15. Warning Number 1

Meditations in Hebrews 2:   15. Warning Number 1  

Heb 2:1-3   We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?

Moving into chapter 2 brings us face to face with the first of a number of warnings that the writer brings to his readers. If this had been the apostle Paul, his style tended to be several chapters of doctrine which are then followed by the practical teaching and exhortations, but this writer having written our chapter 1, now pauses before he brings any more doctrine (which will be integrated into the exhortations).

Having just shown that Jesus is so much greater than angels, that raises a concern in his mind as he reflects on the Law brought by Moses and the salvation now brought by Jesus. He reveals his pastoral concern in verse 1: We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.”  i.e. I know there is always this temptation to drift away (after all, it was what the Israelites had done time and time again) and so the means of stopping this possible drift is to “pay more careful attention… to what we have heard.” i.e. hold onto it, go back over it, make sure you fully take it in and understand it so it impacts you. I like the Message version on this verse: It’s crucial that we keep a firm grip on what we’ve heard so that we don’t drift off.” 

But then he gives another reason for holding firmly onto the truth that has been conveyed to us by Jesus: For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him.” (v.2,3) i.e. the Law was conveyed by angels and those who disobeyed were punished, so how much more serious is it when God speaks to us through His own Son?

Now we perhaps ought to pause up here and note this reference to angels. There is no mention of angels in the historical accounts within Exodus of angels but it is clear that the modern Jews believed that they had been involved. For example, Stephen declared that (Acts 7:35,38,53) as did the apostle Paul (Gal 3:19). This may be because of Moses’ final words to Israel before he left them and died (Deut 33:2). The present writer picks up on this common belief and simply uses it here as a warning not to ignore the salvation proclaimed by Jesus.

Now again it might be worth just reflecting on what Jesus did say that we might be able to call the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. His opening words in Matthew are, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Mt 4:17) or as the Message puts it, “Change your life. God’s kingdom is here.” Matthew was the gospel writer concerned about the Jewish viewpoint and knew they were waiting for God’s kingdom. Matthew then records, “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.” (Mt 4:23)  i.e. kingdom word AND power. That IS good news!

Mark records, The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mk 1:15) Mark, it is believed, was helped in his writing by the apostle Peter, who had come to see the wonder, the good news of everything to do with Jesus. Although this proclamation is followed by power activity you are left feeling how good it was, this was really very good news. Shortly Jesus delivered a demon possessed man in the local synagogue (Mk 1:23-26) and this left the watchers amazed at this brilliant teacher (v.22) who also had power (v.27).

Luke, after his early days’ passages, after the genealogy and temptation, records  Jesus in the local synagogue reading and applying to himself the words of Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Lk 4:18,19) This is packed full of good news but unlike our wishy-washy four rules type of proclamation of the Gospel, Jesus’ Gospel goes beyond words to actually setting people free and letting them know that “This is God’s year to act!” (Message Version) or “the time has come for the Lord to show his kindness,” (Easy to Read version).

Matthew’s equivalent to this is Jesus speaking to John the Baptist’s disciples, Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” (Mt 11:4,5)  Jesus’ Gospel is a doing Gospel.

John concurs with this view of Jesus’ Gospel: “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (Jn 20:30,31)  i.e. the signs point to the man, the Son of God.   Belief follows signs, for those who have eyes to see.

Our present writer to the Hebrews is completely in line with this as he continues, “God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” (v.4) although he uses the word ‘testifies’ applying the signs, wonders and miracles, to all those things we’ve read above. But not only that, He has imparted divinely supernatural gifts of the Spirit to Jesus’ body – the single body and now the body that is his church.

I wonder if this same message should be the primary message we hear in today’s church? Instead of teaching theory, shouldn’t our leaders be teaching power-practice, for didn’t Jesus say, “anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12). It is shear unbelief, I would suggest, to try and wash this verse out of the Scriptures by coming up with flim-flam that says these things have passed away. Everything we have been reading in this study points in the same direction: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Heb 13:8) We demean him and his message if we are content with a mere words-only Gospel. It has served us well and many of us are the proof of it but that is not an excuse not to be the church Jesus spoke about, a church that brings the good news which is both words and transforming power. Without the ‘double-package’ we might ask is that why so much of the Western world is rejecting us?

But the thrust of the start of chapter 2 is, with all this evidence of the wonder of the Gospel of Jesus, we should learn it and live it to stop us drifting away and make it real and obvious so that others will not reject it. That is the message here.

14. Even Unbelievers get the message

Meditations in 1 Samuel   14. Even Unbelievers get the Message  

1 Sam 6:1-2   When the ark of the LORD had been in Philistine territory seven months, the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners and said, “What shall we do with the ark of the LORD? Tell us how we should send it back to its place.”

The ‘useful’ thing about unbelievers is that they are superstitious. In other words, they are often more alert than believers for ‘signs’, things that point to a deeper meaning for what is going on. We see this a number of times in the Bible. We find it, for example in the case of Pharaoh and Abram when Abram has passed off Sarai as his wife and we read, But the LORD inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram’s wife Sarai. So Pharaoh summoned Abram. “What have you done to me?” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife?” (Gen 12:17,18) There is no indication of how long it took Pharaoh to work out what was going on, but he does! There was a later repeat of this situation but with Abimelech but he at least was open to hearing God in a dream: “But God came to Abimelech in a dream one night and said to him, “You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman.” (Gen 20:3)

In the bringing of the plagues in Egypt the magicians came to their senses faster than Pharaoh who refused to listen to Moses: “The magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” (Ex 8:19). Yes, it had taken then several plagues to get it but get it they eventually did!

When it comes to our present situation it takes a while for the Philistine leaders to get to the point where they realised they were the losers: When the ark of the LORD had been in Philistine territory seven months.”   In that time the ark had first been taken to Dagon’s temple at Ashdod with disastrous effect that we have already noted (1 Sam 5:1-5). The Lord had then afflicted them with tumours and it hadn’t taken them too long to realise they needed to get rid of the ark, so they sent it to Gath (1 Sam 5:6-8). But then tumours had broken out there and they quickly put two and two together and panicked (v.9,10) so they quickly sent it to Ekron, but the people there had already worked out that having this ‘god’ in their town was seriously bad news: “So they called together all the rulers of the Philistines and said, “Send the ark of the god of Israel away; let it go back to its own place, or it will kill us and our people.” For death had filled the city with panic; God’s hand was very heavy upon it.” (v.11)

It is then that we read it had been there seven months and “the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners and said, “What shall we do with the ark of the LORD? Tell us how we should send it back to its place.” (6:1) Now I commented about the world coming to their senses faster than believers because the evidence of the New Testament shows that: “For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.” (1 Cor 11:29-32) This follows after the apostle Paul has chided them for their bad attitudes and bad behaviour as they came to Communion.

Something had been happening and they (unlike their unbelieving worldly counterparts, the Philistines) had not noted what was happening and certainly the link between it and their behavior. Look at that devastating verse 30: “That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.”  People in the church are dying because of their bad attitudes and their bad behaviour – and the rest don’t realise what is going on! Paul tells them that with these bad attitudes and behaviour each one of them, “eats and drinks judgment on himself.”  You are being judged by God, is what he is saying, and you don’t realise it! Be under no false illusion about this; look at the language Paul keeps on using: “But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgement,” (v.31)

The death of Christians in Corinth was specifically the judgement of God on them for their abuses of each other and of the name of the Lord.  And they didn’t realise what was going on! This rises the bigger question, do we realise when God is disciplining us? The writer to the Hebrew understood this: “the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” (Heb 13:6) Oh but, you say, we’re Christians; surely Jesus has taken all of our punishment for our sins?  Yes, he has but that is the bigger context of your salvation; here we are talking about your sanctification, the process of change that God is working in us to deliver us from the ways of ‘the old life’ and to make us more like Jesus, free from all bad attitudes, bad thoughts, bad speech and bad behaviour.

If you hang on to any of these things, then expect the Lord in His love for you to discipline you, and be under no illusions. First realise that, “God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness, “ (Heb 12:10) and second, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Heb 12:11)  The purpose of discipline is to train us and that means to change us so that when we learn from it and come through it, righteousness will be a primary characteristics of our lives, together with peace.

This is what God was doing through the people we observed earlier, Pharaoh with Abram, Abimelech with Abraham, and the Philistines with the ark. All of these were remarkable examples of discipline not destruction. When we think of the ‘judgment of God’ it can be disciplinary or destructive depending on God’s intent. Ezekiel reveals to us three times that God does not want to bring death but would far rather see repentance and change and ongoing life (Ezek 18:23,31,32 & 33:11): “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?” (18:23) As we’ve also seen recently, the New Testament equivalent is, The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9)

So how about the Corinthian church? They already have salvation (as did Ananias and Sapphira – Acts 5.) so for them it is a case of being called home prematurely so that the rest of the church will change and grow. If we believe in heaven and the wonder of it (and we do!) then being ‘called home’ is not a bad thing. Maybe we need to adjust our viewpoint and perspective and grow to mature understanding. May it be so!

14. Jesus, the Ultimate Gem

Meditating on the Gems of the Bible:  14. Jesus the ultimate gem

Mat 1:20,21  “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

The name Jesus or Jeshua was fairly common and is akin to Joshua of the Old Testament and it means deliverer. The thing about this particular baby, this particular Jesus, was that he would not deliver people in a physical sense but in a spiritual sense. The claim of the angel speaking to Joseph in a dream was that this Jesus would come and do something that no other person on earth could do, he would deliver people from their sins. Now when we think about that we realise that it must mean that he will deliver them from the guilt and punishment that their sins deserve AND he will deliver them from the actual sins, from continuing to do them. That is what salvation through Christ does, and just in case you have never seen it like that before, let’s repeat it: he delivers form the guilt and punishment of sins AND from the ongoing having to continue to sin. The first is what puts us right with God and the second is the life we live out subsequently with Him. This, as briefly as possible, is what Jesus has come to achieve, and he has done it for millions and millions of people.

How, again as briefly as possible, did he go on to do it, this? There were two parts to his ministry. First of all, for three years he lived out a period of ministry from about the age of thirty, revealing his Heavenly Father’s nature. In the words of the apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost, he was revealed as a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him,” (Acts 2:22)  Later on, to Cornelius and his Gentile family and friends Peter declared, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.” (Acts 10:38)  Jesus himself had declared to John’s disciples, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” (Mt 11:4,5) In the things he did he revealed Himself as a unique being.

Three times his Father testified to the wonder of who he was. First at his own baptism, “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Mt 3:16,17)  The second was on the Mount of Transfiguration: “Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” (Mk 9:7) The third time appears to have been on Palm Sunday, as recorded by John, “Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.” (Jn 12:28,29)

The second part of his ministry was dying on the Cross to take the punishment for our sins. Jesus knew exactly what he was doing when he allowed this to happen: “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Mt 16:21) Also “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” (Mt 20:18,19) He spelled out the purpose of this at the Last Supper: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mt 26:28) The apostle Peter also spelled this out: “The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead–whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.” (Acts 5:30,31) God raised Jesus from the dead and then took him back to heaven with him, confirming who he was and his purpose.

This is the unique ministry of Jesus Christ, the revealed Son of God. After he ascended and returned to sit next to his Father in heaven, ruling at His side, we find there are three people who saw him there. First there was Stephen just before he was stoned to death as the first Christian martyr (see Acts 7:56). The second was Saul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-6) and the third was the apostle John in his revelation on the isle of Patmos. In the first part of the vision he saw Jesus as the one holding the seven churches of Asia Minor in his hands – the Lord of the Church (Rev 1:12-18). In the next part of the vision he saw him before the throne of heaven, as the Lamb of God, the Saviour of the world (Rev 5:5-10).  In the latter part of Revelation he saw him as the returning conquering king (Rev 19:11-16).

So when Joseph gets this message from the angel in a dream, we have all this wrapped up in a short description. The wonder of the New Testament is that being opened up and revealed to us in much greater detail. Of all of the gems we might find in the Bible, this surely has to shine the brightest.

22. Signs & Wonders?

Meditations in Acts : 22 :  Signs & Wonders?

Acts 2:18-20    Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.

We cover these three verses together purposely because there a flow which is important to note. In verse 18 there is a reiteration of what has been said in the previous verses, that when the Spirit comes there will be an outpouring of revelation in the form of prophecy but, more than that, the Spirit will come on both men and women and both men and women will know the fruit of the Spirit coming and will prophesy. It is as if the Lord wants to reiterate this so that the male dominant Jewish society could not fail to see this significant working in the new covenant period. Thus verse 18 is a clear reference to what is just happening there on the Day of Pentecost. There can be no question that it applies to THAT day.

But when you come to the end of verse 20 we find a reference to “coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.” Was that a reference to the Day of Pentecost? Was the presence of the Spirit on the earth sufficient to describe is as a great and glorious day? Well in spiritual terms it might have been for something very great has just occurred, God has come down to indwell ALL Believers, but wherever else in Scripture that sort of description is given, it seems to clearly infer the day on which God winds up everything, a day of great judgment. Now it is clear that the Day of Pentecost was not that and nor has such a day occurred since. In other words, it is still yet a day in the future.

So we seem to have bookends to the period of Church history, the Day of Pentecost starting it off and the Last Day winding it up, and in between we have this period I have been referring to as the period of Church history during which the Gospel is preached, believers are created and then indwelt by the Spirit to become children of God.

Now between these two ‘bookends’ that I have referred to we have this somewhat bland statement (bland in that it is a very basic description), that says that BEFORE that Last Day arrives there will be wonders in the sky and signs on the earth. Now what is the difference between these two terms? A wonder draws attention to something. The burning bush that Moses encountered (Ex 3) was a wonder. It drew his attention to it so that he paused up and went and had a look at it. A sign is always informative, it points towards something. Yes they are very similar and are both used by the Lord. A wonder can be observed by all, but it becomes a sign when people realise that it is pointing to something.

For example: “The LORD said to Moses, “When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do.” (Ex 4:21) the miracles that Moses was going to perform were wonders but previously we find, “Then the LORD said, “If they do not believe you or pay attention to the first miraculous sign, they may believe the second. But if they do not believe these two signs or listen to you, take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground. The water you take from the river will become blood on the ground.” (Ex 4:8,9). So these wonders were also supposed to act as signs of God’s sovereign presence to Pharaoh – but he refused to see them.

So, says the prophecy, things will happen in the sky that will be clearly visible to all and will grab your attention. Then there will be things happening on the earth that will act as signs pointing to the coming of the Lord, because that is what will happen at the end of this period.  These may be things that happen in a variety of forms throughout the period of Church history or they may be things that will only happen in the period immediately preceding the Lord’s coming.

Now we could speculate what these things mean, and plenty of commentators do, but it will be pure speculation, but it may be wiser simply to ask, are we alert to the moving of God and what God is doing?  Are we aware of the judgment of God as it has come upon Western nations in particular for their clear ungodliness? Do we see anything that happens in the realm of ‘nature’ as warnings from God, things sent by Him to challenge or soften the hearts of those who are open to have their hearts softened? Remember, all such things are signs that seek to point people towards the Lord. Knowing Him is THE most important issue in all of history. We should not be surprised, therefore, if He uses signs and wonders in this time of Church history to try to catch people’s attention and draw them back to Himself. Are we open to the teaching of the Bible in this respect?

And what does this aspect of this Spirit-anointed sermon say to us about the very act of preaching? It tells us, even more clearly than we saw in the previous meditation, that preaching should make sense of the world and the times in which we live. It explains the prophetic that is seen in the Scriptures and it places our lives in context in God’s plan of history. It makes us realise that we are part of a plan that God is working out and often, that plan means us living through materialistic and godless times where we are called to remain faithful. Thus preaching bring assurance in difficult days and hope for days yet to come.

3. A Sense of Alone

Motivation Meditations in Acts : 3 :  A Sense of Alone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

27. Entrusted One

Meditations on Jesus in John’s Gospel : 27 : Jesus, the Entrusted One

Jn 3:35 The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands.

In the age in which we live, in Britain in the early part of the twenty first century, there is one particular tragedy that stands out and which has devastating effects. It is that of fathers abandoning their wives and their children. Far back in history, before people commuted to work (!), men worked from home or from a location close to home and the family unit, being a lot closer, had a part in that work.  Son would thus join the father in his work and eventually the father would hand over the business to the son who would pass it on to his son. Today all of that has gone and the concept of closeness of father and son seems almost alien, which is why the significance of our verse today may be lost on us.

Already in these meditations we have considered something of the closeness of the Father and the Son as revealed by John in his Gospel. There is something quite glorious in this verse, about intimacy and trust. Jesus declares something very simple but very profound: The Father loves the Son.” Sadly today many sons could not say that about their fathers, but Jesus knew it as a truth. Here in human form, separated from his Father in heaven, he still knew the Father loved him. It is part of human experience to know we are loved and where that is missing that is tragic. It is part of the confidence that the Son has.  Already the Father has intervened on earth to declare His approval of His Son (Mt 3:17) as Jesus was being baptised.  Approval indicates confidence and Jesus has that assurance, that confidence, from his Father. He knows he is loved and that love inspires confidence in what he does.

But then comes this incredible statement: The Father … has placed everything in his hands”. What is this ‘everything’?  It is the whole of the work or ministry that Jesus has come to do.  The outcome of your salvation and my salvation was entirely in Jesus’ hands.  He came first to reveal the Father through the works that he performed.  As we’ve already seen, the miracles were to act as signs pointing toward God, for whoever had eyes to see. The works in themselves, and the preaching and teaching that he brought, turned many to God and revealed God’s love to many in those three brief years. But then came the Cross, that work into eternity that took your sin and my sin so that we might be pardoned and forgiven and cleansed when we turned to God, so that justice could be seen to be done and all sin punished. This staggering work on the Cross was the means of all history being changed. All of that was committed into Jesus’ hands. The Father entrusted him with that work, something they had agreed upon before the foundation of the world.

This is the staggering truth, that the Godhead had placed the eternal future of many in the human race upon this one human body that carried the eternal Son. It seems such a fragile plan, dependant upon one human body, who had all of this eternal plan placed in his hands. The success or failure for a family for God in eternity depended on Jesus and the Father trusted him with it. How did the Son achieve it? We’ve seen it before: he watched the Father moving and followed His lead (Jn 5:19) and the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son (Jn 5:22). Yes, the assessment of each human being is dependent on Jesus. It is first how each one of us responds to the Good News of Jesus Christ that we are saved or condemned, and the Son, now seated at the Father’s right hand in heaven confirms the assessment and saves or judges on the basis of our response to him. Awesome!

5. God of Signs

Lessons from Israel: No.5 : God of Signs

Ex 3:12 And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”

My daughter, now happily married and mother of two, was confessing the other day how useless she is at navigating around the country in a car. The fact that she had a qualification in geography didn’t help her reading maps and so out of exasperation I eventually said, “Well you could at least just follow the signs.” The signposts on Britain’s road are generally good and all you need to do is follow the signs and you’ll get there but my daughter, like many, obviously doesn’t like following the signs. I think this must be her equivalent to the male ‘thing’ of not wanting to read the instructions on the flat pack until we are desperate! Why are we blind to signs?

Well the Bible has a lot to say about signs and Moses is being given a sign at the moment (perhaps not a very helpful one you may think but we’ll come to that later). Probably the classic ‘sign-demander’ in the Bible was Gideon (Judges 6:36-40) with the famous fleece incident. The amazing thing is that the Lord went along with it.

In the New Testament, the Gospel writer, John, referred to Jesus’ miracles as signs (see Jn 2:11,23, 3:2, 6:2, 26, 7:31, 9:16, 11:47, 12:37, 20:30). For him, you had to be blind not to realise who this was that was doing all these amazing things which were like signs pointing out who Jesus was. Now the interesting thing there, was that the things that Jesus did were ‘signs’ for those who had eyes to see, whose hearts were open to him. In fact Jesus chided them sometimes that it was only the miraculous that would get them to believe (i.e. they couldn’t believe the character or the teaching, they had to have the impossible done in front of them): “Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.” (Jn 4:48)  Signs, therefore, as seen with Jesus, were miraculous things but which would only be seen as signs by those with hearts open to him.

On the day of Pentecost, the apostle Peter, under the inspiration of the Spirit, spoke of Joel’s prophecy, part of which had God declaring, “I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke,” (Acts 2:19) before the last day and the return of Jesus. In other words there will be catastrophes on earth which will be signposts to the days nearing an end (there are other signs given in the New Testament as well), and one might ask, do we have eyes to see the things that are happening in our day and do we see the truths that they are pointing to?

So let’s now look at what the Lord is saying to Moses. Remember, these are very early days in Moses’ relationship with the Lord. Moses hasn’t actually asked for a sign and so the Lord simply volunteers this information: this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.” I think, in all honesty, if I had been Moses at that moment I would have been thinking, “Well excuse me Lord, but that is not very helpful. If you’re going to give me a sign could I have it as a means of reassurance before I go off and do what you want me to do? Signs come to show the way ahead, don’t they?”  Having been around for some time and having observed the prophetic gift working quite extensively, I have learnt that so often prophecy (like God is giving Moses) is considered by the Lord sufficient to encourage. “How will I know if this is the Lord?” sometimes comes the question. Well follow it and then when it’s happened you’ll know it was Him, is the reply.

If you’re struggling with this, stop and think about what is happening to Moses. He’s standing before a burning bush that isn’t being consumed and he’s clearly hearing a voice coming out of it that is clear, coherent and understandable. What more do you need to convince you that this is God? Aren’t these things sufficient in themselves? And when you read on you’re going to see the Lord show Moses how to perform the miraculous with his staff and then, when he starts out, everything he says to Pharaoh is going to be fulfilled as they go along. Won’t all these things be sufficient signposts?

Look back on your own life. Hasn’t the life transformation when you were born again been an incredible sign of God’s love for you? Consider the answers to prayer or the things that the Lord has done for you. Aren’t they sufficient signs of God’s love for you? When that prophetic word was brought to you, didn’t the Holy Spirit within you give you a ‘buzz’, didn’t it come with a sense of authority and blessing? Hey, if you’re still not sure, know that God loves you, understands your hesitancy and will probably speak it again if you’re still being slow.

This ‘sign of completion’, for that is what it will be, is just going to be a further bonus from the Lord and He’ll no doubt remind Moses of it when they get back to Sinai with all the people. But don’t think negatively about it. Really Moses has and is going to get so many signs along the way, that this is just the icing on the cake. If you want to pray, “Lord, open my eyes,” He’ll show you the incredible number of things He’s already done for you which, when you have eyes to see, will be more than enough! Go on, risk it, pray it!

19. A Sign


19. A Sign for You?

Luke 2:12-14 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.”

There is a desire in most of us that says, “Show me, give me a sign.” We feel sufficiently insecure that we desire to be able to see, to have our way ahead lit by a sign that says, this way, it’s all right. The strange thing though, when we come to the Bible, is that God isn’t very good with signs. The shepherds were offered a sign: a baby in a manger – but that meant they had to go down to the town first to find the sign: act then get the sign.

We come to God asking for clarity, light on the path ahead, and He tells us that we are to live by faith not by sight (2 Cor 5:7). Faith in the Bible is responding to what God says, so our light is His word and that becomes a lamp to our feet (Psa 119:105), that’s why we need to read it more and more. We’re also called to be led by His Spirit (Gal 5:16,25) which again is something that happens within us, not through our eyes.

When Moses was talking with God at the burning bush, the Lord gave him a sign to prove He was with him – the promise that when he had led Israel out of Egypt, they would worship at this mountain (Sinai). In others words, when you’ve done it you’ll know it was me with you! When God speaks words of prophecy it is so often like that: He says it, you look for it, but don’t find it, He then does it and you look back and realize that it was Him. So often, it seems, God’s ‘signs’ require us to move first.

John in his Gospel speaks of the miracles that Jesus did as ‘signs’ (Jn 2:11, 4:54 etc.), but of course they were only recognized as such by those whose hearts were open and seeking. Others simply criticized and asked for more ‘signs’ (e.g. Jn 2:18). It seems again and again the Lord wants us to respond to what He says and then, and only then, it becomes clear. It’s when we step forward trusting, that a voice comes from behind us saying, “This is the way walk in it” (Isa 30:21). So if you’re looking for a sign from God, in His graciousness He may just give you one (e.g. to Gideon – Judges 6:36-40), but more often than not, He waits for you to act in faith before the sign comes.

So the angel tells them about the baby who will be God’s Chosen One, the Christ or Messiah (v.11). The fact that he’s there, as I said, will be sufficient for you to believe what I’ve said is true, is what the angel is saying. When you look, you will find – but you need to look first. That’s how it works with God – then and now!

Then it’s as if heaven couldn’t contain itself for suddenly there is a great company – very many – angels, all singing of God’s greatness. The Christmas story is littered with angelic appearances. It’s as if heaven is coming to earth to accompany the coming of the Son. Of course it wasn’t until much later that Jesus himself spoke about how he had always existed and had come down to earth from heaven (Jn 6:33,38,41,51,58). The glory that had been in heaven, now somehow compressed, was now on the earth (Phil 2:6-8). The presence of the singing angels is not the incredible thing; it’s the presence of the very Son of God who is the incredible thing, God on earth. This presence on earth of the Son was evidence of the wonder (glory) of God’s plans for mankind, peace that will be brought between God and man, through this Son. The angels are singing of the wonder that is possible for you and me – peace with God!