Snapshots: Day 24

Snapshots: Day 24

The Snapshot: “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac.” You are a God like all the other gods who demand child sacrifice? No I am not. Then why do you want me to kill Isaac? I don’t. But you said….  I simply said take him. But you said sacrifice him? I want you to be willing to give him up. But isn’t that the same as killing him? No, I simply want you to learn to trust me. And you will raise him from the dead? If that’s how you want to see it. Very well, here he is. Stop. But you said…. No, I said learn to trust me with those most precious to you. Then you don’t want me to kill him? Of course not, I said that. But…. Don’t you realize I love him more than you do? But…. Hold all my gifts to you lightly, don’t make them more than me, otherwise you will cheapen them. What?

Further Consideration: Our problem, so often, is that we don’t realize how much God loves us and our loved ones. A good number of years ago, when our three children were young (they are now in their late thirties) my wife had an accident. I will spare her blushes by not telling you what happened but she was bleeding – badly. We put a towel against the cut and rushed her to hospital. In the Accident and Emergency dept they instantly saw there was a big problem and immediately started work on her while I was asked to wait outside. Their problem was that they could not stop her bleeding. She had cut an artery and nothing they could do would stop it.

In a semi-unconscious state she heard their desperate urgency and realized she could be dying. Lying there while they sought to stop the bleeding she prayed and said, “But Lord, what about my three children, who will look after them?” (I could have felt offended about this except that I was passed it at that point and anyway didn’t know until afterwards what she had prayed). But as she prayed, asking for help, she very clearly heard the Lord who said, “Don’t you realize that I love them and care for them even more than you do?” And that was it. The bleeding stopped, crisis over, but a changed wife.

God did NOT want Isaac dead; He just wanted Abraham (and us) to learn something. At the end of it, Abraham named the place, “The Lord will provide.” (Gen 22:14) Here’s the thing, Mount Moriah where this happened (v.2) is according to 2 Chron 3:1, Jerusalem, the vicinity of Calvary where another son was sacrificed – for you and me. God doesn’t want your death or mine, Jesus has already given himself in our place, to carry our sin, so that we can carry on living – for ever! Some are revolted by the picture of Jesus dying for them but it is only pride that keeps us from facing our need and our hopelessness and then, as a drowning person grabbing a straw, we accept the Cross.

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Snapshots: Day 2

Snapshots of the Bible Story: Day 2

The Snapshot: “In the beginning… God …. was the word…”: (Gen 1 & Jn 1) In the beginning was The Thought and the Thought was One, independent, reliant upon no one, and the Thought expressed itself as a word and the word was one with the Thought, one Spirit, one essence, coming out of it, begotten of it, and the Thought and the Word were perfectly one and because they understood each other, the Word uttered, “My Father,” and  the Thought uttered, “My Son,” and together they existed in perfect unity, perfect harmony, perfect oneness and yet unique, one who existed always, and one who was begotten out of the eternity.  One.  Wonder and marvel.

Further Consideration:  I have tried to convey a truth using the words ‘Thought’ and ‘Word’. Now the Bible doesn’t describe God as a Thought but it does describe the Son of God as ‘word’. I hesitate to put an article before ‘word’ because ‘a’ is imprecise. However, the apostle John does describe him as ‘the word’ (Jn 1:1,14 & 1 Jn 1:1), speaking into the Greek culture of his day for which the Greek word for ‘word’, ‘logos’, was taken to mean ‘plan, reason or purpose behind all things’.

But I have used the word ‘Thought’ of God to capture the sense of distinct existence, distinct from inert material, to describe a sentient being, one who is responsive, emotional, perceptive, being capable of rational thought, consideration and expression. In Day 1 we observed the revelation of the Bible showing Him to be all-powerful, all-knowing etc. but that could be said of Terry Pratchett’s giant tortoise weaving through space carrying all on his back, but the God of the Bible is infinitely greater than this, He has a mind that is rational and so my previous definition of ‘spirit’ as ‘power or energy with personality’ equally underplays the reality of who He is. If He was not spirit but material then we might describe Him with a ‘brain’ billions of times greater than anything we can conceive.

But then, perhaps for our benefit, perhaps to convey something more of Himself to us, the Bible conveys the idea of the Godhead, a God who expresses Himself in three forms, and the second form is as a ‘Son’ begotten of (as the Creeds put it – meaning simply ‘brought out of’) God who then, as the two exist distinctly but one, is considered as ‘Father’. There is communication. In a mind there are ‘thoughts’. Now consider two ‘thoughts’ that having come into being, remain as two separate distinct thoughts. We move forward.  Marvel and worship.

40. The Salvation Process

Short Meditations in John 6:  40. The Salvation Process

Jn 6:40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”  

Hell or annihilation (depending on what you believe) is the ultimate fear when death is faced – what comes next? One of the things about the whole record of the Bible is this looking towards ‘something next’ after death, and although there are in the Gospels warning against a fiery destruction for unbelievers (e.g. Mt 3:10,12, 5:22, 7:19, 13:40, 18:8,9, 25:41) there are also many encouragements about eternal life (e.g. Jn 3:15,16,36, 4:14,36, 5:24, 6:27,40,47,54,68, 10:28, 12:25,50, 17:2,3). This ‘eternal life’ was often expressed in the terms of ‘being raised up at the last day’ (see also 5:28,29) and thus we now find in v.39,40,44,54 – this reference that Jesus will “raise them up at the last day” i.e. four times in this chapter to make the point.

But this point is, in the light of the complete verse, the last part of a process that takes place, and has to take place, with every fallen sinner who wishes to avoid the destructions warned against above.  The start of this ‘process’ (an ongoing action with a number of elements) is, for the fallen sinner (all of us) turning to Jesus. It is seen in this verse as two stages: a) looking on the Son and b) believing in him. We can see those two stages so clearly in people coming to the Lord.

Initially most are very largely ignorant of Jesus but then as the individual has their attention drawn to the Gospels which they read, or are told about, they become aware of Jesus in a new way. Believing in him really should have three aspects although, as we’ve said before, they often only filter into our consciousness in stages. They are that a) he is the unique Son of God, God in the flesh, b) he has come to be Saviour of the world, and also c) he is Lord.

We must never see our salvation in mechanical terms, one thing automatically following another. The promise of eternal life is given to the new believer and the indwelling Holy Spirit (who is eternal) is the means of our lives being carried on after death and into eternity. It is because of the work of Christ on the Cross that this becomes possible and so it is Christ (and his Spirt, the Holy Spirit) who will raise us up to be with him in eternity. The reference to “at the last day” which appears in these verses three times, we so often think of as either Jesus’ second coming (see Rev 19:11-) or the final judgment day (Rev 20:11-) but it could also very simply mean the last day of our physical lives. Applying Scripture to this part of our existence is not easy, suffice it to say we are promised a new raised up life that Jesus will enable to happen after our deaths. Hallelujah!

38. The Descending Son

Short Meditations in John 6:  38. The Descending Son

Jn 6:38   For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.   

We finished yesterday with the thought that none of us is worthy, and it is the words of the prodigal that come to mind, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” (Lk 15:19) We, as sinners, gave up our ‘right’ to be called children of God at the Fall, but Christ has come to change that and restore us to that role – children of God (see 1 Jn 3:1), and it is that activity of Christ, that is encapsulated in this verse.

In this verse Jesus is not specific about what the will of God is – simply that he has come to do it. At the Last Supper discourse Jesus said, “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” (Jn 15:10) Later he prayed to his Father, “I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.” (Jn 17:4) Earlier he had taught, “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life – only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.’” (Jn 10:17,18) Thus again and again we catch this sense of Jesus overriding desire to be seen to be doing his Father’s will. What he was doing was not just his bright idea, it was that which the Father had laid down before the foundation of the world and which the Son was now working through.

But there is something else here that appears nowhere else so clearly, something of immense significance: “I have come down from heaven.” Wow! There it is, the ultimate claim to divinity. Heaven was his home and he has left it to come to earth. It reveals his pre-existence, he existed in heaven long before he was born in the form of a human baby to a girl named Mary and a token father, Joseph.  Later in the chapter we find, “what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before!” (Jn 6:62) The hints continue on. In a later argument he said, “‘before Abraham was born, I am!’ (Jn 8:58) There again the ‘I am’ formula that was often used by him that subtly alluded to his divinity, his standing with the Father and his eternal existence as God.

Again and again there is a sharpness, a clarity in John that is absent in the other earlier three Gospels, that culminated near the end with that absolute clarity of purpose in writing: “these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (Jn 20:31) On every page of John there is something of this intensity that he had come to see as he remembered back to those wonderful days. Here in this verse we have one of the key gems, I believe, that show that purpose in such clarity.

7. God’s King

Reaching into the Psalms 1 to 4: 7. God’s King

Psa 2:6,8 “I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain…. I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.

Approach: We noted previously the structure of this psalm, as four sets of three verses in our Bible: v.1-3 The rebellion of the World, v.4-6 God’s sovereign response, v.7-9 His answer – His Son, and v.10-12 Warning to the World. So we have been seeing God’s response to the foolish leaders of the world, a response that reveals Him both laughing and angry, a response that reveals Him declaring “I have installed my king”, in direct opposition to their petty kingships, a king who is His Son.

Cultural King?  Now when we come to the Gospels we find a number of references to Jesus being a king, for example, “Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” (Mt 2:1,2) The ‘wise men’ clearly expected to find a king. Nathaniel, likewise, expected the Messiah to be a king: “Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” (Jn 1:49) After the feeding of the five thousand, the crowd obviously had the same idea, “Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself,” (Jn 6:15) and on ‘Palm Sunday’ that is still evident: “They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”  “Blessed is the King of Israel!” (Jn 12:13). In his last hours after he was arrested, “they began to accuse him saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king,” (Lk 23:2) and finally before Pilate, Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied.” (Mt 27:11)

Other-worldly king: However, it is left to John to recount the fuller extent of that encounter: “Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” ….. Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (Jn 18:33,36,37) Do you see this, Jesus says he is a king, but not of ‘this world’ and he has come to testify to the truth of that.

The King Prophesied: The truth is that Jesus was and is a king far greater than just a king over a single nation. Isaiah prophesied: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders….. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.” (Isa 9:6,7) David, the psalmist, also had a prophetic element in many of his psalms and so we find, ““The LORD says to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet. The LORD will extend your mighty scepter from Zion; you will rule in the midst of your enemies.” (Psa 110:1,2) Into the New Testament the apostle Paul with great revelatory insight declared, “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” (1 Cor 15:24,25).

Big Picture: So what is the truth about Jesus? He IS God’s king, the One chosen to rule over ALL things, but this king doesn’t impose himself and destroy human free will, but he does speak and act into his world to bring his way, the will of God, the kingdom of God, here on earth, in the midst of his enemies, yes all those conspiring nations, plotting peoples, uprising kings and rulers of this present psalm. Yes, he is working against their unrighteous thoughts, words, and deeds, (today largely through the Church but also through circumstances) until one day he will say, ‘Enough!’ and we will see the events of Revelation 19 being unfolded as he returns as a conquering king to subdue forcefully all this nonsense he has tolerated for so long.

Submissive Authority: One of the marvels of the Godhead is the way the Son always is submissive to the Father. All authority is the Father’s, delegated to the Son, expressed by the Spirit, and so when it comes to this time of winding up all things, the Father says to the Son, Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession,” (v.8) and if we are in any doubt about the outcome, He continues, “You will break them with a rod of iron; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.” (v.9) What a graphic and dynamic way of saying they will not withstand you but will be utterly devastated and their folly totally ended!

Legitimate Fear: THAT is why the writer is able to say, “He rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath,” (v.5) as He goes on to declare before these peoples, kings and rulers what IS happening. If only they could grasp an iota of this they would be humbled, but the folly of Sin blinds them and so most of them will not see it until after death.  This king IS ruling now, yes, subtly, quietly, behind the scenes so to speak, and for those with eyes to see, it is sometimes scary, but nothing like it will be for them when he returns in open power. This truth should scare the life out of such people and bring them on their knees to the Cross but, as we said, the blindness of Sin means they mostly don’t see it, but that will not stop the psalmist warning them and that we will see in the concluding last three verses in the next study.

30. Pleasing the Father

(For the next few weeks we will pick up again the series of short meditations in John 5 we started some time back)

Short Meditations in John 5:  30. Pleasing the Father

Jn 5:30  By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.

To the questions of how the Father and Son relate to each other, are they equal or are there apparent inequalities, this verse provides answers.

It starts off by Jesus’ declaration of need: “By myself I can do nothing.” Now of course, later in chapter fifteen when he is speaking of the vine, Jesus says the same thing about us and him: “Without me you can do nothing.” Now that is not very surprising because he is God and we are not, but when it comes to his relationship with the Father we may find that a little more surprising; the Son is reliant upon the Father. The Early Church Fathers and those church leaders who followed them struggled to understand the relationship and concluded that Jesus was not created but was begotten – ‘came out of’ the Father and was thus God in nature and being and yet when it comes to working out the relationship it seems that God the original, who we now call Father,  is always seen as the initiator, the one who decides and the Son submits to His leadership.

Thus it is now that Jesus clearly places himself under the ‘headship’ of the Father, for the Father is the One who leads the way and the Son follows (see back to v.17-19). It may be that there is more to this that takes into account that when the Son inhabited a human body he clearly put off the glory he had in heaven previously and indeed relied upon the Holy Spirit to expand his human knowledge and experience to more nearly match his heavenly capabilities, thus when Jesus says, “I judge only as I hear,” we may suppose that he is referring to hearing what the Spirit communicates is the Father’s will and the Father knows all those they saw from before the foundation of the world (Eph 1) would be those who would respond to them, i.e. who became ‘chosen’. Thus now, as the Spirit communicates the Father’s will, that includes the revelation of who Jesus encountered that they knew are part of that ‘foreseen’ (and thus ‘chosen’) people. So, again, those Jesus accepts are those ‘chosen’ and he brings life to them, while those he rejects are those that the Godhead saw would be those who would reject them throughout their time here on earth.

Jesus therefore executes the will of the Father by declaring in heaven who are righteous and who are not (as they respond to him) and as he exercises this ministry or divine activity, so he pleases the Father. Indeed at the heart of their relationship is this love where the Father desires to bless the Son and the Son desires to please the Father, and thus provide a picture for us to follow.

1. Introduction

Nine Lessons of Christmas Meditations: 1. Introduction

Gal 4:4    when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman

I am a sucker for Christmas; not what the world has made of it but the historical accounts of the first ‘Christmas’ as found in the Gospels. As I was thinking the other day, of the coming of Christmas, I found myself thinking of the traditional carol service that is so often ‘performed’ at this time of the year – “Nine Lessons and Carols” and as I pondered on it, the word ‘Lessons’ stood out. So I did what one does these days and Googled it. The way the word is used in this context is “a passage from the Bible read aloud during a church service”, but the other way we commonly use it is “a period or moment of learning or teaching”. Forgive me, but it struck me that so often at this time of the year, we go along to these carol services (and our church is having at least two of them for different ‘audiences’) and we listen to or join in with the beautiful music and we plough our way through nine readings, and I have found over the years it has become an endurance test for me – which is a tragedy.

But there is another thing about this time of the year and the way we celebrate it, and it is what I believe I have identified as a ‘weariness’ that people feel over Christmas. Perhaps that is not surprising because, in the UK at least, Christmas becomes ever more commercialised and becomes less and less ‘Christian’ or even ‘spiritual’, with references to ‘Winterval’ or even, heaven help us this year, ‘Christmasville’, and this whole approach leaves people jaded and weary. They desperately try new experiences to make something special, to create memories, while all the time ignoring, or perhaps not even knowing about, the wonder of what it is all really about.

I sensed this weariness in our own church at the beginning of the month when twice in the morning service there were references to Christmas which “of course we are not commanded to remember, unlike Easter”. And there it was, a demoting of Christmas, largely I suspect because of what the world is making it. Yes, Easter must be up there at the peak of remembrance because it is all about the salvation of the world, but actually without the Advent, Easter could never have happened.

And that’s why I find such a thrill at the Christmas story. Technically I retired from church leadership several years ago (today I just seek to bless the Church) and after I had stood down, I happened to attend a carol service laid on by my wife’s school, where the singing of some of the girls took you into the heavenly realms, and it was only as we stood to sing the first carol together in a beautifully old-church setting, that I found myself engulfed by a wave of emotion as I suddenly realised that years of preaching the wonder of the Christmas story had come to an end. Every year for decades I had made a point of preaching in the run up to and through Christmas, the wonder of what the Bible reveals, and suddenly that was there no longer. I was devastated, and it took every ounce of self-control not to pour out the anguish publicly. That service became a trial of self-control and it left me realising how much I value this part of the Gospels.

So what is it that makes these accounts so powerful as far as I am concerned.  First, they are about people, people like you and me, people struggling with life, struggling with the unexpected and often strange circumstances of life, people who were seekers, people who were antagonists, people who wondered whatever was going on. Oh yes, people just like you and me.

But then, second, it is all about God and his plans and His way of working and, more than anywhere else in the Gospels, we have angelic appearances like never before. We have dreams and we have weird celestial guidance, we have immediate local events and we have events spanning an empire and, at the end of it, the presence of one who we are reminded was called, ‘God with us’.

The truth is that nothing like this had ever happened in history. Star Wars films start with the scrawl, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” and that is how some of us think about this story. Bethlehem? Jerusalem? Two thousand years ago? Yes, but that doesn’t make it any the less relevant today. The same God who brought all this about in the Advent story, is the same God who creates new stories in our lives today.

And this is the point that hit me as I was praying, these nine lessons are LESSONS that should be teaching us about the wonder of God, but instead, so often, they have been robbed of all their power because they have been made into ‘beautiful words in a beautiful context’. So, this year, in our run up to the day we focus on in order to celebrate the Lord’s first coming, Jesus coming to the earth, I intend, day by day, to focus on each of these ‘lessons’ and ask, what do they teach us today? What is their relevance and how we ignore them at our peril? That is what this week or so ahead is going to be all about, so come with me as we dare to pray, “Speak Lord, for your servants are listening”.

“When the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman.”