112. The Kingdom Comes

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 112. The Kingdom Comes

Mk 6:12,13 They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.

Near the beginning of Mark’s Gospel we read, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mk 1:14,15). That encapsulated the message of Jesus, that the rule of God was about to be revealed so now was a time to cast off disbelief and do a one hundred and eighty degree turn about and believe that God’s goodness was there for them. The rule of God must surely be expressed by darkness being pushed back and the light and love and goodness of God revealed in what happens. To talk about God’s rule is to talk about things  happening, God delivering people from Sin and the fruits of Sin.

So it is that the apostles now go out and do exactly the same as Jesus had been doing. First of all they called people to repentance. People needed to turn away from their sin of unbelief and actively believe in the love and goodness of God that was there to restore them to genuinely be the people of God, not just in word, but in reality. We cannot become the people of God (Christians) without repentance. As we noted above it means a one hundred and eighty degree turn in our thinking, in our believing, in our attitudes and in our action. It is a turning away from self and sin and unbelief and a turning to God and to His love and goodness.

But then they drove out many demons. It has always struck me that Israel must have been in a very bad spiritual state where the occult so often prevailed and so many lives had become dominated by evil spirits. Wherever they went, it seems, they came across those who were possessed and a mark of the coming of the reign of God was that those people were set free from the demonic in their lives. Satan’s minions represent the dominion of darkness and they have no place in the kingdom of light, the kingdom of the Son. Thus where they are encountered, they are cast out.

And then, finally, they healed all who came to them and were sick. Sickness was not part of the divine design at the beginning. Ultimately it is called by the breakdown in human life caused by Sin. Thus when anyone came to God through the preaching of the apostles, the way was made open for them to be healed. Hallelujah!

 

5. Repentance

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 5. Repentance

Mk 1:4,5 And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.

And so we arrive at the first historical facts of this Gospel. At a particular place in time-space history a strange prophet appears in the wilderness of Judea and starts preaching. He tells anyone who will listen that they need to repent. Talk of repentance always implies there is something wrong in our lives and we need to turn away from it. Now this is all very strange because if you were a preacher wanting to turn the hearts of your people back to God, the obvious place you would go would be to towns where there are people – for this is exactly what Jesus did when he came. But John doesn’t; he operates in the desert where people don’t reside.

Presumably he stops passing travellers and challenges them. Soon people hear there is a prophet in the wilderness and they start going out to listen to him. There is clearly a hunger in people’s hearts and people flock out to hear him. He has an uncompromising message: repent! So they do! This tells us two things: first that the nation was in spiritual decline that this needed to happen; second, that there was a hunger in people’s hearts. It had been centuries since there had been a prophet from God in the land. Over four centuries had passed since God had spoken to this people. That is a long time. Perhaps many thought that God had utterly given up on them. Where were the days of their history when God spoke and acted into the life of this nation? Is this a sign that God is coming and speaking again?

But he also baptises them. Baptism is first and foremost a sign of being washed clean. If you have truly repented then show the sign of it by being washed clean in the River Jordan.  So the crowds came, listened to him and, one by one, confessed their sins to him and were baptised by him. God is surely at work in all this for this seems just like a revival where God sovereignly moves on the hearts of people and brings them to repentance.

Lord, please have mercy on our nation. Come and speak and convict and turn the hearts of people back to yourself. Bring about a national repentance that moves people to confess and forsake their sins and turn back to you!

15. Love is

Meditations in 1 Peter : 15 :  Love is

1 Pet 1:22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart

In recent years I have concluded that the most important characteristic of the Christian is love – and yet it doesn’t seem to get the amount of air-time that it deserves. I’ll start by suggesting you love as much as you have been loved, as John said, This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us.” (1 Jn 4:10) but perhaps I should temper what I’ve just said by saying we love as much as we realise how much we’re loved.

Peter obviously thinks similarly because he is going to encourage us to love one another: love one another deeply, from the heart.” The last three words are interesting. How else can we love, we might ask? Well we might love with our mind, an intellectual love. We know love is what should be in us and so we declare that it will be. But love is far more than a mere mental assent. Perhaps that is why the commandments about God are summed up as “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Mt 22:37). Put most simply, our love is to be whole hearted, mind and emotions together, if you like.

But in this verse there is an order of events: obey the truth – purify yourself – love for others.

The truth is simply that which has been revealed to us – the Gospel – which includes the truth that Jesus is both Lord and Saviour. As we have recently noted, he calls us out of the dominion of darkness into the kingdom of God where the rule of God prevails. The Gospel is first all about surrender to God. We give up our own rights to rule our lives because we realise (with the convicting help of the Holy Spirit) that we have made a mess of them, we are hopeless and we need saving. It is only then about what God does for us and in us. John the Baptist came preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Mt 3:2) and Jesus followed preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Mt 4:17) It was exactly the same message: do a one hundred and eighty degree turn and submit to the rule of God which is about to come. “Jesus answered, “I am the …. truth.” (Jn 14:6)  Everything Jesus speaks is the truth for he is the very expression of The Truth – God! . Jesus never said anything that was not the truth. That’s why, again and again, we find him saying, “I tell you the truth.” (Jn 3:3,5,11, 5:19,24,25 etc. etc.) Thus to obey the Father, we obey everything the Son has told us. The Christian life is first about submission and obedience.

But part of our obedience is moving into a life of purity. Jesus taught, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Mt 5:8) When we think of something that is pure – e.g. gold, silver etc. – we mean that it is free from impurities. Impurities in the Christian life are any forms of sin, or anything that mars our relationship with the Lord. The ‘pure in heart’ do not let anything taint their heart that might spoil their relationship with the Lord. A heart that allows pride to reside in it is a tainted heart and not pure, and the pride will turn the heart hard. A heart that allows covetousness to reside in it is a tainted heart and not pure, and will cause the heart to be restless, discontented and critical of God’s provision. There are a myriad of ways that our hearts can be tainted and not pure, but these are not the ways of the Christian for the Christian has submitted to Jesus and allows his rule to prevail, and that means the Christian realises their weakness and frailty and there is not room for pride. They also rest in their Saviour for he is alone is the means of their ongoing daily salvation.

As this purity comes to us at salvation and we are cleansed from our old life and empowered for a new one by the presence of the Holy Spirit, He wipes away all self and all opposition to other people. It is only as the enemy comes and we listen to him, do those things take hold again if we let them. But that is not what the rule of Jesus wants in our lives. He wants them to be as pristine clean as they were at the moment of our conversion when we were born again. At that moment at least we were utterly surrendered to him, at that moment we were utterly pure, and at that moment utterly open to him we were open to all others; there was within us this love for others that Peter speaks about. It was a natural part of the new us when we were born again, for we received the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, and he expresses the love of the Father to all. It is only as we take hold of our lives again and start thinking and rationalizing and reasoning, that we think negatively about others and forget that of ourselves we have nothing to commend us.

That is how we are naturally in Christ, is what Peter is implying and so, he says, let that work out in you and love one another deeply, from the heart. Now we see another reason why it is from the heart, because that is where purity resides and there it is that is the motivation that we have. Our hearts were surrendered to him, and our hearts are made pure and that purity means in respect of how we view others as well, with the eyes of Jesus. Oh how easy it is to stray from the truth and take up the rights of self again, and as soon as we do that we find negatives about other people rising within us. It should not be so, for it means we have been listening to the enemy and not to our Lord. Let’s check out who we’ve been listening to!

11. Gifts Change

Meditations in Romans : 11 :  Gifts are for Change

Rom  1:11-13   I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong– that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles.

While we stay with these verses we need to focus on something different, that we have only made brief reference to and which deserves greater consideration; it is about the impartation of gifts and the harvest brought thereby. Paul’s desire to come to the Christians in Rome is partly motivated by a desire to come and “impart to you some spiritual gift.” It is not until he comes to chapter 12 do we see further references to ‘spiritual gifts’. For his greatest exposition on such gifts we need to go to 1 Corinthians 12-14 but all we need say here is that when Paul uses the phrase he is quite clear that he is speaking about some particular manifestation of the Holy Spirit that is used primarily to build up the church. Now some people are very negative about spiritual gifts, more I think out of fear and the recognition that we are talking about a godly supernatural dimension which ‘naturally’ we are unable to operate in. For those of us who like to keep the Christian faith purely in the intellectual realm, the activities of the Holy Spirit, especially when in harmony with us, are particularly threatening.

So Paul is aware that he, as an apostle, has the ability to pray over others at God’s directing and impart these gifts or release these gifts in them. He sees that these gifts will help the Christians in Rome and make them strong. Strength comes when we are flowing in harmony with God’s Holy Spirit, for He is the source of all strength. He is also aware that as he comes with the faith that God has given him, it is an encouragement to the church. Looking back on my own life, I don’t know how many times I have been encouraged and strengthened by being in the presence of others who are gifted by God. Such supernatural gifting helps us realise that this is not merely about intellectual assent; it is about living in relationship with the all-powerful God who is real and who brings His power to bear in our everyday lives as we allow Him to.

Everything about this subject challenges the concept of Christianity being a passive and static faith that is all about just believing certain things. That is where the crusading atheists of the twenty first century are blind, for they do not realise that it is not merely about arguing about specific beliefs. They don’t realise that they are having to combat the living experiences of God that Christians have. It is impossible to explain away the changes that have taken place in my life on purely psychological grounds. It is impossible to explain away the many experiences of God that I have had on purely intellectual or rational grounds.

If only we did have such a thing as time travel then such silly atheists could travel back and watch and investigate the incredible works of Jesus while he was on earth, and then the things that happened to the early Christians as recorded in Acts. Seeing such simple and naïve people doing the impossible again and again would truly upset some of these carping critics. Sadly today most of them seem to lack the integrity that would go and investigate the millions of changed lives that can be observed in those who have encountered Jesus today. Travel the globe and you encounter millions of such people whose lives have been dramatically changed by encountering the living God and His Son Jesus Christ. Where are the other world religions that testify to such changes? Where are the millions of atheists who can testify to their lives being dramatically changed when the heard the good news of atheism, who found a new power source flowing in them that set them free from addictions and bad habits and bad behaviour when they received that good news. We can testify to such things because we have encountered the forgiveness, the love and power of the living God and we know that these are the things that have changed us.

Now for Paul it was a two-way street; it wasn’t merely about him, as an apostle, imparting something of a supernatural dimension to those Christians he encountered. Oh no! What he imparted had an effect on the lives of those Christians and they would thus bring forth ‘a harvest’ or a crop of fruits if you like. When Paul speaks about a harvest he surely means first of all a harvest of salvation of people coming to Christ and giving their lives to him and being born again. That is surely the first ‘harvest’ that he refers to. But there is also the fruit that comes forth in those lives and this goes back to what we were saying earlier.

The Christian faith is not static or passive, it is all about change. It is not about turning up at church once a week, it is about a radical life change that starts when we repent and surrender our lives to Christ and he forgives us and puts his Spirit within us. It is that power that changes us as we allow Him to work in us. Paul was able to write to the Galatians about the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ or the outworking or changes that the Holy Spirit brings in us when we come to Christ. He listed some of those fruits there: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal 5:22,23). There will be a steady growth of all these things in the true Christian – and a lot more. It is a life of change, the New Testament declares, a life of becoming more Christ-like. That can only come about as we submit ourselves to the Lord and He, by His Spirit, empowers us and brings about the work of change. That is what Christian leadership is all about – about bringing change to lives through the direction and power of God’s Holy Spirit. Hallelujah!

19. Avoid Lawbreaking

Meditations in James: 19 :  How to Avoid Becoming a Lawbreaker

Jas 2:8-11 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

They say that in the modernist movements of the twentieth century, artists sought to paint ‘universals’, things that summed up all other things in that group, such as a human being, or a chair. What James refers to as the royal law,Love your neighbour as yourself is a spiritual example of a universal because it sums up all other laws that protect human beings from human beings, because that is what most laws do. That particular law was found in Lev 19:18 and the Lord knew that each person has a self-love, a concern for their own well-being. What that simple law says is that anyone should view other people as they view themselves.  Now if we do that, we will always be concerned for the well-being of others, just as much as we are concerned for our own well-being, and if we do that any other law about human relationships will be covered. Now it is called the royal law because it is a law that comes out of the character of God Himself, and God of course is the King of all things.

The apostle Paul understood this when he wrote: The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Love does no harm to its neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.” (Rom 13:9,10).  Jesus had likewise previously declared this: One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”  Jesus replied: “`Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: `Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Mt 22:35-40). So, instead of having to think about the technical legalities of any particular situation, we ask ourselves, “If this was me, how would I like to be treated? This is how I ought to act towards this other person.”

But this is not a theoretical, abstract discussion; this is all to be seen in the light of what James has been saying about local gatherings of Christians. In case you’d forgotten, he was castigating them for showing favouritism and exalting the rich and ignoring the poor.  Implied in all this, he is saying, “Think about this, how would you feel if you were the poor coming into your congregations?  How would you feel if you saw the rich being exalted and yourself being ignored?”  There is an obvious answer to that which implies that the behaviour being referred to – favouritism – is wrong, because it demeans the poor and makes them feel bad about themselves, if not about you!  This favouritism must stop!  It must stop if for no other reason that it is wrong and ‘wrong’ is sin.  The law of love has revealed you as a lawbreaker. You are not loving part of your congregation as yourself.  If you were in their shoes you would not feel good; you would feel hurt, rejected and isolated.  Oh no, if you thought the previous meditations were the rantings of someone with a chip on their shoulder about being rejected, you have missed the point.  It’s all about sin in the local church!  Sin is breaking the Law whether it is the ethical Law of Moses or the law of love that summarises it.  Did you not realise this?   Favouritism is sin and we should never knowingly continue in sin.  We should repent of all known sin, and repentance involves giving up the sin.

To make his point even more forcibly James points out that if you break the law on just one point it makes you a lawbreaker.  If that doesn’t say much to you it’s simply that you haven’t thought about it yet.  If you are a lawbreaker you are a criminal in the eyes of the law. It doesn’t matter which law you break; if you break ANY law you are automatically a criminal.  Indeed for the purpose of definition every sin is the same, so once you sin by whatever means, it makes you a sinner and that puts you on the same footing as every other sinner, including those that you might have thought were ‘big’ sinners. No, a sinner is a sinner.  We are all lawbreakers if we knowingly do this thing. Once we say that, we need to add three comments:  First God is against knowing-sinners.  Yet, second, Jesus died for all sinners.  Third, all known sin is to be confessed and rejected.  When we do the third thing, the first thing ceases to be, because of the second one.

So, check it out. James has spent quite a while on this subject.  If not dealt with it can undermine the very foundation of the Church.  If not dealt with it causes division and hurt and is an issue that God is deeply concerned about because it flies in the face of His very character – love.  So, are there people we exclude?  Are there people we look down on?  Are there people we feel negative about, simply because of their looks or the culture they come from? Perhaps it’s time to do a reassessment of our church life.

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.