2. They had it all

Meditations in Romans, Ch.9-11 : 2:  They had it all

Rom 9:4,5  Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.

As Paul reflects on his fellow Jews as an historical people, after his initial expression of anguish for them (the reason for which is not given at this stage but it does become clear that it is because of their hardness against the gospel), he now highlights all the good things they had going for them which marks them out as a unique people.

He now starts out, Theirs is the adoption as sons.” The Lord had declared, “Israel is my firstborn son.” (Ex 4:22) He had adopted Israel, they were a chosen people, a people called into relationship with the Lord. He continues, “theirs the divine glory.”  God’s glory had been a feature of their experiences of Him. (See Ex 16:10, 24:16, 40:34, 1 Kings 8:10,11) There is also the sense that on some occasions Israel were glorified before the eyes of the watching world who saw that God was with them to do great things, but the primary emphasis must be on the presence of the Lord’s glory with them.

Theirs also were “the covenants”. With who else had God made binding agreements?  The Lord had entered into a covenant with Abram (Gen 15:17,18), and with  Israel at Sinai (Ex 19:5,6, 24:3,4) and later again Deut 29:1-15 and Josh 8:30-35 and so on. Also they were known as the only people “receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises.” Guidance, direction, commands and promises has all been part of their experience with the Lord. Who else in the world had received all this? No one!

He reflects on. It started right back with Abram: “Theirs are the patriarchs” seen in Abraham, Isaac and Jacob before the nation was fully formed. But from them, “is traced the human ancestry of Christ.” Jesus may have been the divine-man but the man side could be traced right back to these people. When God chose to come in human form, that human form was part of a family that went back centuries in the history of this people. This Christ, who had come out of their midst “is God over all.”  Isn’t that incredible! And for that He is to be “forever praised!”

So there is it. They are a remarkable people, made remarkable by their relationship with God Almighty. He had chosen their early fathers, He had called them into being as a nation after miraculously delivering them out of Egypt,  He had given them law by which to live, He had led them to take the Promised Land, and He had been with them throughout the centuries of their existence calling them again and again back to Him. They are an amazing people!

But Paul looks at this people who had been called to be a light to the Gentiles (Isa 42:6) a light to reveal God to the rest of the world, the people of God supposedly, a people relating to God and revealing God, and he realises that they had fallen short of all that.  So often they had turned away from God, so often they appeared no different from the rest of the world, and he ponders on this.

It is not as though God’s word had failed.” (v.6a) God had spoken, God had called, God had chided, God had made the way ahead plain and clear, God had corrected, God had promised, God had shown the potential of a wonderful future. Yes, in all these ways God had spoken and God’s word had come forth. But had His words failed? Had all His words missed the target, fallen on the floor so to speak and been to no avail? No, His words had not failed, they had all been true and nothing that He had said had been untrue or contributed to their failures. No, from God’s side there was no failure. So what was the truth?

Then he makes this astounding statement which upset so many: “For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.” We may look at millions of people that we call ‘Israel’ but the Israel that God speaks about are a people of faith, a people truly relating to God. If they are not people of faith, if they do not truly relate to Him they are NOT Israel, God’s people. That is God’s verdict.  Throughout Israel’s history there had been a faithful remnant, the true people of God; the rest simply went by the name, performed the rituals but had no real relationship with God. The Lord works on reality, what is real and true, not on the names we call ourselves.  ‘Christians’ for example, are not just church goers or good people, they are faith people, people who have put their faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour and been born again of the Spirit of God. These are not merely words, they are the reality. Paul continues making the point: “Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children.” (v.7) They may be literal descendants but as far as God is concerned real descendants are those who faith people like Abraham was. It’s not about outward appearance; it’s about inner reality.  What is your inner reality?

17. Children?

Meditations in 1 John : 17 : Are we Children?

1 John  2:12    I write to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.

I don’t know if when we get to heaven, we’ll meet people we read about in the Bible. If I meet John I want to ask him why he wasn’t more clear in these next three verses, having caused commentators to scratch around with a variety of interpretations. Some suggest ‘children’ means all Christians and then ‘fathers’ and ‘young men’ (in the next verse) mean different levels of spirituality. Others suggest all three indicate different levels of spirituality. We’ll we’re going to meditate on them one by one and see what comes out.

At the start of this chapter John addresses his readers there as ‘dear children’, (2:1) which is what leads some to suggest chapter 1 is a general introduction explaining the need for the Gospel while chapter 2 moves on to speak to Christians specifically. Whatever the truth, this aged apostle speaks to his readers there from an elderly, pastoral standpoint, with a heart of concern for all God’s people.

Of course in the opening chapter of his Gospel, John wrote, to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God– children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (Jn 1:12,13)  Belief, he says, brings about the right to be called children of God, and we are children of God because we are born of His Spirit (see also Jn 3:5) In the beginning of the third chapter of this letter, he writes, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 Jn 3:1) so if you are a Christian, have no doubts, you are a child of God!

Now what is the definition of a child? It is a young, young person, possibly recently born.  We have, we have already noted, been born again by God’s Holy Spirit; He made us anew when we received His Spirit.  Jesus taught, “I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Mk 10:15). What does that mean? Children are childlike in belief; they find it easy to believe. They are simple and straight forward in their belief. That is how we are to be. Take, for instance, that really challenging verse at the Last Supper: “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these.” (Jn 14:12) The worldly, humanistic, rational mind tries to reason how this can be. Simple, childlike faith, says, “Right, if that’s what you say, Lord, what do you want me to do?” The apostle Peter was the classic example of this when he stepped out of the boat at Jesus’ simple instruction, “Come!” and walked on water. “You can’t do that,” the rational mind argues. No of course you can’t – unless Jesus enables you to!

But sometimes children worry. They don’t have the big picture and so they worry. Young Christians sometimes worry because, like Peter on the Lakewhen he took his eyes off Jesus, he began to sink. It’s a major learning curve being a young Christian, but young Christians also need reassurance about their behaviour, which is why John emphasizes, for “children”, your “sins have been forgiven.” Young Christians need to be taught and then reminded of the basics of faith and the most basic and fundamental issue of the Christian faith is that Jesus has died for all our sins, past, present and future, and we have been forgiven. This came up earlier in 1 Jn 1:9 with the assurance that, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and (will) purify us from all unrighteousness.” That is the fundamental heart of our faith and it opens the door up for us to fellowship more fully with the Father and not give up when we fail, but to pick ourselves up, confess our failure, receive afresh the forgiveness and cleansing that comes through the Cross, and then get on with what He next has for us.

The young believer has to learn that it’s not a case of getting up and trying to be a better person in our own strength or trying to impress God with how good we are. No, instead we are honest about our weaknesses or vulnerabilities and recognize that we need the ongoing working of the Holy Spirit within is to enable us to walk out in faith – as children of God.

It is all about relationship with the Father. John continues a few words on, “I write to you, dear children, because you have known the Father.” (2:13c)  Not only have we been born of the Father but now our life is one of knowing Him. That, we as Christians, may take for granted, but the rest of the world does not know it. Appreciate it!

It may be worth distinguishing between ‘children’ and ‘sons’ for often in the New Testament we are called ‘sons’ (women included). The reason behind this is that culturally inIsrael, a son (and especially the oldest son) took on the work of the father, carried on the family business.  ‘Children’ is just a recognition of our basic relationship to God our Father. When we start talking about ‘sons’ and ‘sonship’ we are talking about coming into a mature relationship with the Father whereby He shares his heart with us and we enter more fully into the ongoing relationship with Him whereby we perform the works of the kingdom, carrying on His business, as He leads us by His Spirit. That is the wonder of what we have entered into. We start out being little children, but the whole New Testament teaching is that we learn and we grow and we enter more and more into the purposes of the Father. Hallelujah!

93. Desperation (2)

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 93. Desperation (2)

Mk 5:23,24 My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” So Jesus went with him.

We have just been considering the desperate state of this local religious leader as revealed by his behaviour. Now he tells Jesus the cause of his desperation – his young daughter is dying. His ‘little’ daughter suggests she is still quite young – and he’s her father. Father’s have special feelings for daughters in the same way that mothers do for sons.  No wonder he is distraught. Perhaps this is one of those situations where you cannot understand this unless you are a father and you have a young daughter. I have one daughter and five grand-daughters. My daughter is obviously grown up now so I don’t have the same protective and gentle feelings for her as I used to – her husband now has those and that’s how it’s supposed to be.

Our human bodies are our greatest point of vulnerability and when there is something seriously wrong with them, our whole existence is threatened and that challenges the most basic instinct (survival)  in us – but we are powerless. Some things we can do things about – lose weight, take more exercise etc., but other things we know we are powerless to deal with and so today we put ourselves in the hands of doctors. Yet sometimes they too are powerless and death looms on the horizon. At that point we start calling on God.

The fact that this man knew his daughter was dying suggests that he had had the local physicians in and they had diagnosed a hopeless case. The bottom of his world is falling out – and there is nothing he can do.

And then Jesus arrives back from a trip across the lake. Jairus’s understanding of who Jesus is and what he can do is strictly limited. He’s heard he is a preacher and he knows the crowds have been flocking to him and he’s heard of his reputation for being a healer and maybe he’d even witnessed some of the things that had happened. Somehow Jesus had a power that he was able to convey by laying his hands on people.

When you put it like that, it almost becomes an impersonal power that just flows through Jesus. Jesus is merely the channel through whom it flows. There’s nothing great about Jesus, it’s all about the power. Jairus is about to learn that the greatness IS Jesus. Watch and learn!