world to sit upon Jesus so that Jesus lost sight of the Father’s presence and humanly felt abandoned by Him, the death on the Cross would have meant nothing beyond the death of another poor soul at the hands of the Romans.

But it was not like that with Peter. If Peter had not denied Jesus nothing would have changed. His denial was not essential to the death on the Cross – and yet it is another thing that happened that has significance and meaning, so what happened?

Our verses above show us something significant about Peter’s involvement: Jesus knew it would happen! That is not to say Jesus made it happen, but very simply he knew what was going to take place and he knew that would involve Peter in this way. Now before we think more on Peter and this action, let’s just note something about Jesus in all of this. At the Last Supper two things occur of some significance. First, Jesus clearly revealed that he knew what Judas was going to do. Second, as we’ve just seen, he also clearly knew what Peter would do. One would betray him, the other deny him. Now here’s my question: suppose you had knowledge of the future, and you employed or simply had a band of followers, and as you gathered them together you realised that before the time was out, one of them was going to betray you and the other deny you, how do you think you would feel about these two, knowing this? Even more, if the betrayer was also an accountant, would you let him hold the purse strings of your business? If the denier was a natural leader, would you let him rise up to be a leader among your group, knowing what is coming?

There is, therefore, either an incredible lack of judgment by Jesus or there is an amazing level of grace and forgiveness being shown.  With Judas it is slightly different because, as we’ve said, his betrayal is essential to the end outcome. But what about Peter, his denial (which does follow – see Mt 26:57,58,69-75) is not essential, it is merely an expression of human weakness? His denial is an abandonment of loyalty and a failure of that other word the Bible uses so often – faithfulness.

Now it is possible that you have never denied a friend, or at least have forgotten it perhaps. It occurs when you simply do not stand up for someone who needs you to stand up for them – and you step away and you may or may not utter words that separate you from them. It is rooted in fear, fear of consequences which, in Peter’s case, might have had severe physical repercussions. It may be the fear of what other people will think of you. Have you ever been in a room when people speak against God or against Jesus or against Christianity, and you remain silent? We live in an age where, tragically, there are so many marriage break-ups, and so often they are accompanied by abandonment by betrayal (going to another who is not your spouse), abandonment by rejection (walking away from your partner) and abandonment by denial (they don’t love me, I don’t love them, there is no marriage here). But we mustn’t digress from denial. I wish this paragraph didn’t apply to me in the past, but it does. I stand with Peter and weep at past failures, not having been there for people who needed me.

Why Peter’s denial? I think it is simply a terrible reminder that even the best of us are flawed human beings, prone to failure, prone to getting it wrong. It is made worse by the fact that Peter was one of the inner three, one of the ones who accompanied Jesus up the Mount of Transfiguration, one of the ones chosen by Jesus to go and pray with him in the Garden of Gethsemane. It is also made worse by Peter’s unknowingness, his inability to know himself when Jesus, at the Last Supper, told him what would happen. It is made worse by the fact that mere minutes before, Peter was wielding a sword in defence of Jesus in the garden, an act of mistaken human desire to help God out.

How many of us struggle, even at this moment, with our human frailty: “I will never disown you!”  There are times to rejoice at the wonder of who we are and at the wonder of our salvation, and at the place held for us in heaven, but here on this Good Friday – yes, it is the day of Jesus’ death – it is a time for mouths to be silenced, mouths that would speak forth self-justification, mouths that would make excuses, mouths that would even deny the truth about themselves.

Yes, it is Good Friday, and you may be surprised that we have not focused even more on the details of what happened to bring Jesus to the Cross (we have been doing that surely?) or more importantly we might think, on what happened on the Cross. I have done that in other meditations in other series in past years; this series is all about why Jesus went to the Cross – for us, for our needs, for the needs of the whole, failing human race. We have faced confusion, we have seen anguish, we have seen plotting and scheming against Jesus, we have seen him abandoned to his fate on the Cross by betrayal, rejection and denial. These are the things that we, the human race do, these are the things that brought Jesus to the Cross. Yes, it was the will of the Father, stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted…. the punishment that brought us peace was upon him… and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isa 53:4-6) but as the apostle Peter preached, “with the help of wicked men, put him to death.” (Acts 2:23) That’s what we have been considering in these recent studies. Be still, be silent, be thankful, and yes, by all means weep at the truth.

2. Thinking about Visions

Meditations from Ezekiel: 2.  Thinking about Visions

Ezek 1:1  In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.

In our first study in this new series we considered Ezekiel, a thirty year old exile from Israel, taken prisoner to Babylon, together with many of his countrymen. We pondered briefly in this catastrophe in his life, just as he was approaching the age to start in the priesthood, carried away from all that was familiar to all that is unfamiliar. We perhaps rarely think about what it must have been like for such people. At the age of thirty it is probable that he had a wife and a family. We know nothing of them. Did he lose them in the exile? We don’t know. All we do know it that it was a time of immense turmoil.

Visions? And then it was at that we read, “and I saw visions of God.” This expression, “visions of God” occurs at two other significant places in the book: “He stretched out what looked like a hand and took me by the hair of my head. The Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and in visions of God he took me to Jerusalem, to the entrance to the north gate of the inner court, where the idol that provokes to jealousy stood,” (Ezek 8:3) and much later, “In visions of God he took me to the land of Israel and set me on a very high mountain, on whose south side were some buildings that looked like a city.” (Ezek 40:2)

A ‘vision’ is a picture formed in the mind that is so strong that everything else falls into the background of experience. It is not mere imagination but almost, we might say today, like a video being run in our mind that blanks out everything else. There are a number of such instances in the Bible.

Examples:  At one point in earlier history God’s word came to Abram in a vision (Gen 15:1), as it also did to Israel (Jacob – Gen 46:2). The apostle Peter had a clear vision when he was being sent to share the Gospel for the first time to the Gentiles (Acts 10:9-) although it was referred to as a trance (and yet he does later refer to it as a vision in a trance – Acts 11:5). This, of course came after Cornelius had received a vision (Acts 10:3-) telling him to send for Peter. The apostle Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia calling him to come to them (Acts 16:9). The Lord also later spoke to Paul in a vision to encourage him not to be silent (Acts 18:9). The implication from these examples seems to be that the Lord speaks through a vision at particularly important times of people’s lives, times that are particularly significant.

Sometimes the prophetic word of God comes in such clarity about the future that it is referred to as a vision, as in the case of young Samuel (1 Sam 3:15) but the distinction from the former use is that there is no visual picture. It may be that in such cases the reality of the contact with God is so strong that although there is no reference to a picture of what is seen, nevertheless everything else fades into the background in the face of the reality of what the person was hearing. This also appears true of Ananias in Acts 9:10-12.

Heavenly strangeness: And so now we read, “the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.” We note this was specific revelation of heavenly things with heaven being opened. Although we will see specific pictures that we can at least partly relate to, they are nevertheless revelations about what is in heaven, or express the will of God that comes from heaven. Perhaps we might suggest that such was the chaos and confusion in Ezekiel’s life at this time, being carried away into exile, that it needed something as dramatic as a vision, or series of visions, to break into his awareness, which take us back into the historical context.

Time overview: Although verse 1 and later verses come in the first person – “I” – for a moment there is a break in verses 2 and 3 that come in reporting mode in the third person – speaking of Ezekiel as from an observer: “On the fifth of the month–it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin—the word of the LORD came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, by the Kebar River in the land of the Babylonians. There the hand of the LORD was upon him.”  (v.2,3) Indeed this is the only third-person narrative in the book. Perhaps its purpose is to clarify the date in v. 1.

The historical books tell us in respect of King Nebuchadnezzar, “In the eighth year of the reign of the king of Babylon, he took Jehoiachin prisoner,” (2 Kings 24:12) and “He carried into exile all Jerusalem: all the officers and fighting men, and all the craftsmen and artisans–a total of ten thousand. Only the poorest people of the land were left.” (2 Kings 24:14) which was probably April 597BC. But we read that the word came to Ezekiel in the fifth year of their exile which, it is suggested corresponds to 593BC.

Settled in exile? Now we almost implied earlier in the previous study that this had only just happened to Ezekiel but the truth is that he’s been here for somewhere between 4 to 5 years already. If you have ever watched the film Ben Hur (the earlier version conveyed this better than the remake) the sense of terrible sense of futility and hopelessness that must come on a slave in chains is absolutely terrible, Barring a disaster (which happens in Ben Hur) there is nothing but nothing that you can do to free yourself. You are in this position until you die and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. That must have been the sense felt by these exiles; the unthinkable has happened because Jerusalem has been taken (and is later destroyed). This is the background for this book.

God possibilities: We suggested this before but it bears repeating before we get into the text of the visions. This background should challenge us, that with God the future is NOT set in impossible concrete, we do not know what God might come and do with us. Centuries before he had come to an aging shepherd in the backside of the desert in Midian and said, “I have indeed 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 …. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” (Ex 3:7-10) A most incredible message of deliverance but devastating for Moses who after forty years in the wilderness had lost every ounce of self-confidence. Is that us? Has life done that to us? It is NOT the end.

For Ezekiel, it is slightly different; he is going to remain with his people in exile but he is going to bring God’s word to them that will no doubt filter its way back to Jerusalem. He is going to act as the confirming prophet to Jeremiah and he is going to set markers in history for the will of God. He is no longer ‘just an exile’; he is about to become a man with a mission. Bear all this in mind as we enter into the wonder and complexity of what is about to follow – and never say, “I am stuck in these unchanging circumstances.” With God you can never know!

20. Reaching Potential (2)

Meditations in Meaning & Values  20. Reaching Potential (2)

Jn 1:42    Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter)

In the previous meditation we talked about reaching potential which is all about change for improvement until we apparently achieve the most we are capable of. We observed how people in the world think of success, wealth and fame as the measures of achievement, but that these are poor measures. We looked at the case of Jacob in the Old Testament, a classic example of a schemer who became very ‘successful’ – but still a schemer and how he had a wrestling encounter with God in which God made him weak and made him face the reality of who he was, before he was blessed by God. Weakness and being honest about ourselves are two critical requirements to enable a person to come to the end of themselves so that God is able to work in them to enable them to become the people He has designed them to be, and that is someone much greater than the hollow businessman, politician or rock star or whatever else we see as ‘a success’. Reaching full potential can ONLY come with an encounter with God.

I said previously that there were two men who I felt stood out in this context and the other man, in the New Testament is the apostle Peter. Now Jesus chose Peter and it is obvious that Peter became one of the leading apostles with Jesus over the three years of Jesus’ ministry. Peter was the one who was always opening his mouth and putting his foot in it. The good side of that was that he obviously felt secure in Jesus’ presence and Jesus handled Peter’s brashness with grace.

The classic of Peter’s brashness comes at the Last Supper when Jesus warns Peter about what was soon to happen: Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”  But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” (Mt 26:33-35) This is simply called unknowing self-confidence. Peter does not know himself, but Jesus does.

The story of what followed is well known. Jesus is arrested and taken to the high priest Caiaphas, while Peter followed at a distance and waited in a courtyard of the high priest’s palace. While he was waiting there, in the middle of the night, three times one of the maids there recognized him and challenged him and tree times he denied he knew Jesus. Fear made him a liar and a betrayer. Luke records a poignant part of it: “The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.” (Lk 22:61,62) It was like Jesus saw what was going on and gave Peter a knowing look. Peter was devastated and fled in tears, broken.

Now here’s the thing about that episode. Back at the Last Supper, Jesus, knowing what was going to happen and knowing how Peter would be involved, could have spared him that failure; he could have said, “Peter, I have a task for you. After I am taken I want you to come back here and pray for me,” but he didn’t. Peter needed to go through that episode to break him of all his self confidence and to make him realise what he was really like inside, a loud mouthed but weak individual.

Now John allows us an amazing insight into Jesus’ dealing with Peter after his resurrection. We find it in Jn 21 where three times Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” In comes in slightly different forms and Peter’s replies are, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” (J 21:15), “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” (v.16) and “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” (v.17)  The old Peter would have protested with more words but the new Peter has no fight before Jesus and his final statement is one of utter surrender and abasement: “You know all things,” i.e. you know I let you down, you know what I’m like, you know I’m rubbish. And the work is complete. Three times Jesus recommissions him. This failure is about to become the leader of the new church.

So how do we apply these two stories?  Is your life one characterized by your clever planning and scheming? Are you completely self confident? Or have you come to the point of realizing that in reality, without Jesus you are a spiritual and moral mess? If you haven’t ever come to that reality, even if you’ve been a Christian many years, you’ve still got that ahead of you. ‘Great’ Christians are those who have come to realise that without Jesus they are still weak, hopeless and useless and prone to getting it wrong, and almost certainly they will have come to that realization through a crisis.

‘Wrestling with God’ occurs before you become a Christian and is what the Holy Spirit does with you to bring you to surrender, and it may involve a personal crisis. It happens again, almost invariably, at some later time in our Christian lives when these truths really confront us and we surrender in a new and deeper way, I believe. And then we come to realise that every time our thinking is in conflict with God’s we go through a wrestling process, but so often it is so low key that we hardly realise it, but it will go on and on, until we change.

This is the process for reaching full potential, only when we fully surrender and let Him work in us to bring us to become what He has on His heart for us. Why doesn’t He tell us what it is right now to make it easy? First, we wouldn’t believe Him because it would appear to be too good to be true. Second, because it take a process and a process takes time. It took years to change Abram. It took years to change Joseph. It took years to change Jacob. It took years to change Moses….. and so on. Why is God doing it in you? Because He loves you, because, “the Lord disciplines those he loves,” (Heb 12:6) and the word discipline here means trains, works on to bring good out and to bless. Hallelujah!

12. God’s Publicity Machine

Meditating on the Gems of the Bible:  12. God’s Publicity Machine

Acts 2:5-12  Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs–we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

I think when it comes to gems in the Bible there is always the risk that we pass them by without realising the wonder of them.  I’ve got a feeling if I asked 100 Christians to give me a verse that they might consider to be a ‘gem’, none of them would come up with these verses. They are, I suspect, by and large, verses that most of us skim over quickly. We focus on the wonder of what was happening on the Day of Pentecost and note in passing that it was verified by many Jews in the vicinity but it struck me just recently how wonderful these verses are.

The start is interesting. The onlookers are “God fearing Jews”. They have travelled from their homes all over the place to attend the feast of Pentecost, that great feast celebrating God’s provision through harvest. It was a great feast to attend if you were a Jew.

But then it says they were God-fearing Jews “from every nation under heaven”. Now the New Testament writers were not like modern researchers who would be careful in the literal way they used words. So it doesn’t mean that every single nation in the world is represented here but it certainly does mean that very many nations were represented here, able to witness this incredible event. Now whether they accepted it or not, these Jews who would return home to their particular nation would go home and tell what they had seen and heard. One way or another, this event was going to be broadcast around the world.

In a day when we are used to tens of millions being able to witness an event through the medium of television we may be a bit blasé about this, but the truth was that by sending His Holy Spirit on this Feast Day He ensured that many, many Jews would see and hear what He was doing. The terrible and remarkable events that had occurred fifty days earlier at Passover might have been forgotten by some and those from foreign lands would have heard about it only second hand as a piece of new gossip. As yet it had not had impact. But now something amazing is happening and it has happened on a day when representatives from around the world were there to see it.

There were Parthians who came from the territory from the Tigris to India, Medes from east of Mesopotamia, Elamites from north of the Persian Gulf, those from Mesopotamia, some from there in Judea, including Galilee, some from Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, all districts in Asia Minor, some from Egypt, and some from Rome. This wasn’t the entire world by any means but it was certainly over a large area of what we today might call the Middle East, and even further afield.

Now what we sometimes forget is that not only did these God-fearing Jews witness the new freedom of the disciples, praising God in the languages of all these foreign Jews, but they were also the ones who then heard Peter preaching what is the first Christian sermon, anointed by the Holy Spirit. These men are included in “those who accepted his message” and are in the “three thousand … added to their number that day.” (Acts 2:41)  These men would have returned home as born again believers and would certainly take that news with them.

Today, at a local level, if we want news spreading we put up advertisements or put leaflets through the door. At national level we use television advertising.  What we have just witnessed is not only the birth of the Church but also God’s means of ensuring the good news would be spread, not merely as cold information but as changed and Spirit empowered lives. We often get so caught up with Paul’s part in spreading the Gospel that we perhaps forget that long before Paul got under way and long before the apostles spread out from “Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) these forerunners would have already gone ahead and would have started to spread the kingdom. This is a gem indeed!

13. Bad People Intervening

Motivation Meditations in Acts : 13 : Bad People Intervening 

Acts  4:1-3    The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. They seized Peter and John, and because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day.

The motivation behind our actions may have a variety of causes and we see another one of them here in the verses above: responding to people who are ‘not nice’! In fact it goes further than that for Peter and John’s actions are forced upon them: they are put in jail! The cause of this is that there are people in authority who either do not understand their faith or simply disagree with it and, being people of authority, they can impose their will upon the apostles.

In a variety of ways this happens to Christians when the government impose laws that run contrary to traditional Christian belief based on the Bible. An example of that in the U.K. is the law that forbids discrimination in any form against, say, homosexuals. Now the traditional Christian position, I would suggest, is not to be against homosexuals as people but against homosexual sexual behaviour, which falls into the category of that sexual behaviour that falls outside God’s design for sex – within marriage, with a member of the opposite sex – and is therefore outside God’s will.  (There is a lot of other sexual behaviour in Western societies that also goes against God’s design but this is just one that has been forced to the fore in recent years).

This has been applied to traditional Christian adoption agencies who would never have placed a child with two homosexuals, but that discrimination is now illegal. Thus some Christian adoption agencies have given up their work. A battle is raging within the minds of secular lawmakers who wish to impose their thinking on the traditional Church with regard to ordaining women into senior leadership, contrary to traditional Biblical beliefs that God’s design requires male headship. Again and again, we find ‘the Law’ imposing values that flout traditional Christian Biblical values, values that flow out of a belief in the authority of the Bible as the word of God.

But this finding ourselves in conflict with people in authority, can occur in the workplace where senior management may have values far from Christian values and therefore create a work culture that may conflict with our Christian values. This may include such things as working long hours to put strain on family relationships, cutting ethical corners, having an eating and drinking in excess culture and generally being ‘one of the boys’, all designed to break down individual ethical values for the sake of corporate unity and corporate goals.

In each of these cases, and you may be able to think of others, godless people seek to impose their unrighteousness upon us and are therefore at odds with God’s purposes. The questions that arise must be how to we feel about this, how do we think about it and how do we respond to it?  Tragically, for reasons that we’ve suggested in earlier meditations, the church in the West has largely lost its voice and has been forced to the sidelines of society, and therefore those with little or no foundation for making or establishing ethical values for society (laws) have made the running and so increasingly, those of us who would hold to traditional Biblical values find ourselves at odds with such thinking and such laws.

Our feelings surely must be regret and sorrow that we have failed to be salt and light in society in such a manner that our voices might have been heard, but they haven’t been. Our thoughts should perhaps be considering how we may regain our position as influencers of society in ways considered in previous meditations, for society is spiralling downhill and although the occasional voice acknowledges the folly of this, it continues in this way. An example of this statement is the acknowledgement that cohabiting couples are many times more likely to break up than married couples – cohabitation does not ‘work’! Similarly it is acknowledged that children of divorces are harmed – but we continue to fail to support marriage and work against divorce.  Divorce is damaging!

In our attitudes towards people we must remember to distinguish between the people and their actions.  Jesus taught, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Mt 5:44) but that is a far cry from loving their standards and their godlessness and their unrighteousness.

For the moment we will stop it there for we will consider this particular subject of being at odds with authority in the next meditation. For the moment, we simply note that there will be times in life when others seek to impose their will on us and at such times we need to hold firm to our faith and our biblical beliefs and seek God for wisdom as to how we should respond, for respond we must.