12. Place of Trust

Wilderness Meditations: 12. The Place of Trust

Jn 3:14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up

Lev 16:10 the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the Lord to be used for making atonement by sending it into the wilderness as a scapegoat.

Recap:  We have been considering how we think, how we look at the world and look at life, how we have to come to the end of ourselves before we can truly be open to God. We reminded ourselves in the last study how we need people in our lives. We can’t get by without God and it is difficult to get by without people. People are one of God’s resources to us, that was a primary lesson we learned afresh in the early months of the 2020 Pandemic lockdown.

Things Taken for Granted: In a previous series about guilt, about how we can fall short of the things God has for us, we noted things we take for granted in our lives, and the wonder of our salvation was one of those things. Now I am sure there are many, many Christians, who have simply attended church, joined in the worship and prayers and listened to the sermons, week after week, month after month and year after year, but as we have done that the shear repetition of it all has meant that it has dulled our appreciation of who we are and what Jesus has done for us. As a result of that, so often our repetitious ‘services’ have meant that we hear the words but we still try to make ourselves good, make ourselves righteous, make ourselves spiritual, in order to win God’s approval. And it is there we fall down.

Through the lockdown period, church-going ceased, services started up online, meetings were conducted via Zoom. Suddenly many felt isolated from what they had known of as ‘church’. Suddenly, with the trappings stripped away, many were looking afresh at what they believed. It was a time of reassessment, of realising God’s salvation through Christ was THE only way, knowing Him personally had to mean more than turning up at a building on Sunday mornings.

The Old Testament Speaks: A snake on a pole? “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up.” (Jn 3:14) As the snake in the wilderness became of focus of both repentance and faith for healing (Num 21:9), so Jesus was lifted up on the Cross, lifted up by God in reputation (Phil 2:9) and lifted up from death into heaven where he rules at his Father’s right hand (Acts 2:33, 5:31, Eph 1:20). We may be in the wilderness but we too have died (Rom 6:2), have been raised (Rom 6:4,5),  and there, in the Spirit, we are seated with him (Eph 2:6). It doesn’t matter about the limitations of Covid-19, rejoice in the fact that we are divinely supernatural people who have been ‘lifted’ with Christ.

But then a scapegoat in the wilderness? The word ‘scapegoat’ is familiar, one who takes the blame – unfairly! There were two goats in Lev 16, one offered as a sin offering to take the guilt, the other sent into the wilderness to take the act of sin out of God’s presence. In the New Testament the application of that is brought to us: Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many.” (Heb 9:28) He took our guilt and punishment on the Cross and passed into the wilderness of death, carrying our sins away. If, in this wilderness, you see this scapegoat more clearly, understand God is just reassuring you that you can’t take your sins away, Jesus can and has. Don’t take them back.

Reality? So there is the teaching which, it is quite likely, you’ve heard before. But there are various things in those two pictures involving the wilderness, that should create questions in us:

Coming to the snake on the pole (the Cross) in the wilderness (of the lost and fallen world) required recognition that, having been bitten by snakes (the many expressions of sin in the world), we were at the end of ourselves and death faced us. Repentance meant facing the pole (the Cross) and the one on it, seeing the cause of our woes being nailed to death and taken by our Saviour, accepting his death was on our behalf. We receive it and are forgiven, cleansed and healed. Have we taken that for granted?

One of the two goats took our guilt. Jesus took our guilt. Do you still live a life tinged with guilt? Your guilt has been dealt with. Once you confessed it and repented, God forgave you. (1 Jn 1:9). Done deal, there is no more to be said. The other goat took our sins away into the wilderness (of death). Do the wrongs of your past still lurk in the background? Realise they have been removed, taken far away, you are a new creation in Christ, “the old has gone, the new is here.” (2 Cor 5:17).

And us? With all the trappings stripped away, have you been able to see in this wilderness with a fresh clarity the reality of your salvation. You are what you are not because of your church-going or other ‘spiritual acts’ but entirely because of the combined work of Christ on the Cross and now the applied outworking of that by the indwelling Holy Spirit: the past work, the present outworking, all coming from Him. Our part? Just to believe it and receive it in reality. May that be so.  

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.

78. Leaving Safety

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 78. Leaving Safety

Mk 4:35,36  That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him.

There were times in the lives of the apostles travelling with Jesus when just very ordinary things happened. When you look at the bigger picture there were also some quite spectacular times, things that really stood out, things that the disciples remembered and found their way into the Gospels. We’re about to come to one of those, but before we do, we find very ordinary things happening, and what strikes me about this, is that there is no warning of what is about to happen, and yet Jesus, with the knowledge he had, would surely have been aware of what was coming – and said nothing about it!

So here they are in this very ordinary situation, well ordinary as far as they would be concerned for I suspect that it is easy to take healings and deliverances and great teaching for granted when it occurs every day. Then Jesus changes things; he suggests they go across the Sea of Galilee. He gives no reason but the disciples are used to this. It is just another change in the daily circumstances and they are at ease with that, because it happened so often.

They are at ease (I am assuming) because the recent circumstances have been familiar and Jesus has clearly been in control. These are all important things to note in the light of what follows. They have been in a place of safety and security. Jesus has handled the crowds and even the opposition and the disciples have nothing to be worried about. Life goes on, day after day, and they feel secure. Now it is time for their security to be tested – but they don’t know that because Jesus hasn’t told them.

Here is an important point, a very simple one but important. If they knew what was about to happen and they knew how Jesus would react they would not be concerned – and it wouldn’t be a test. The test is to see how much they are going to trust Jesus, how much they believe about him and his love for them.

When tests come along in the kingdom of God, unlike school they don’t come with pre-warnings. We aren’t told, “Tomorrow I’m going to test you to see how much you trust me.” No, it is a test because we haven’t been prepared.


34. Security

Meditations in Job : 34.  Security in God

Job 13:13-15 “Keep silent and let me speak; then let come to me what may. Why do I put myself in jeopardy and take my life in my hands? Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him”

There are religious people who get upset at any wrong word spoken before God. The God they know is harsh and judgemental and who will strike out at anyone who says a word out of place. That is not the picture of the God of the Bible. I have always marvelled at Moses’ willingness to argue with God. His two-chapter dialogue (Ex 3 & 4) is an amazing example of someone making excuses before God, but then his knowledge of the Lord is very limited so he gets away with it. But after all the Exodus happenings, the deliverance from Egypt, the journeying to Sinai and the revelation received at Sinai, you might think Moses has learnt to hold his tongue before an Almighty and Holy God but when the Lord threatens to destroy the makers of the golden calf, we find Moses arguing with God not to do it. As a young Christian I was always fascinated by preachers speaking of Moses ‘importuning’ God. It means soliciting Him or persistently pressing Him. It becomes clear that this is exactly what the Lord wanted of him. When God comes in the flesh in the form of His Son, Jesus, there are lots of interactions between Jesus and his disciples, especially Peter who was always opening his mouth to put his foot in it. Having observed that at length, I conclude that Peter felt utterly secure in Jesus’ presence and felt quite able to speak his mind. When we come to Job, we find something very similar.

See how he starts out in this next part of our study: “Keep silent and let me speak;” (v.13a). Come on, guys, give me space, allow me to say what is on my heart, is what he is saying. But note how our verses above continue, “then let come to me what may.” (v.13b). Wow! In other words, let me speak my heart and I’ll take whatever comes. Now those are either words of careless folly or they are words spoken out of immense security, and I suggest it is the latter. In one sense, perhaps, he’s already received so much suffering and sorrow that perhaps he thinks there is nothing more that God can do, but the words that follow seem to have more assurance behind them than that somewhat negative and fatalistic view of it. He asks a question about his actions: “Why do I put myself in jeopardy and take my life in my hands?” (v.14). He realises that speaking rashly before God is a dangerous and foolhardy business, but then he speaks out words of immense confidence in the Lord: “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.” (v.15a).

Those must be some of the great words of this book. God can take my life if that is His desire, yet I will trust Him for whatever comes after that, I will hope in Him, I will put my entire future into His hands and feel utterly secure in what He will do with me. Some of these Old Testament saints were incredible!  I always marvel at the way the writer to the Hebrews spoke about Abraham being willing to offer Isaac, “Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead.” (Heb 11:19) These men shame our often weak faith. Job has such confidence in the Lord and his relationship with Him that he is not afraid to say, “I will surely defend my ways to his face.” (v.15b) To His face? Job is willing to look God in the eye and defend himself!

But his confidence goes on and on: “Indeed, this will turn out for my deliverance, for no godless man would dare come before him! (v.16). This will turn out for my deliverance? In this he trusts in God’s loving goodness and His faithfulness to what Job knows about Him, and then also in his own godliness. It is not pride to be able to look the truth in the face when it is about yourself. The apostle Paul taught, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” (Rom 12:3). Humility is the ability to see yourself as you are, to see your limitations AND to see your grace that God has given you. Job knew that he had been godly and wasn’t ashamed of it, and so also trusted that God would honour that godliness. In fact as he goes on, he builds on that certainty: “Listen carefully to my words; let your ears take in what I say.” (v.17). I’m happy to enlarge on this, is what he infers.

He continues, “Now that I have prepared my case, I know I will be vindicated.” (v.18). I’ve thought about this, is what he is saying, and I trust God and trust what I know about my own motivation and actions, and I believe I will be vindicated by Him. Indeed, when we come to the end of the book, as we’ve noted before, the Lord declare to the three friends, you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” (Job 42:7). Job concludes his case, Can anyone bring charges against me? If so, I will be silent and die.” (v.19). Look, he says, as I look back over my past life, I have examined myself and I am not conscious of having stepped out of line and having sinned, therefore you won’t be able to find anything legitimate to say against me; you can make these generalisations about me being a sinner, if you like, but I challenge you to find specific wrong things that I did. That is an amazing claim. It is similar to Paul’s claim to the Thessalonians: You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed.” (1 Thess 2:10). It’s not a pride thing to be able to say this. It is a simple statement of truth spoken in humility. We should not be ashamed to say, “With God’s help I have been righteous this day”. Job actually has some lessons in humility for us. May we heed them!

19. Unfailing Love

God in the Psalms No.19

Psa 13:5 But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.

We live in a world of disappointments and of rejection. Because of the sinfulness of mankind, we experience rejection, of being let-down, of people failing us or not living up to expectation. A partner makes professions of love and then years or even months later, deserts us. We’ve learnt that you cannot trust people!

That’s why David’s declaration of trust is so helpful. He has come to a place in life where he has learned to trust the Lord, i.e. the Lord can be relied upon.  You remember when David arrived at the army camp, facing the Philistines, especially a giant named Goliath. Eventually he gets to see King Saul and is able to say, The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” (1 Sam 17:37). He knew that he had experienced God’s enabling in the past and that could be relied upon for the present. So too, in this present psalm, he is able to have this confident assurance (trust) that God will always be there for him.

But this trust has a focus, for it is trust in God’s love. Possibly we take God’s love for granted, so perhaps we should pause over it. John told us that “God IS love” (1 Jn 4:8) so that everything about God is love, His words, His thoughts and His actions. Everything that comes from God, every expression of God IS love, and in case you’re not sure what love is (because someone professed it and it didn’t come to fulfillment), it is a benign, strong commitment and regard for another. It’s not just a mushy feeling. God’s love is a much stronger thing than that.

It is first a commitment.  That is why Moses was able to say, “Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.” (Deut 7:9). Note there, a covenant of love. To help them appreciate it and trust it, God declares to this early people of His, that He covenants, or promises them, this love. It’s a lasting or ongoing thing. But it’s not merely a commitment to be around for you, it’s a commitment of good for you. Loveis ever ready to believe the best of every person (Amp. 1 Cor 13:7). Moreover, love means that God is for us (Rom 8:31), everything He does is for our well-being, and that means all the time!

Which brings us to David’s description of this love: it is unfailing. If something is unfailing it means it is going on and on and can be relied upon. God will never withdraw His love because it is a natural part of Him Himself. Unlike the unfaithful partner, God will never leave you or forsake you, and because His very Being is love, you will always know His love. Now we do need to recognize that we can turn away from God and if we do that we will not be recipients of His love (Deut 7:12), but that isn’t because He wishes to remove His love from you, it’s simply because you moved away from Him and He is love and so you turned your back on love. As soon as you turn back to Him you encounter love again, because He is love. He is utterly unchanging and therefore whenever you encounter Him, you encounter love.  David knew that when he encountered God, he encountered love and that love always brought salvation – which is simply God’s rescuing process in whatever situation!  Isn’t that wonderful! Rejoice in it!