13. Divine & Human Interaction

Meditating on the Gems of the Bible:  13. Divine and Human Interaction

Acts 2:23   This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.

I was reviewing what I had written earlier in this series and at the end of the first meditation I note I had written the following: “If we have known the Lord any length of time … we can reflect on our testimony and see His hand that has been on us, and we can marvel and wonder and feel great pleasure and we can bow and worship as we delight in Him.”  Getting on in years a little these days, I do what older people do and reflect back on the years that have been and I do marvel at the wonder of God’s blessings that have come to us as a family (as I wrote in that first meditation).

Now the marvel is not just that God has poured out blessing upon blessing upon us over the years, but He has done that despite the people we are – failures, inadequate, with tendencies of getting it wrong. Yes this is the fuller truth. I know what I am and I look back at what I was and I cringe at the memories of what I said or did, at my immaturity, my lack of grace, my confusions, and I marvel that despite all of this – and it is very real, I am not just trying to sound humble, this is how it was and is – yes, despite all this God blessed me and used me.

And then I come to this gem of a verse in the middle of Peter’s preaching on the day of Pentecost. For a guy who had been an uneducated (probably) fisherman, he did OK in that sermon. He has understanding, he quotes the Old Testament and he is full of passion. That’s what the Holy Spirit does for you! But there in the midst of it, is this gem of understanding. When Jesus went to the Cross it was a combination of two things.

First it was the plan of God worked out before the foundation of the world. Moreover I dare to believe that my life also fits that category, “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world,” (Eph 1:4) so that now I am, “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10). There was no mistake back there two thousand years ago when they arrested Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. It was not the world getting out of control; it was the plan of God reaching a climax.

Second, it was the work of sinful men. God didn’t make us band together against Christ and crucify him, but God knew we would given the circumstances. I use the pronoun ‘we’ because I dare not exclude myself from what went on. I would hope that I would not have been part of the crowd baying for Jesus’ death, and I certainly hope I would not have been part of the religious or civic establishment that brought about his death (but even there I may delude myself) and the best I could hope for was that I would have been one of those disciples who hid themselves away and left him to his fate on his own.

Am I being too hard on myself (or you)? I don’t think so. As I said earlier on, when you have a lot of years to play with, you have more examples of life to put under the microscope and although God’s grace has genuinely been there in some good measure, if I am honest if the Lord in heaven took me back through my life and we reviewed it together, I would have to agree that there were times where I would like to change how I spoke or acted in the years gone by.

We are all of us less than perfect this side of heaven and the wonder and marvel of God’s love and grace is that those imperfections didn’t put Him off from being with us there and prompting and using us, despite our inadequacies and, on rare occasions, because of them. Sometimes He can only use us when we have lost all sense of self-confidence and the ensuing words and actions come out of weakness or even failure but He still uses them to His purposes.

It is not good, this down side of humanity. It was not good that the religious and civic authorities schemed together to bring Jesus down, or in Pilate’s case just abandoned him to injustice.  It was not good that the crowd allowed themselves to be manipulated into crying out for Jesus’ death. It was not good that  most of the disciples ran away and hid. No, none of these things were good but nevertheless God used them to sacrifice the Lamb of God.

I come across people who preach a hard form of holiness and present a God who is hard and holy and demanding, but when I examine Scripture and I examine human experience I find that this preaching is false and untrue  and unkind and fails to see the wonder of who God is. Here is the paradox: yes, He is holy and He does call us to be holy and after the apparent debacle of the events in the Garden of Eden you might have expected God to abandon this planet and go and find another one in some other galaxy, but He didn’t. Before he released His power in Creation He knew that giving us free will would mean the very early arrival of Sin in mankind. He knew that justice (and Satan, the accuser)  would cry out for justice and demand that Sin be punished and so the Godhead planned how justice might be met and mankind (or at least those who would receive it) could be saved.

And so He took the sinfulness of mankind and used it to bring about the means for justice to be satisfied, by the death of His own eternal Son. No one less than God Himself could take punishment for so many sinful beings, and so we find the awful events of Calvary appearing like a blot on history. Yet out of that blot comes redemption, salvation available to you and me if we will bow and receive it. When we do, it is the direction of our life that is all important. Yes, I will stumble and on occasion fall, but He will be there to get me back on my feet and help me take further tottering steps in the direction of heaven. My desire is to do His will and that, it seems, is enough now. I may miss it or get it wrong but as I keep directed towards Him, His grace will be there again and again to turn my fumbling efforts into something glorious that will bless Him and others. How amazing!  This verse is indeed a gem and it genuinely releases a sense of wonder and awe and worship. Hallelujah!

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61. Humility for all

Meditations in 1 Peter : 61: Humility for all

1 Pet 5:5,6 All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,   “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time

The world in which we live tells us to stand up and be ourselves. Don’t let anyone tell you what to do; be yourself! Stand up for yourself; make something of yourself. Don’t be a wimp, rise up above the rest. Be exalted in your greatness; make yourself even greater. These are the words of the twenty-first century. Rise up and go for it. They are, of course, words of deception. They are basically saying, pretend to be what you are not; make yourself something more than you are. Take one of the many ‘self-help’ courses that are available, change yourself.

Possibly an analogy that comes near the truth is of a cancer patient who is told, think positive thoughts. Positive thoughts can help – in a measure – but you still have cancer. Or to take an even more extreme idea – a man who is delusional and who genuinely believes he will never die. Yet in old age his body starts to decay and he keeps on telling himself, “I will never die.” Fear makes many of us deny the truth. You see it in a conversation between a Christian and a non-Christian. As the talk gets on to sin, the non-Christian starts getting edgy. “Don’t you tell me I am a sinner; I’m as good as the next man!” Deep down, that fear that the truth may be that “I am indeed a sinner” collides with the wrong thought that God is an angry, vicious, spiteful dictator who loves punishing people, and as the two ideas collide, fear acts in the only way it knows how and denies the truth – I am not a sinner!!!  But however much you say it, it doesn’t change the truth.

Now why, you may be thinking, am I rambling down this particular path? What is the connection with humility? Well, humility is simply an honest recognition of who we are. I am a sinner and without God I am utterly lost. I owe my entire life to the Lord. All that I have, which is good, has been a gift from Him. Left to myself, I am a mess. I am certainly no better than any other person. All I can do is say, thank you. Humility faces the truth about ourselves. Over the past few years I have become more and more aware of the incredible goodness of God that has blessed me over the forty years that I have known Him. I have grown incredibly thankful, mightily grateful for what He has done for me, in me and through me.

But there’s been something else growing in parallel with that sense of gratefulness; it is the awareness of who I am and, looking back down the years, a recognition of the weakness, failures, inadequacies and so on, of my life. That simply makes the good things that God has done, or made of me, even more wonderful. I can be blessed at who I have become, yet aware that I have nothing to be proud about because it has not been of my working. If anything, it has been despite me!  I have absolutely nothing to boast about. I have done some great things and blessed a good number of people, but I know the truth about that! It was Him! It was at His directions and it was with His enabling and still, today, I am incapable of any good thing without His guidance, direction, inspiration or power. I know who I am! Humility is not a “I’m a nobody,” but an accurate assessment of who you are.

Pride, by comparison, is having an inflated view of who you are or of your own importance. Now, says Peter, clothe yourself with humility – put it on like you would put on a coat. How do you do that? You do what I’ve just done; you state the truth about yourself, both the bad news and good news. The bad news is that left to myself, I am a wreck. The good news is that in Christ and with his direction and enabling I am a child of God who can prove to be a real blessing to people. ‘Putting on’ humility is declaring those truths.

Why does God oppose the proud but gives grace to the humble”? The answer is because He is always working for the truth or for reality. The proud are not being truthful about themselves and so He opposes their untruths, but the humble who are being utterly real and acknowledging their frailty, weakness, inadequacy etc. of themselves, these ones He is able to take and use and so blesses them with His grace, His enabling to cope, serve or triumph.

And so what about when he says, Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time? This means bring yourself into a right attitude or outlook in life where you realise your utter dependency on Him so that He may take you, pick you up, and exalt you as He uses you. Consider Elijah (1 Kings 18) who opposed the prophets of Baal. He was utterly dependent on God – and knew it – and he was exalted in people’s minds because of what God was able to do through him. Jesus, likewise spoke of the glory he had received which in fact belonged to his Father as he served him. We don’t seek it; in fact we seek nothing except to be obedient to the Lord, utterly reliant on Him, and when we do that we will be exalted – but we’ll still know the truth!

 

36. Frailty

Meditations in Job : 36.  The Frailty of Mankind

Job 14:1 Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble.

When reading Scripture, it is important that we always examine the context and realise that words spoken in one context may have a different purpose than when spoken in another. We say this because similar words to those found here were spoken by Eliphaz (e.g. 5:7 man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.”) and Bildad (e.g. 8:9 “our days on earth are but a shadow.”) but in their case they sought to show that Job is part of the sinful human race and that he should repent of his sin. Now when Job says similar words he is asking the Lord why He bothers with frail mankind.

“Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble.” (v.1). This is his starting point and, as we’ve commented before, it is only half a picture, even though it is true. Living in this fallen world does mean that things go wrong and part of our life mission, if you like, is to learn to overcome difficulties.  “He springs up like a flower and withers away; like a fleeting shadow, he does not endure.” (v.2) The older you get the more you realise just how fleeting life is. You look back over the years and wonder where they have gone. As you look around you, you see people who seemed to be snatched away by death in youth or middle age and realise that life is indeed very frail. You read of floods, hurricanes, train crashes and so on, and realise that we are not the masters of our destiny.

He wonders why God bothers with us. “Do you fix your eye on such a one? Will you bring him before you for judgment?” (v.3) It’s like he says, “When I look at our lives in this fallen world, our weakness and frailty, I wonder why you should bother to play around with us; you know what we’re all like.”  He realises it is a fallen world and we are fallen people and so asks, “Who can bring what is pure from the impure? No one!” (v.4) Because we are fallen, how can God make us pure. We are inherently sinners and so it is a constant struggle to be pure – that is why he had continually offered sacrifices on behalf of his family. We are in God’s hands, so what’s the point: “Man’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed.” (v.5) God can take us any time He wishes and indeed, He knows exactly how long He’s decreed we will be on this earth, so what’s all the fuss about! He concludes with a plea: “So look away from him and let him alone, till he has put in his time like a hired man.” (v.6)  In other words, please leave me alone and let me work out the time you have allotted me. There’s no point in anything else (implied).

Then he turns and considers the futility of death in humans. He compares us with trees: “At least there is hope for a tree: If it is cut down, it will sprout again, and its new shoots will not fail. Its roots may grow old in the ground and its stump die in the soil, yet at the scent of water it will bud and put forth shoots like a plant.” (v.7-9). That’s the truth; cut a tree down and shoots will come forth and life will continue, but that’s not how it is with us: “But man dies and is laid low; he breathes his last and is no more.” (v.10) When we get ‘chopped down’ and die, that’s it, the end!  “As water disappears from the sea or a riverbed becomes parched and dry, so man lies down and does not rise; till the heavens are no more, men will not awake or be roused from their sleep.” (v.11,12) In the same way that a water bed dries up, so when a person dies their life ebbs away and nothing is left.

Now as we’ve commented before, in the midst of his suffering, Job loses perspective and so only sees half a picture, and indeed, because he lives so early in human history he hasn’t the revelation of the Bible. What he has just said is only half true. Yes, we do life in a fallen world and we are inherently sinners and we will one day die, but there is very much more to the picture than that. We are creatures who are made in the image of God and although we are fallen, God has worked through His Son at Calvary two thousand years ago, to redeem us, so that we can be truly called children of God, so we can live out meaningful, purposeful and glorious lives for however long we have on this earth, with all of His grace that is available to us, and then we ‘emigrate’ and go to heaven to live with God for eternity. Now if you are unsure about this, please read back over this last paragraph for this is the clear and distinct teaching of the New Testament.

We may not always understand what is going on in life – and indeed some would say we never truly know what is going on this side of heaven – yet God IS with us and He IS for us, and His grace and wisdom and power IS there for us, to help us through. Yes we can blow it and we can mess up, but even in that He IS working for our good. Trials, tests, and temptations may come but His objective in allowing them, is to teach us to overcome with His help. So important was what I said in the previous paragraph, that I am going to conclude this meditation with it again, so please read it through carefully, for this IS the teaching of the New Testament:

We are creatures who are made in the image of God and although we are fallen, God has worked through His Son at Calvary two thousand years ago, to redeem us, so that we can be truly called children of God, so we can live out meaningful, purposeful and glorious lives for however long we have on this earth, with all of His grace that is available to us, and then we ‘emigrate’ and go to heaven to live with God for eternity. We ARE people of purpose, and as the Westminster Catechism starts out:“What is the chief end of man?  Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him for ever.”

Frustrated Punishment

Readings in Luke Continued – No.10

Lk 4:28-30 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.

We noted in the previous meditation the fickleness of sinful mankind. One moment these people were hanging on Jesus’ every word. The next they were questioning who he was and then the next they are trying to kill him. This little episode portrays humanity exactly as it is. Later on, three years on, Peter, as one of the leaders of the discipleship group, would strongly affirm his commitment to Jesus but then hours later deny him. It is a wise person who realises their frailty and weakness and realises their need for the Lord to be the stabilising influence in their life.

So Jesus has just challenged them to be more faithful than their forefathers had been. He had cited instances of where two of God’s leading prophets had brought healing to Gentiles and not to Israel. It was possibly that which riled this group of apparently pious Jews in this particular synagogue. We don’t like to face our history, especially when it has not been very glorious. The mother’s rebuke of a child, “You’re just like your father!” isn’t meant as a compliment but as a condemnation. We so easily get cast in the mould of our parents and we need to realise that we can be free to be ourselves, not following in their mistakes. These proud Jews could have said, “Yes, you’re right. We should learn from the unbelief of previous generations, so that we don’t be like them,” but they didn’t! Instead they acted just the same.

Now what this particular incident shows is that unrestrained anger can lead to terrible things. They were ‘furious’ Luke tells us, and it was their fury that led them to seek to do harm to Jesus. In their anger they no doubt justify themselves: this is a false prophet and the Law says that such men should be put to death (Deut 13:1-5), so they grab him and force him out of the synagogue, and bundle him out of town to a nearby cliff where they intend to thrown him down on to the rocks below. Anger drives these men (because it almost certainly was the men) to attempt murder. Pause up a moment: is anger a problem to you? Does it just spring up and leave you out of control of yourself? You need to assess the cause of that anger, what is behind it, and take that to the Lord and ask for help, before it causes you to do something you may later regret.

You may remember, that a while back we pondered on the expression, “until an opportune moment” in respect of Satan’s attack on Jesus. Was this such an opportune moment? Was Satan behind this? Was he stirring up the religious crowd to act in this way? The chilling thought is that he can take religious people and provoke them to awful unChristlike behaviour. The atheist crusaders of our day are only too quick to point out the misdeeds of apparent believers – but they are right! Such things should not happen! Christians should not be resorting to force, should not be resorting to worldly methods to combat ungodly unrighteousness.

Anger is very often spurred on by fear and fear is often a defence mechanism. These religious Jews feared the thought that they might be wrong, that they might be rejecting God’s will and, thus, that they might receive God’s judgement. They did not know God’s love and they did not have assurance of the reality of a living relationship with the Lord, and then in their fear, their anger boils up and they lash out. It all stems back to a weak relationship with God, and it is because of this that they eventually act like they do. They have murder in their hearts, no doubt spurred on by Satan who would like to see Jesus destroyed, but they are responsible for their own behaviour and they cannot just blame Satan. It is down to them – and to you and me if we behave like this!

So here is this incredibly volatile and emotional crowd. You see them in Middle Eastern cities on the news, a rabble that has been whipped up to do violence, emotions running amok. But then comes something quite incredible, and we are not told how it happened. Jesus simply walked right through the crowd and went on his way. As we just said, we aren’t told how it happened. Somehow the authority of the Son of God was exerted, the power of God for deliverance, and Jesus just walks away from the milling mass of angry humanity. Somehow those around him must have been neutralised and so they just let him go. Somehow, those in his path must have just been anesthetised to his presence and they just let him pass through. The crowd, that is one moment full of anger, is next minute standing and wondering where he had gone and what it was all about. This was one of the very rare occasions where Jesus’ very life was under threat and somehow he used his power to save himself. It is a salutary reminder than God does not need defending!

However, the crucial lessons in this passage are about unrestrained anger, and we would do well to take note of them!