3. The Correction of Cain

PART TW0: Lessons through People

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 3. The Correction of Cain

Gen 4:11,12   Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”

 A Strange Story: I think I often say that I am sure we frequently just scan our Bible reading and fail to think about what we have just read.  The story about Cain is strange on a number of levels and perhaps not easy to understand in its outcome.  The story is often taught so we may be familiar with the basics of it. Two sons of Eve, Cain and Abel. Although God has shut them out of the Garden they nevertheless bring offerings to Him, presumably on the teaching of their parents. Abel’s offering appears whole-hearted, Cain’s half-hearted, and as a result God was blessed with Abel’s but not Cain’s.  This upsets Cain, but God challenges him over it and warns him against giving way to a bad attitude that might take him into doing something bad. Cain pays little attention to this warning and kills Abel. We have the Bible’s first murder.

Integrity of the Record: If we may pause for a moment, this is one of those instances that gives me confidence that the Bible is inspired by God. If you think about this, if this was merely of human origin, the writer would have given a different outcome but instead we have an outcome that raises questions, certainly at first sight anyway, questions about God as a Judge. Why do I say that? Well, later on in the Law, the application is ‘an eye for an eye’ etc. and murderers forfeit their lives. But what do we have here?

The Judgment on Cain: All we have, as we see in our verses above is a ‘curse’, that means that Cain will no longer be able to farm the land and all he can do is wander the world, presumably looking to work for others. This upsets him: “Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” (v.14) He sees being sent away as being sent away from God’s presence, which is interesting in that mankind has been excluded from the most intimate encounter with God in the Garden as we saw previously. The follow on from that, he feels, is that he will be vulnerable, and others could kill him.

God’s Protection: But it is not going to work like that: “But the Lord said to him, “Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.” (v.15,16) Now this is the outcome I find strange.

The depth of Cain’s Guilt: Not only have we seen Cain kill his brother, but it clearly is seen as premeditated: “Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” (v.8) i.e. he had in mind what he intended to do, which makes it murder and not manslaughter (an accident). Moreover when God banishes him, he shows no remorse but simply complains, as we saw above. In my eyes, he should be put to death, so what am I missing? I find I empathize with the idea that the Lord spoke out: “Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.(v.10) i.e. justice cries out against you. It is the cry of the martyrs in Rev 6:10, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” Justice demands wrong-doers be confronted and dealt with. We hear it in the child appealing against his brother or sister to their mother, “It’s not fair!” and we feel it when one close to us his harmed by a criminal.

So why? So why does God NOT condemn Cain to death? We are not told, so we must speculate along with all other commentators. First, we may suggest that, as this is the first death after the expulsion from the Garden, it may be that God is making a point for the rest of history, not that we can get away with sin, but that He looks for a way out for us that is a way of grace, a way for redemption to deliver us into something better. Second, the way for Cain gave him space to come to his senses and to repentance, as he wandered the earth. We aren’t told that he ever did, but the opportunity was there. Third, he traveled with an awareness of the grace of God over him for the rest of his life, reminding him of the possibilities open to him that were there because God had declared protection for him; he only lived because of that protection.

And more? In verses 13 and 14 where Cain protests, “My punishment is more than I can bear,” commentators note that the Hebrew could be construed as in the Septuagint, “my sin is too great for forgiveness,” but reject that as not being supported by the text. Have our translators opted for the easy path? Did, in fact, Cain realise something of the awfulness of what he had done, making the judgment of God here even more amazing? If they had opted for that rendering, they would have steered us more clearly towards thinking about this incredible act of grace, which to the legalistic mind makes little sense.

 Jesus Parable: We find this same struggling with God’s grace (that looks for redemption – and the rest of this series is about how God takes sinners and makes something more of them!) in Jesus parable of the workers in the vineyard (Mt 20). There the owner (God) employed men at intervals throughout the day, but when accounting came, paid them all the same. Those who were employed at the beginning of the day complained but the point was that the owner didn’t have to employ any of them, and so when he did it was an act of grace.

God’s End Goal: You can’t measure grace and so wherever we come across God’s redemption – and we will see it with many people and in many different forms – it is always a free gift. We dare not demand justice for our lives for that would be too painful, the condemnation would be too great; instead we gratefully accept the mercy of God that comes in the form of His grace – forgiveness AND blessing.

Transformation is the end goal and in the Christian life we are being changed, one degree at a time, into the likeness of Jesus: “And we all, …. are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:18) He doesn’t just forgive on the basis of the Cross, He blesses us with a new life, a new identity and new power.

Cain at the end: The story of Cain in Genesis ends in a surprising way: “So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.  Cain made love to his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch. Cain was then building a city, and he named it after his son Enoch.” (Gen 4:16,17) Wow! Cain settled, he had a wife and children and builds a community (a city). If that isn’t a turn up for the book, what is? Cain had the opportunity to change and he clearly took it.  We, too, have the opportunity to change as we live out the years the Lord gives to us. May we not squander them.

Application for further thought and prayer: Lord, I understand that you deal with each one of us uniquely but whatever you do in respect of us it is for good, to redeem us from what is not good in our lives to something better. Help me value my days and look for your good in them.

23. Condemnation

Meditations in 2 Peter : 23 :  Condemnation

2 Pet  2:10-12     This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the sinful nature and despise authority. Bold and arrogant, these men are not afraid to slander celestial beings; yet even angels, although they are stronger and more powerful, do not bring slanderous accusations against such beings in the presence of the Lord. But these men blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like brute beasts, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like beasts they too will perish.

Peter has just said, “the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment.” Thus when he continues, “This is especially true of those…” he is expanding his previous description of ‘the unrighteous’. Although we didn’t pick it up previously, he seems to indicate two sorts of God’s dealings with the unrighteous. The ultimate one is His judging them on the final day of judgment when they stand before him and will be condemned to hell. However there was also the reference at the end of that previous sentence: “while continuing their punishment.” This suggests that God does punish the ungodly and the unrighteous here and now.

The apostle Paul would agree with this way of thinking in his descriptions of God’s activity in Romans 1: “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.” (Rom 1:24) and “God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another.” (Rom 1:26,27) and “Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.” (Rom1:28). In other words all of these increasing levels of sin are God’s punishment!!!!!

This increasing licentiousness is in fact bringing bad into the lives of these people and it is a direct outworking of God lifting off His hand of restraint. Now the more you turn from God the more this works, for this is God’s way of trying to show foolish men and women the error of their ways so that they may, perhaps, come to their senses and turn back to Him.

This is especially so, says Peter, of those who follow their corrupt sinful desires, are arrogant  and despise authority, say stupid things about angels and heaven’s activities. Now this isn’t a particularly easy passage to understand. When he talks about these people slandering celestial beings, we might say they are slandering all that goes on in heaven. Now if we put it in such general terms as that, we immediately see that this is exactly what the crusading atheists of today are doing. Without naming any well known and obvious names, sometimes the boldness and arrogance that is seen in their writings and their pronouncements on TV or in the press, are breathtaking.

Some of these men seek to convey a respectability, and one well-known American atheistic writer started his last book off with the tone of an elderly sage who was graciously tolerating these religious children who he hoped would one day grow up and abandon their silly ideas. However as the book developed the underlying harsh, arrogant, spiteful and hateful attitude in this writer became more and more obvious. These men are writing out of self-centred, godless arrogance and Peter says they are like animals in that they are operating purely on instincts and, by implication, not rationally and reasonably thinking through the issues. Although the media currently give these men credibility, one day we may look back on them and see them for what they are and will wonder how anyone ever believed what they said. It is interesting to note that one of these well known crusaders is particularly good at throwing up ‘possibilities’ and making them sound ‘probabilities’ if not facts! Yet I observe that other credible scientists now casually say, “Of course the idea of …. has now been generally discounted,” so that within a few years of them being put up even these ‘possibilities’ are seen for what they are – hot air!

Whenever we teach on cults, we always say, don’t only look at their teachings but also look at the people who started them off, see their lifestyle, see their character, and then judge. Look at the spite and venom that comes out of these people, these crusaders, and think again.

The reason these people that Peter is talking about, are doomed to destruction, is not so much the silly things they say or do, but the attitude that is fixed and unmovable and not open to correction. These are the people who will be condemned in the long ruin for these people will not come to repentance and will thus not be saved. (Please understand that we are not saying that individuals cannot be saved, but that if you absolutely refuse to ever think openly, refusing God until the end means you have no hope for eternity.) Shocking words, but the truth!

23. Humbled

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 23 :  Humbled, Provided For, Disciplined

(Focus: Deut 8:1-5)

Deut 8:2 Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.

A casual reading of parts of these early chapters of Deuteronomy might conclude there is just a lot of repetition, but a closer reading shows that where there is repetition it is for a different specific purpose and it usually has different elements to it. This is what we find here.

So chapter 8 starts out with something that has been said a number of times before.  Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land that the LORD promised on oath to your forefathers.” (v.1)  Note again that there is a command and a promise so the promise is conditional on the command. The command is a simple call to obey all the laws being reiterated by Moses, and the promise is blessing on their lives and an enabling to go in and take the Land. Normally, previously, the promise has been to have long life in the land but the promise here is the ability to take the land. So the obedience to the Law needs to start right now for it impacts all that is going to follow.

But now it is followed by yet another call to remember the past, but this time it is a call not only to remember it, but understand it, understand what was going on and why! Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.” (v.2) The basic facts of their recent history were that God had led them while they wandered for forty years in the desert having originally failed to enter the Promised Land. But what was going on while that was happened? God was humbling them and testing them.

When you look back on the records of that time they are limited mostly to different crises that occurred – lacking water, lacking food etc.   Now, says Moses, that wasn’t coincidental, that was God testing you to see how you would react. The crucial issue at every crisis was would they turn to the Lord, would they stick to what they had been told about Him, would they adhere to the Law?  Rather than just waste that forty year period, the Lord used it to teach and train Israel.  The most important thing was that they had to learn to trust the Lord and stick to Him.  Often they hadn’t done very well, but a learning process is like that, you don’t do very well initially but you get better as you learn.

But there was a specific aspect to this teaching: “He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” (v.3) When they had eventually decided to enter the land on the previous occasion it was a pure example of self-confidence, not confidence in God.  They had to lose that self-confidence because it was not the thing that would see them through in the centuries to come, it was a confidence in the Lord, which is what the Sinai covenant of love was all about – about coming into a relationship of trust in God. So a number of times they had a crisis of provision and the Lord looked to see if they would turn to Him for provision – they didn’t, they grumbled instead, but nevertheless the Lord DID provide for them – manna.  They had to learn that their future lives did not simply depend on material provision, but also provision of the wisdom of God, every word that comes from Him!

He reminds them of what happened: “Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years.” (v.4)    Not only did the Lord provide manna, quails and water.   He also ensured that their clothes did not wear out.  One pair of sandal for forty years!!!  Then comes the key principle behind all this: “Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you.” (v.5) There it is! What had been going on throughout those years had been God’s disciplining. Now don’t misunderstand this.  So often we equate discipline with punishment but in the Bible, discipline is God training His people. Yes it does involve correction and yes sometimes it is painful, but the purpose is always good. It is that the people of God learn to trust God.

When crises happen today, how do we view them?  Panic?   Or do we turn to the Lord to hear from Him to see what provision He wants to bring us to cope with the present?  These are profound questions and they deserve some careful thought so that we may trust Him more and more.


45. Sins Sorted

Meditations in 1 Peter : 45: Sins Sorted

1 Pet 3:18 For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.

There are a limited number of verses in the New Testament that stand out as encapsulating the Gospel. Obviously John 3:16 is probably the best known one: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Next to that, our verse above should perhaps be a close contender. There are three parts to this verse and each part heralds an amazing truth which, put together, comprises what we call the Gospel.

It’s starting point is outstanding but tragically we perhaps take so much of what it says for granted because maybe these truths are too familiar to us. It speaks about Christ, the Messiah, the Sent One and Anointed One, the one sent with a task from God, the Son of God who left heaven and came and lived in a human body called Jesus. This Christ came and died. But everybody dies! Yes, but this person died on purpose for a purpose. His death, it is claimed, had an eternal significance; it wasn’t an accident but a carefully planned and orchestrated strategy of God. This death had to do with dealing with sins!

How we take sins for granted!  Sin has so permeated the world that we take it for granted, just like the air we breathe, and so we take sins for granted. It is sins that create the interest in TV ‘soaps’ or mystery dramas. Without sins we wouldn’t have these things. Without sins families would be happy and content and faithful, businesses would be honest and integrity the name of the game, and life would be free from threat and fear and untruth.

And what we don’t see so often is that sin always has its consequences. That, at least, is seen graphically in the TV soaps. We also fail to remember that every sin will be answerable to God and punishment awarded. If we punish criminals in courts, why should we think that the mass of sins that we accumulate throughout our lives – all the things we thought wrong, said wrong or did wrong, things we shouldn’t have done and things we should have done but didn’t – all these thing incur a penalty or punishment, but we try to forget that.

But then this verse tells us that Christ died for sins which is another way of saying, he was and is the eternal Son of God who could die in the place of each one of us, and take the punishment for any and every sin we will commit in our lives while on this planet. His death was the absolute punishment that would cover every sin. It happened once in time-space history some two thousand years ago. It doesn’t need to happen again and we can’t add anything to what he achieved.  THAT, heaven declares, is the truth, and all we are called to do is believe it.

But then there is the second phrase, “the righteous for the unrighteous.” Just in case you hadn’t taken in the wonder of what Christ did as I just explained, we are reminded that he was righteous and we are unrighteous. Note the two things. Jesus was the only man in history who did not sin: “just as we are–yet was without sin.” (Heb 4:15). He was exactly as the Old Testament offerings required – a sacrifice without blemish. He was righteous in a negative way in that he never sinned but he was also righteous in a positive way in that he did exactly what was required of God’s will. He was an obedient Son fulfilling the Father’s will, fulfilling the plan formulated before the foundation of the world.

But we are unrighteous. Sometimes, on a good day when the sun is shining and everything seems to be going well, we think we just might be righteous, but we kid ourselves. Lurking there, just waiting for the opportunity to express itself is this thing called Sin, that tendency to be self-centred, godless and unrighteous. Wrong thoughts predominate, wrong words so easily come to our lips, and wrong actions so quickly follow. Every time we criticise, gossip or judge, we have fallen into the murky depths. We are unrighteous, but then The Righteous One comes and declares us righteous in God’s sight when we surrendered to him, sought his forgiveness and his sovereign leading. Suddenly, but only then, he declares us righteous – at least in God’s sight. (We have yet to work it out in our practical lives).

Which brings us to the last phrase: “to bring you to God.” Again, because it is so familiar we take it for granted, this sense that we are alone in the universe and if there is a God He is a million miles away.  Indeed deep down we are glad of that because deep down we know we are guilty and we fear the thought that we will be answerable to God. We were separated from God by our sins and our guilt and something had to happen – something beyond us, because we were incapable of changing – and it was Christ coming to die in our place as an expression of the Father’s love. There came a time when the Holy Spirit convicted us of the truth about our lives and like a drowning man or woman we grasped for the wonder of what was being presented to us – there IS a way for you to be forgiven, there is a way for you to be reconciled to God. Jesus has done it on the Cross and now all it requires is for you to believe it. THAT is the Gospel! Isn’t it wonderful!

Just should you be reading these things for the first time and it is the first time you’ve heard these things, it can’t remain just passive knowledge. It is true and it requires a response from you, a response that acknowledges your Sin and your sins and your need of God’s help, a response that declares belief in all that Jesus has done for us on the Cross, a submission to him and a request for forgiveness, acceptance and help from God Himself on the basis of these truths. May it be so!

40. Justice

Meditations in Romans : 40:  Justice Demonstrated

Rom 3:25,26 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished– he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

Justice is a key issue at the heart of life. The word ‘just’ means ‘equitable, fair, right, and proper’. Justice is about achieving ends which are equitable, fair, right and proper. In our relativistic age there is a lot of talk about ‘understanding criminals’ or understanding why people are ‘driven’ to do bad things and we excuse them on the basis of their bad backgrounds, their bad education or their bad parents – until they do something to us! The modern trend is to do away with rights and wrongs – until they affect me personally. It is easy to theorise about such things until they hit home personally. Rape is academic until I am raped. Murder is academic until someone tries to kill me. Theft is academic until someone steals what is mine. When any one of those things happens to us, we suddenly want justice! Until then justice, too, can be an academic thing. It can be academic until we are offended against.

Now put yourself in God’s position. He has made a perfect world, given us every form of provision possible for a good life, encouraged us again and again, and all He gets is rejection and reviling, and He has to watch as we abuse one another, abuse His world, and abuse Him. It is very personal for God for He is there and sees it all.

Justice demands that what is wrong is put right. Justice demands that what is stolen is returned. Justice demands that the offender is corrected, even punished, and stopped repeating the offence, for until he does we are all under threat from him. Justice looks at our sins – our wrongs, our failures, our rejections of God, our abuses – and demands they are dealt with, that they be stopped, that they be punished. The easy answer from God’s point of view would be to instantly wipe out and remove all signs of the offender so they no longer offend or threaten people or His earth. How easy that would be to God. But He doesn’t do that because we are told that “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16) and love wants to help, to change, to improve, to bless, to remedy. God wants to act to change the person or situation.

But justice is there demanding action. Justice has always been there demanding action. Something needs to be done, someone needs to pay! There is payment in that every sin does bring upon the person some sort of negative consequence. When we fail to ‘work’ as we were designed to work, then there are repercussions, but those are just normal consequences, natural outworkings of doing foolish things. Justice still stands in the wings and looks for the wrong to be righted, for the offender to be punished. How to punish every sin without destroying the sinner who God wants to draw out of Sin?

The answer has been for an eternal being to come and stand in the place of execution and to take our punishment. Only an eternal being is ‘big enough’ to take any and every sin’s punishment, and it happened in time-space history on the Cross at Calvary two thousand years ago when Jesus died for us. That was exactly what was happening, a ‘sacrifice of atonement’ or a means of fulfilling the demands of justice. This was God who had come ‘to demonstrate his justice.’ This was God ensuring that the demands of justice were fulfilled.

Prior to that there had been the sacrificial system which “left the sins committed beforehand unpunished.” The sinner was able to walk away unpunished. Yes, under the sacrificial system an animal died, and animal was seen to carry the punishment for the sinner, and that appeased the conscience of the sinner as they conformed to the law that God had laid down as a means of dealing with their sin. But that, we now understand, simply pointed forward to the coming of the Messiah who would be the eternal Son of God who would died in our place to carry the punishment for each and every individual sin we have ever committed.

This, Paul says of God, he did .. to demonstrate his justice at the present time.” Yes, now in history, he says, we have witnessed justice being administered as an eternal being has died in our place. He did it “so as to be just.” He made sure that justice was genuinely administered, and in so doing Hejustifies those who have faith in Jesus.” Yes, all those who will come in repentance on the basis of what they have been told about what Jesus did on the Cross for them, are forgiven and released from the sentence of death that hung over them. They have been ‘justified’ – made right in God’s sight – because their punishment has been taken, their sins have genuinely been deal with, and justice is satisfied. THAT is what this is all about. Receive it humbly and rejoice with thanksgiving for the wonder of what God has done for us.

39. Atonement

Meditations in Romans : 39:  Atonement

Rom 3:25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.

Some of us don’t like talk about ‘the blood’ or ‘the Cross’ but, fortunately or unfortunately, they are at the heart of the Gospel. In fact there are words in our verses above that bring great revelation to what the Gospel is all about – if we hadn’t caught Paul’s flow in the previous verses we’ve been considering in a number of mediations: we are lost, helpless and hopeless and we need God’s help. In the previous verse Paul has just spoken of the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” We don’t often use the word ‘redemption’ in modern life, unless we have been unfortunate enough to use the services of a pawnbroker. If we have then we put an article into pawn in exchange for a loan which will need paying back with interest at some time in the future. In the getting it back by a payment, we thus ‘redeem’ the article. So when Paul uses that phrase he is referring to the fact that Jesus’ death mean that our lives could be bought by his blood and reclaimed from the death cell (life on earth) where we awaited our eternal punishment for our sins.

There is in all of us, this deep down knowledge that wrongs deserve punishing, which is why we spend so much time trying to justify ourselves and make out why such punishment shouldn’t apply to us!  Yet our innate sense of justice declares that wrongs should be punished. In fact when we hear of the existence of a holy God, we fear even more (and make more efforts to deny Him).

Then Paul speaks of ‘atonement’ which, in its simplest form means ‘making up for’. But what can make up for the myriads of failures that we have in life? What can make up so that we do not have to bear the punishment due to us? His answer is ‘the blood’ of Jesus, which is simply shorthand for meaning his death on the Cross at Calvary, taking our place, taking our punishment. His death was a sacrifice, in the same pattern as the sacrifices brought into the Temple in Old Testament times. Hence Jesus is referred to as the Lamb of God (Jn 1:29,36,  Rev 5:6,8,12). It is the picture of an animal dying in the place of the sinner, taking upon it their sin and guilt and death penalty.

It is perhaps only when we think on these things do we realise the awfulness of Sin. Much of the time we downplay Sin in our lives and think little of it, but the truth is that in God’s eyes, it is so important and provides such a division between Him and us that He was willing to pay the ultimate price of being separated from His very own Son: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (Jn 3:16). Surely if there had been any other way possible God would have taken it? Surely if there any other way possible, Jesus would have taken it. Yet, there throughout the history of the world was this enormous mountain of sin, the sins of every human being throughout history, with justice crying out to be done. If justice cannot be seen to be done, then God can never speak to and correct a single human being, for all that is left is their utter judgment and so why bother to restrain sin? Why not let it just run and get worse and worse until we destroy ourselves?

But God is not a defeatist; He knew from the moment He planned to give us free will that we would first exercise it to reject Him. He knew from the outset that sin after sin would mount up and if nothing was done, it would cause the ultimate destruction of humanity. But, as we said, God is not a defeatist. He planned to call mankind back to Himself. Throughout the Old Testament He is there seeking to forge relationships with individuals and with the nation of Israel, so that they may be a light to the rest of the world, drawing the eyes of the world to God. But how could He do that with all the sins of the world still being there and being there as a barrier between us and God, as much for us as for Him?

We feel guilt-ridden and incapable of changing. He sees us constantly doing our own thing and ignoring Him. How was there a way to break into this cycle? It was to provide a means for this guilt to be dealt with, for somehow justice to be satisfied and the price paid for each and every sin that we feel bad about and the millions we don’t.  The only way, and we really can’t take it in even though we seek to explain it, was for the eternal Son of God to take it for us, for him to step into our place and take the punishment – and that was what was happening on the Cross.

How does it happen for us individually? It happens, as we saw in a previous meditation, when we respond to this news in faith. It is faith in his blood, faith in Jesus’ death on the Cross on our behalf, which opens the door to God’s heart and which brings salvation. It is an act of faith to say we believe God when He has said that this is the way to be saved, by simply believing that Jesus has done it for us.

As we act in faith and declare our belief by coming to God to receive the forgiveness that Jesus has earned for us, it enables Him in return to declare us forgiven and declare us adopted, so that He is then able to put His own Holy Spirit within us, so that a new experience can be ours for the rest of our years on this earth and into eternity. This new experience of life means we can live free from guilt, and free to have a relationship with God, whereby He guides and leads us. All of this is the outworking of the atoning work of Christ on the Cross when it is received by us. How wonderful!

47. Limited Anger

God in the Psalms No.47 – God of limited anger

Psa 30:5 For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favour lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.

In these meditations we have already considered the God of Anger, but here there is something more that needs taking in.  Do you ever remember times when, as a child, you did wrong and there came a division between you and your parent who was angry with what you had done? The separation was the thing that hurt you more than any smacking you may have received, the fact that your parent thought badly of you and didn’t want to know you. Well that, almost certainly, is how many of us were brought up, and in a day of no smacking, the only punishment seen by many is banishment, and psychologically that is far worse that smacking which is over in a moment.

David knew this about God. Yes, He did get angry when it was justified, but that anger was a temporary thing, something that only lasted for a moment. Yes He does bring discipline (see Prov 3:11,12, Heb 12:5,6) but it is a momentary thing in the scheme of things. Yes, it may leave you weeping for a night, but it will only be for a night (all right, a ‘night’ may not just be a few hours, it can be days, depending on the depth of work the Lord has to do in us!) It will only be for a limited period and mostly it is only a very limited period.

Consider the usual order of events in these things today: you do something wrong, the Holy Spirit within you convicts you, and you are sorry.  What has been going on in heaven?  The Father sees the sin and is angry – because He is with sin. He stirs His Spirit within you and you respond. Now what happens?  At that moment Jesus intercedes on our behalf: “Father, I died for them, I died for that sin, it’s been dealt with.” (1 Jn 2:1,2), and the matter is instantly closed.   What may happen is that in the earlier stages you may take longer to respond to the Holy Spirit’s activity within you. Like Jonah (Jon 1:1-4) we try to ‘run away’ from God and pretend it didn’t happen, so it takes a little longer for the Lord to bring us to our senses so that we repent, but the moment we do, the above conversation in heaven takes place.

There is an important principle here: God’s anger against a sin last only until you repent. The literal interpretation of our verse above which says weeping may remain for a night” is actually “weeping will come in at evening to lodge”. It’s the picture of a lodger who comes to stay overnight. You may not yet see the significance of this, so let’s say it again: God’s anger against sin lasts only until you repent.  It doesn’t carry on holding the failure against us after it’s been dealt with.  Some of us feel God will keep on harbouring it against us. No He won’t; once it’s dealt with it’s over. That’s how any punishment with children should be. When our children were little we had a saying, “After smacks come cuddles.”  The practice of pushing our children away is psychological manipulation which is harmful. The controlled smack without anger after a clear warning, followed by hugs, says this is dealt with and is now past history that can be forgotten. It is interesting to note that under the Law of Moses, incarceration (prison) was not an option. The options were death (for major crimes, which became few) or restitution. In other words, there was no long, prolonged punishment, but reconciliation as quick as possible into society.  God is looking to bring favour and blessing, but we’ll have to leave that to the next meditation.

4. Punishing/Loving

Lessons from the Law: No.4 : Punishing & Loving

Ex 20:5,6 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Quite occasionally we will have a family meal. We invite my wife’s mother (our only surviving parent) who is ninety one, and my daughter and her family which includes two young girls. We have taken photos of the four generations together: a great grandmother (my wife’s mother), a grandmother (my wife), a mother (her daughter), and grandchildren (her daughters), which means three generations of believers (the grandchildren are too young). Paul spoke similarly of Timothy and his family: “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also,” (2 Tim 1:5) but there are also families where unbelief or sin runs through the generations. The grandfather is an unbeliever and despises the Lord and his unbelief is carried through the following generations.

The thought of generations comes, somewhat surprisingly, in the midst of these early commandments. In the second commandment the Lord has warned against making idols and bowing down to them. This speaks against a culture of superstitious belief that fearfully sees power in the wind or the sky or in fertility or the sun or the moon or the river. It is a culture that seeks to appease the ‘gods’ by sacrifices of children and other abominable practices, practices that still require wives to be burnt on the funeral pyre of their husbands. These are superstitious practices that are far from the rules of God that bring love, peace, order, safety and security to a community. They are things that are born out of pure superstition, of irrational fears of the unknown. These cultures also relish self-concern which often does nothing for the poor and needy. They allow the rich to become richer at the cost of the poor. These become cultural things handed down from one generation to another – and they hate the Lord. Oh yes they do! They see the Lord as a threat to their man-controlled practices and they are driven on by the enemy playing on their superstitious fears. These generations and these cultures we suddenly find in the sights of the Lord.

This is the first reference to punishment in the Law. It says that God will hold people answerable for their lives and He will punish them. What is the purpose of the Lord’s punishment? Is it simply to be spiteful as some foolish atheists suggest? No, it is always with specific purpose which is either to remove the perpetrator who is acting like a cancer in society, or to bring them to their senses if He sees that they are open to that. It is a mystery why some people, like Pharaoh, simply harden their hearts and refuse the Lord, while others quickly heed, repent and change. The Lord’s primary desire is change, as He said through Ezekiel: Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezek 18:23).

But is fear and punishment the main thrust of this warning? No, look at what follows: showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” The sin of one generation may filter down to the following generations but the focus is on God’s love that wants to flow down through thousands of generations. This says that God’s intent is to love people and that is love expressed. It is obvious that that cannot be seen when there are generations refusing that love. But He doesn’t sit back and leave them to it; He disciplines or judges to bring change. He wants His world to be blessed, He wants His world to know and experience His love.

Later in Exodus we find the same thing: “the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” (Ex 34:6,7) There the emphasis was put first on the positive aspects and the warning only follows as if to say, “This is the wonderful God that He is, but don’t take Him for granted, don’t think you can get away with sin, for He will not sit back and let sin take over; He will deal with it.”

There is one aspect of our verses today that we have not covered: that God is a jealous God. Don’t see that as a negative thing in any way. One aspect of love is jealousy. Jealousy is a protective thing. It rises up in defensive protectiveness to guard and protect the object of our love, and to protect the relationship. It is right to be jealous for your marriage partner, to rise against anyone who would seek to lead away the object of our love and to destroy the covenant relationship. Parents who watch their teenage children being seduced away by drink or drugs know the defensive anger that rises up in a desire to protect their children from these things that they know can destroy them. Jealousy in this context is simply a right protective instinct and the Lord has it. He has it when He sees the enemy try to seduce His world with imitations or substitutes that can do nothing for people except act as crutches while he leads them further and further into deception and away from the Lord’s goodness.

These are serious verses and wonderful verses. They warn us that God’s love prompts Him to act against anyone or anything that would harm His world. His primary intent, when it comes to people, is to bring them back to their senses, to a place where they can know and experience His love, but if they will not heed, then He will, when He sees that this is the situation, remove them from the earth. In the meantime His wonderful love is there for all to receive.

5. Redemption

Ephesians Meditations No.5

5. Redemption

Eph 1:7,8 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.

The trouble with Scripture is that it sometimes uses words with which we are not familiar today. Add to this the problem that many Christians would prefer to make no effort in studying the Bible and we have a situation where the wonderful truths of God remain a foreign language to many. For example the word ‘redemption’ or its associated word, ‘redeem’ are not words that are commonly used today. It is most known for its use in connection with a pawnbroker, where someone would take a possession to the pawnbroker and he would loan them a sum of money on the basis of it, while he held it. Within some specified time they would return to the pawnbroker and pay the money back together with a fee. That act of paying the money back to recover the article is referred to as ‘redeeming’ the article and the money paid is the ‘redemption money’.

Now when we apply this concept to sin and salvation we see something amazing. When God created the word, there was no division between Him and the man and woman He made. However when they turned away from Him (Gen 3) there became a division between them and Him caused by sin. In fact, as the New Testament writers show us, we left God’s kingdom and entered a dominion of darkness (Col 1:13), and this is ruled over by Satan (1 Jn 5:19). While we give ourselves over to sin and reject God, we are, in reality, in the hands of the ‘pawnbroker’ who doesn’t own us but has possession of us. While we choose the life of sin and reject God, we remain in His hands. In fact the Bible reveals that God uses Satan to discipline and even judge mankind. Justice demands that we be punished for our sins. Justice demands that someone pay for our sins, and while we reject God, we alone have to take the punishment.

But then one day someone entered the ‘pawnbroker’s shop’ and said, “I’ve paid the price for them.” Imagine the scene. So the pawnbroker (Satan) says to Jesus, “But they deserve punishment and the law demands that I have them to bring that on them.” But the redeemer (Jesus) replies, “But I have paid the price. I took the punishment due to them. Every sin has been paid for. Every punishment owing has paid for.” So the pawnbroker says, “So who does this apply to?” to which the redeemer replies, “Whoever believes me and asks for it.”

That is what redemption is all about. Jesus has redeemed us out of the power of Sin, out of the hands of Satan. Jesus has done it all. All we can do is believe it, ask for it, and receive it.

If you are still uncertain, look again at Paul’s words, In him we have redemption through his blood.” It is “in him”, in Jesus, our salvation (redemption) is found, and it is because he shed his blood and died on the Cross in our place, that we can have it. And the result of it is that we have, “the forgiveness of sins” because Jesus has paid for them by his death.

Paul describes what has happened, saying that it is “in accordance with the riches of God’s grace”. It is all because of God’s wonderful provision for us. That is what grace is; it is God’s wonderful provision for us. In this specific instance it describes all that God has done to bring about our redemption. The fact that it is grace means that it entirely free and not something earned by us or deserved by us. It is completely a free gift of God. In our earlier years, before we heard the Gospel, we had no idea that before the foundation of the world God had planned this, and we had no idea that two thousand years ago the trinity executed this plan and Jesus had died in our place. No, it was all done before we even heard about it. Our actions did nothing to add to it. All we could do is believe it, ask for it and receive it.

See the strength of the language that Paul uses: “that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.” Lavished means poured out without restraint, poured out in abundance. God didn’t hold back. The work of Jesus on the Cross was complete and achieved EVERYTHING that was necessary to redeem us. There is nothing left outstanding of the debt we owed justice because of our sins and our allegiance to Satan. No, everything has been dealt with. It came with God’s wisdom and God knows everything and how everything should work and does work. Wisdom is about knowing ‘how to’ and God knew exactly how to satisfy justice and take the sting out of Satan’s accusations. God understood everything there is to know about our plight and about justice and about how we could be redeemed. You cannot fault this plan; it is perfect. It totally and utterly deals with our sin and our plight so that when we cry, “I believe, please save me,” Satan has no grounds to hold on to us, and God releases His own Holy Spirit to us and we start to receive all the goodness that He has in store for us that He wants us to receive. How wonderful, how marvellous is my Saviour’s love for me!

12. A Holy God

(We resume our series in Isaiah that we started several weeks ago)


Isa 6:5 Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”

Part of our task, you may remember, in this set of meditations, is to see the same God in the Old Testament as is described in the New, especially in the light of the apostle John’s assertion that “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16). Now when we read Isaiah, chapter 6, you may think that is not immediately discernable, but I want to suggest otherwise. Come with me and see.

Isaiah 6 is one of the relatively few instances in the Bible when we are given a deeper insight into God or into heaven. It happened as a clear event at a particular point in history: “In the year that King Uzziah died.” (6:1a). Historians tell us that this was 740BC. In that year something very special happened to Isaiah: “I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.” (6:1b). Now we have to assume this was a vision because we are not told he was lifted up into heaven, but nevertheless it is very clear. We don’t need to go through the details of the vision here except to note that the emphasis that comes through the vision is God’s holiness.

Now the concept of ‘holy’ or ‘holiness’ is unique to God. It has no meaning outside of God. God, the Bible tells us, IS holy. In respect of Him it suggests being utterly different, perfect, entirely without flaw in any way. When it is used in respect of a person or thing, it means given over to or dedicated to God so that it may take on His characteristic of perfection.

It is this idea of holiness that produces in Isaiah such a strong response: “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” (6:5). Something about the presence of the Lord, conveyed to Isaiah the Lord’s perfection and his own absence of perfection or, to put it another way, his uncleanness. Now this is a similar reaction to that which we find in Simon Peter when he realises something about Jesus in his boat (Lk 5), a sense of unworthiness to be in the presence of this One.

Now I don’t know if you ever watch adventure or sci-fi films but every now and then the hero finds himself (and it tends to be a man) before some great being, and the thing that is always conveyed is a sense of fear of what this great being might do to the hero. They have it in their power to, at the very least, kill the hero. That is quite a different experience from what we have here. Isaiah is filled with a sense of his own doom, certainly, but it is because of his own inadequacy, his own failures, his own sin – especially in the light of the perfection of the One before him. This guilt is what so many of us struggle with and, despite the protestations of atheists who don’t like this talk, it is the biggest problem that we wrestle with, as so many therapists or counsellors will testify.

So here is Isaiah with a problem. He is a sinner in the presence of a holy and perfect God and he realises that he is guilty of having said wrong things (his lips) which reveal what he is like on the inside. He is guilty. There is no question about it; justice demands his punishment, he feels. It is an instinctive response within him. He is doomed! But what do we find? “Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” (6:6,7). One of the angelic beings, who do the bidding of God, does something so that his guilt is taken away. Note that Isaiah didn’t do anything. It was done for him.

Now fire in the Old Testament has a double meaning. It is first the wrath of God that destroys sin but, second, it is also the work of God burning up and dealing with sin so that the sinner is freed. Thus we have in this vision a burning coal taken from the altar that was there, which is clearly a place of meeting with God where sin is dealt with. Thus the coal from this altar is taken to Isaiah and he is cleansed. An altar in the Old Testament is a place of sacrifice where a life is given up, a substitute for the sinner, and his or her sin is visually and graphically destroyed before their eyes. Thus Isaiah’s guilt is dealt with and he is freed from this feeling, so that now he can stand before God guiltless and is now available to be used by God to go and speak to His people, which is what follows.

Now of course in the Old Testament, there was no more explanation given than we have mentioned above, but the picture was very clear. Part of God’s design-rules (the Law) told the sinner who felt guilty how to deal with their sin. Take an offering and sacrifice it at the Tabernacle or Temple, as a substitute for their own life, and God would see it as a sign of their repentance and He would grant them forgiveness. It is only when we come to the New Testament that we see the eternal sacrifice offered for every person who wants to avail themselves of it, Jesus Christ the Son of God. He stood in as our substitute when he died on the Cross at Calvary. Only an eternal being could do that for the sin of every person who has existed and will existed, who want to avail themselves of this method of being freed from sin.

What do we have here in both Old and New Testaments? A picture of a loving God who realises, having given man free will and knowing man would exercise that free will wrongly, that man would be helpless to deal with his own guilt and for the sake of eternal justice, that guilt could only be taken by God Himself in the form of His Son. Thus we have possibly the most famous verse in the Bible: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16) What we have here, is the God of love who is more concerned to reconcile sinners to Himself than He is to judge or destroy them. As He said through Ezekiel, “I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!” (Ezek 18:32. THIS is the God of both the Old and New Testaments, a God who reaches out to remove our guilt and reconcile us to Himself, a God who seeks to draw us into relationship with Himself so that we can be re-established in His blessings to enjoy the life and the world He has provided for us to enjoy! Hallelujah!