INHERITANCE

Everybody loves a good celebration: birthdays, weddings, and victory parades. The two biggest celebrations in the church’s year are, of course Christmas and Easter, celebrating the birth and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Good Lord is not just about the past or the present; He is also about the future. After Jesus came out of the tomb and ascended to heaven, He is all about restoration and renewal. He is going to regain for us the paradise lost that was Eden where all is good and believers will spend eternity there. As Peter says: “We are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth…” (2 Pet.3:13).

Heaven is mentioned over 500 times in the Bible. Statistics alone tell us that God is definitely trying to tell us something!! Coupled with the fact that there’s something deep inside our hearts that cries out, “There’s got to be something more. Something more than the pain and suffering of this life.” In a sense we were made for something more. We were made for heaven, the place we can’t see – the spiritual realm. The place we go to when we die. At least we like to think so:-

A couple decided to leave Britain one cold winter and holiday in Florida. But because of their lifestyles, it was difficult to coordinate their travel schedules. So, the husband flew out first, with his wife planning to join him a day later. He checked into the hotel.  There was a computer in the room, so he decided to send an email to his wife. However, he accidentally left out one letter in her email address, and without realizing his error, sent the email.

Meanwhile, somewhere in England, a minister’s wife, now a widow had just returned home from her late husband’s funeral.

She decided to check her email expecting messages from relatives and friends. After reading the first message, she screamed and fainted.  Her son rushed into the room, found his mother on the floor, and saw the computer screen which read:-
To: My Loving Wife
Subject: I’ve Arrived

I know you’re surprised to hear from me. They have computers here now and you’re allowed to send emails to your loved ones. I’ve just arrived and have been checked in. I see that everything has been prepared for your arrival tomorrow. Looking forward to seeing you then! Hope your journey is as uneventful as mine was.
PS

It sure is HOT down here!

Now we all like to think what heaven’s going to be like. So let’s ponder some of the things that will and won’t be there...Heaven inspires our faith. There will be trees, lush meadows, waterfalls flowing into crystal pools, angelic music, gold pavements, pearly gates and many mansions where are loved ones will know us. The pictures I have in my mind are not the same as yours. Yes, they paint 1,000 words – but it’s not enough to describe heaven. In fact, it’s so indescribable – that the best we can do is sing about it, especially as believers know something about what the future holds for them. Heaven is a place, just as much a place as Wolverhampton or London. In the Bible, the curtains of eternity have been pulled back to reveal how God is going to restore everything the way it’s supposed to be. The hope of heaven is the main theme in the book of Revelation:-

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev.21:1-4).

The divine voice echoes throughout all of Scripture. This is the penultimate chapter of Revelation the last book in the Bible, telling us how God is going to renew this world. What most people call heaven is actually an eternal city whose streets are literally paved with gold “as pure as transparent glass” (Rev.21:21). When John writes like this, I don’t doubt his words. He’s telling us what he saw in his vision. He saw the new earth’s capital city, the new Jerusalem coming down from the skies (Rev.21:2). God is the architect, builder, and decorator of this beautiful city – so beautiful she’s called a “bride” – how exciting when God unveils this city to His people.

[The Angel] carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates…the angel who talked with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city, its gates and its walls. The city was laid out like a square, as long as it was wide. He measured the city with the rod and found it to be 1,400 miles in length, and as wide and high as it is long.

Heaven will be more wonderful than our imagination. The New Jerusalem is a massive perfect cube – 40 times the size of England. It will be over 600,000 stories tall. Basically, God is saying there will be plenty of room for everybody that loves Him. But not the unbelieving though:-

Two men were dying. One was a very wealthy man who had amassed a fortune. His house was lavished with antiques and expensive paintings. He went to church now and again, so called himself a Christian. But he didn’t know the Lord. The second man hadn’t flourished financially, but he had loved the Lord and served faithfully in the church. The first, as he died, moaned: “I’m leaving home…I’m leaving home.” The second died with a glow on his face, saying, “I’m going home. I’m going home.”

As Peter says: “As you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming”. So Quo Vadis -“Where are you going?” – for look what comes first: “You ought to live holy and godly lives…” (2 Pet.3:11-12). There are many people whose faith is not strong enough to get them to church, yet they expect that it will be strong enough to get them to heaven. Moreover, there are thousands upon thousands who don’t desire a relationship with Christ – they won’t make it.

Did you know that you can do a “Will I get to heaven quiz” on the internet? Seriously there is. Here’s some of the questions it asks as multiple choice:-

  • When was the last time you opened your Bible?

Never

Last week

Last night

Does holding up the leg of the table count?

What did Jesus do when He was alive?

Built houses for poor people

Went fishing with Peter and Paul

Lived for other people

Promised people eternity it they did good deeds.

Do you think angels are all around us?

Most definitely.

I think they are only in heaven.

No

I’m not sure.

What does the word ‘sin’ mean to you?

All the fun things you do that nobody knows about.

To offend God.

To lie.

To want what your neighbour has.

If you say no to Jesus, you have no hope of heaven. Our deeds, like filthy rags in God’s sight, do not save us. The heartfelt prayer of a penitent man though will: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God forgive me a sinner” – think of the dying thief on the cross next to Jesus: “Lord, remember me when you come into your Kingdom…I tell you the truth: today, you will be with me in paradise” says the Lord. The Bible speaks of the separation of the saved and the lost; the wheat and weeds, the sheep and the goats. You’re either one or the other. There is no fence to sit on. You will either spend eternity in heaven or eternity in hell. Only the righteous, through the grace and providence of God will live with Him.

As a minister of the Gospel I’d be failing you if I didn’t tell you this. Even the devil has the good sense to believe what the Bible says, because he knows God does not lie or make empty promises nor issues idle warnings. We need a new Jerusalem on a new earth as the one we currently live on needs restoring. It’s polluted physically, morally and spiritually. Yet everything around us, the entire creation, even our resurrected bodies are going to be beyond what you and I can imagine. And there will be no more sea (so you won’t need Thomas Cook to reserve you a sunbed!).

Back in the days of Noah the earth was cleansed by the Flood resulting in 70% of the world’s surface covered with salt water. The earth needs all this salt water as it acts as an antiseptic solution necessary so that we can live. Salt cleanses the atmosphere and creates the rain we need. The sea is like a giant septic tank that breaks down all the pollutants and waste that gets washed into the world’s rivers. The sun heats the sea and brings out of it clean vapour clouds which brings rain on the land making it fertile. But on the new earth there won’t be any pollution or waste and no need for cleansing so no need of the sea. The Creator thinks of everything!

And what makes all of this so magnificent is that God will live on the new earth. As with Adam, He will once again live with man. For the first time, all of His people will live in His perfect presence. The eyes of the victorious will see Him, their ears will hear Him. Immanuel – truly “God with us” as it’s going to be the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Don’t you want to move to this new earth right now? As Revelation doesn’t only tell us what’s there, but what’s not there: “There will be no more night. We will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light.” (Rev.22:5).

This place is going to be so different from anything we’ve experienced. No sorrow, no tears, mourning, crying, pain, hospitals, hospice beds…no sadness just gladness. There will be no more death. Imagine a world with no obituaries, funeral directors or crematoriums? Sorrow and death will cease because sin will disappear. “No longer will there be any curse” (Rev.22:3).

If you want all this and much more, and I’m assuming you do, you have to go on a journey with the Lord, via the King’s Cross where Christ was offered and suffered for our sins so He could bring all His faithful through the ages to reign in heaven. John saw an enormous crowd, a great multitude that no one could count. Read the Good Book it’s all there. Don’t be enticed by popular new-age nonsense, don’t follow the foolish on paths that lead nowhere, ignoring the effects of sin, and don’t turn to your star signs to discover what the future holds. Peter’s 2nd epistle urges us before Jesus returns to “make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with Him” (2 Pet.3:11,14). Nothing impure, or anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful will enter heaven…

…only those who names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. Celebrate the fact that Jesus died on the cross to take care of our sin. Celebrate that He rose from the dead to take care of our death. Worship the King of kings! Trust and obey for there’s no other way. One day He’s coming back and the Good News is Jesus wants us to be the redeemed in heaven. A new future awaits – salvation belongs to our God!

Love in the Messiah. Blessed be the Word.

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SAYING “YES” TO GOD

Saying ‘yes’ to God means taking a risk. Shepherds said “yes” and were the first visitors to the manger where they met a young mother who, 9 months earlier, had taken an even greater risk in saying ‘yes’ to the annunciation. Mary, the Lord’s willing servant obeyed and her ‘yes’ meant God’s Word had been fulfilled; there was now the true Messiah to adore – Jesus, the One that fulfilled the ancient prophecies.

In fact, for a moment, consider the prophets and what they did by saying ‘yes’ to God; serving as His covenant enforcers reminding people of the behaviour He expects from them and where such behaviour is leading them: reward or blessing; repercussion or curses. Jeremiah makes agonizing confessions in his book describing how difficult the job was. He was mocked and unpopular. His ‘yes’ to God made life difficult for him.

Moses’ ‘yes’ to the divine call was terribly hard for him too on occasion. He got so frustrated with his fellow grumbling Israelites demanding water in the desert that he failed to follow God’s simple instructions and as a result was not allowed into the Holy Land. Earlier he had predicted that the Lord would raise up a prophet like himself to come into the world. When Jesus came on the scene the people were amazed by His miracles and teaching that they remarked: “This really is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” (Jn.6:14; 7:40). Moses fed people with manna, the bread of heaven, but Jesus is the Bread of Life. He is greater than Moses and all the prophets as He is God’s Son who could begin His teaching with the amazing statement:“Truly I say unto you…before Abraham was, I AM.” (Jn.8:58).

 You see Abraham is such an important person in the Bible. He is mentioned over 300 times in Scripture and his name is revered by three of the world’s religions: Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Why is so much attention given to him? Well, what have we heard from Scripture:-

“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.” (Heb.11:8).

“Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations…” (Rom.4:18).

It’s because thousands of years before Mary’s ‘yes’ he also said ‘yes’ to God that changed the course of history. Faith brings one to go where God calls one to go. His ‘yes’ gave birth to Israel, God’s chosen nation that gave birth to the written Word of God, the Law and the prophets, that gave birth to King David, that eventually gave birth to David’s greater Son. The hidden plan of salvation fulfilled in Jesus, the Saviour from David’s line, from the tribe of Judah, the Son and sacrificial Lamb of God who died for us all. Abraham’s ‘yes’ is crucial that 38 chapters of Genesis deal with this patriarch and his family covering some 350 years. When we first meet him, he’s known as Abram “exalted father” but soon it will be Abraham “Father of a great multitude”:-

“The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.  “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Gen.12:1-3)

These words represent a crossroads in humanity’s sordid history. Since Eden, the cancer of sin, worldwide flood, the Tower of Babel (a monument to human pride and idolatry) had led to different languages and the dispersal of peoples all over the earth. Abraham lived in a world with no connection to God. People were alienated and separated from Him and from each other. It was a world of spiritual darkness until the Good Lord shines His light on this one man – and a most unlikely one at that.

Abraham was from Ur one of the most important cities in the ancient world. It was a centre for maths, astronomy and commerce. It was a mecca of paganism with prolific sun and moon worship. And from this city of idolatry the Lord called an idolater. From this city of death, faith in God brought life: “…so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring.” This is “the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.” (Rom.4:16,17).

God creates new things out of nothing. Nothing about Abraham seems religious or righteous. He certainly wasn’t looking for God. But it was a call of grace suggesting that in our state of total depravity God always makes the first move in every human relationship. Abraham is told to leave behind all that he knows; his country, his city, his wider family and friends, his business and his father’s house to journey to a distant a land. He doesn’t know where he is going, how long it will take or what he is going to do when he does get there. Nevertheless, he takes God at His word believing His promises. If this isn’t remarkable enough consider this: he’s 75 years old when he says ‘yes’ to God!!

And Paul explains why faith matters telling us who this God of Abraham is. He is the God who brings the dead back to life. He is the Lord, who creates things out of nothing. He is the God who raised Christ from the dead and He is the Lord who gives those who are dead in sin a new life in Christ; abundant and eternal life by grace, through faith.

God started a relationship with Abraham, because unlike Adam, Abraham got it right because He trusted God’s Word. At this critical moment he went from being a pagan to a believer. His faith met God’s grace and set off a chain reaction that would produce divine blessings. SSarah, his wife, well past child-bearing age, would give him sons and daughters: “And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.” (Heb.11:12).

God promised Abraham three things: First, he would be the father of a great nation, Israel. Second, God promised Him a great name which today is truly known all over the world. Third, God promised Abraham he would make him a great blessing and that through him all the families on the earth would be blessed.

Paul writes that: “Abraham did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.” (Rom.4:20-21). Faith is not only about believing God can; it’s knowing that He will. It’s the key that unlocks the door to a mutual relationship.

Jesus (the greatest blessing to the entire world) addressed his contemporaries: “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham” (Jn.8:39). He is a blueprint of faith. Well into his ‘golden years’ Abraham accepted that God had a plan for his life. He had to be patient though. It was a ¼ of a century before Isaac was born. And during this time and beyond he got it spectacularly right and desperately wrong. Like we all do, this great Patriarch of old made a mess on his journey with God. Nevertheless it was credited to him as righteousness.

On the Alpha Course a few weeks ago we were looking at how God guides us. I used this analogy:-

A captain of a submarine sometimes sails under sealed orders. The envelope is only opened after leaving port. The directions give the coordinates to the next stop but the entire course is not unveiled at once. When they reach the specified location the captain radios for further instructions and the journey continues. There are orders and a plan. The captain’s job is to trust his superiors and say ‘yes’ to every one he receives.

Be my guide, God of Abraham, lead me by your hand, you are strong and wise. And I want to trust in you for the road ahead. I want to obey. We can have eternal life when we say ‘yes’ to Jesus Christ. The righteousness of God is extended by grace to all who believe in Him. “Look toward the heaven, and number the stars…so shall your offspring be.” (Gen.15:5). Praise His holy Name for we are spiritual descendants of Abraham and when Jesus said ‘yes’ to God, He accomplished the best thing ever for the world.

Jesus paid it all. Had He not ascended, He could not have sent the Spirit. Had the Spirit not come, we would not be gathered here today. So follow the commands of God, keep in relationship with Him through prayer and reading your Bible. Be inspired by Abraham and have hope that you will have eternal life and be raised on the last day.

Love in the Messiah. Blessed be the Word.

THE TRANSFIGURATION

A couple of weeks ago in our Bible study we looked at these verses that lie at the centre of Mark’s gospel, a pivotal point, where we meet the glorified radiant Christ, whose clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them, speaking with Moses and Elijah. A truly marvelous event leading Peter to exclaim, “Lord it is good for us to be here” (Mk.9:3,5).

Fools rush in where Peter feared to tread. What would you have said? Who knows what to say about the transfiguration of Christ?

There’s the cloud and the affirming heavenly voice: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” (9:7). These words first uttered at the river where Jesus was baptized and now repeated here. Then there’s the high mountain (and we know how significant they are in the Bible) reminding us of the Creator God’s awesome power and majesty. Then there’s the fact that what we’re seeing is heaven, through Jesus’ mortal body changing, meeting earth. Its mystery exceeds our understanding. Nevertheless, the lid’s blown completely off as something’s been made public that Peter, James and John didn’t know before.

What Isaiah predicted: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you” (60:1) has come true in their very presence and is God’s gracious pledge to all believers of what lies in store for them – resurrection glory that is everlasting. Here was Moses who had died some 1,400 years earlier whose face was so bright after meeting with God that people were afraid to look at him and he needed to put a veil over his face. And 700 years old Elijah is still Elijah having never tasted death, for he was taken to heaven in a fiery chariot.

They are there, because Jesus has been in conversation with them for years! He’s the rabbi who taught with authority from the Law and the Prophets. He’s been compared with Moses the Law-Giver, and people have seen Elijah returning in Him. And their conversation with Jesus symbolizes how He fulfills “the law and the prophets”. They appeared in order to show that there is total unity between the OT and the NT concerning salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ.

Can you imagine Jesus smiling when He saw them? They were validating His ministry. Suffering and death awaited Him, from this moment on Jesus is leaving Galilee and heading to Jerusalem and to the cross. Here, along with His Father’s affirming voice, there’s a brief respite. On the mountain we see the certainty of resurrection.

However, Peter, the reckless disciple who gets it right, but also spectacularly gets it wrong fails to appreciate the need for Jesus to go to the cross and perhaps to prolong the moment, hastily declares this a fantastic opportunity to build tents for these OT heroes and for His Master. He wishes to remain on the mountaintop forever, but it isn’t possible. He didn’t want to face the reality of what was coming. The inglorious and gruesome death of Jesus – necessary to forgive our sins that have completely separated us from God.

On a spiritual level perhaps we’ve been there too? We want the highs without the lows. We want the sunshine without the rain. Sometimes we need those moments that lift us above the daily grind of life. But there are also times when we must journey back down the mountain to face the troubles that lie ahead. We enter the valley because actually that is where so much of life is lived. Yet all the while we long to have more time on the mountain: We long to hold this vision bright and make this hill our home – we sang those words in the last hymn.

“Though I walk through the deepest darkness you are with me” if we listen to Jesus, the Great Shepherd of our souls, things will be so much better. We can be strengthened by the good times to face the troubling times. The Good Lord wants us to hear and understand that the Gospel is the power of God for the salvation of those who choose to believe. He speaks to us in many different ways and no matter how we feel we are still created in His image and precious to Him. That’s why He gives disciples affirmation of everything Jesus had done on the cross for their salvation. The Lord commands: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to Him!” (9:7).

 So are we listening to the God who speaks? Do we have a correct understanding of Christ and the significance of His death and resurrection? Or are we distracted and unable to hear the voice of God, which speaks in creation, in the Bible, and in the life and work of our Lord and Saviour? Like Peter, perhaps we can’t see the logic of believing in a crucified Saviour. If that’s the case – remember this and be encouraged by the fact that while misunderstandings and a limited view of faith may lead to painful corrections, enthusiasm and zeal is of great value to God, and loved by Him. Show the Lord your willingness to be a disciple, remembering the glory to which He calls you to: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him.”

Back when the telegraph was the fastest method of long-distance communication, a young man applied for a job as a Morse Code operator. Answering an ad in the newspaper, he went to the office address that was listed. When he arrived, he entered a large, busy office filled with noise and clatter, including the sound of the telegraph in the background. A sign on the receptionist’s counter instructed job applicants to fill out a form and wait until they were summoned to enter the inner office.

The young man filled out his form and sat down with the other applicants in the waiting area. After a few minutes, he stood up, crossed the room to the door of the inner office, and walked right in. Naturally the other applicants perked up, wondering what was going on. They muttered among themselves that they hadn’t heard any summons yet. They assumed that the man who went into the office made a mistake and would be disqualified. Within a few minutes, however, the employer escorted the man out of the office and said to the other applicants, “Gentlemen, thank you very much for coming, but the job has just been filled.”

The other applicants began grumbling to each other, and one spoke up saying, “Wait a minute, I don’t understand. He was the last to come in, and we never even got a chance to be interviewed. Yet he got the job. That’s not fair!”

The employer said, “I’m sorry, but the last several minutes while you’ve been sitting here, the telegraph has been ticking out the following message in Morse Code: “If you understand this message, then come right in. The job is yours.’ None of you heard it or understood it. This young man did. The job is his.”

We are so busy living in a world that is full of noise and clatter, like that telegraph office. We may not understand the Transfiguration and what it all means, but do we hear the Lord for He is speaking to us right now and are we prepared, as the disciples in this story, to recognise a little more of Jesus’ power, love and beauty – not least when He tells us to take up the cross and follow Him

The glimpse that we are granted of Christ’s glory on the mountain is the foretaste of heaven. Transfiguration reminds us that though Jesus walked in the way of the cross, He also rose from the dead. His forgiving and saving love is offered to us because it’s all about amazing grace. Our destiny, as diligent Christians, is joined to Christ’s destiny and the Holy Spirit makes us more and more like Him as we are changed into His glorious image. (2 Cor.3:18). Then one day our earthly journey will end and we will simply be with Him forever: “When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise, Than when we first begun. 

Love in the Messiah. Blessed be the Word.

God Doesn’t Sleep

During the Battle of Britain, the German Luftwaffe rained down about thirty-five thousand bombs upon London during nightly air raids, causing terrifying fear and tremendous destruction and mayhem in large parts of London.

For months, as sirens wailed out warnings of approaching German bombers, the general population automatically hurried toward the nearest Air Raid Shelter! People learned to look after one another during the nightly raids and the ‘morning after’ walk abouts and clean-ups.

After a terrible night of bombardment, an elderly woman was not seen in a certain neighborhood for several days. Her neighbors assumed that she had either been killed by the falling bombs or that she had gone to the countryside to escape the danger, disruption of life and incessant noise.

Some time later, a neighbour spotted the elderly woman walking down the street and articulated his happiness that she was alive and well.

“It’s nice to see you back”, he said.

“I have not been away”, she replied.

“Where have you been?” he asked.

“I’ve been at home,” said the woman.

“What have you been doing at home during the air raids?” inquired the neighbor.

“Sleeping,” she answered.

“How could you sleep with all the noise and explosions?” he asked.

“Oh”, she replied, I was reading my Bible and found Psalm 121:4 where it declares that God doesn’t slumber nor sleep, so I thought there was no point in both of us staying awake.”

PROPHECY & PRAISE

I’ve done it myself and folk have come up to me and said, “Did you have a nice Christmas?” Right away that implies that Christmas is in the past, put away for another year – when in fact it continues day after day. You don’t need Roy Wood to sing about it, or even wish for it. It’s true, celebrate Jesus and it’s Christmas every day, God coming as Jesus among us, and living as one of us. Well worth remembering and celebrating each day!

Simeon took Jesus in his arms and praised God: “I have seen your salvation, which you have prepared for all people. He is a light to reveal God to the nations.” (Lk.2:30). An image that John uses so wonderfully throughout his gospel, the divine light that shines in the darkness, shines on everyone, lighting up those dark places we’d rather forget. Yes, there is still much darkness in the world, but the light of Christ shines and cannot be extinguished. That’s an eternal promise!

In Christ – the Word made flesh – God has something to say to us. To some it’s good news! But it is not a Word that everyone wants to hear. Simeon’s prophecy warns us that people will be explicit in their rejection of Him, and even oppose Him – “as the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.” (Lk.2:34-35). But for those who listen and believe there is a wonderful destiny!

And you don’t need miracles and wonders to believe in the Messiah. Simeon simply saw Jesus and that was enough. Along with Anna they glimpsed a fresh insight of how God acts in history. They saw their own lives fitting into what He is doing. As they cradled and blessed Jesus, through all the ritual of dedicating an eight-day-old baby to God, a new picture was emerging; Jesus howled with pain, as any normal baby would do when He was circumcised – the message of Christmas is that God likes flesh, blood and bones; the Messiah comes in a supernatural yet ordinary way.

These two people saw the Lord’s true humanity. There was nothing special about them. Simeon wasn’t a religious leader. The gospel says he was simply “a just and devout man (2:25). And what we mustn’t miss in the text is that this happened in their old age. Anna was 84, a poor widow who spent decades living in the temple gaining a reputation as a prophet. There are not many female prophets in the Bible, but God needs men, women, children and even babies to carry out His purposes.

Anna saw the Christ-child. She too believed and proclaimed that He was the Saviour of God. Her praise was witness to others. I think their inclusion here in the Gospel tells us something about God’s will for our lives, which might mean waiting for an awfully long time. As far as Anna and Simeon were concerned they had unfinished business. In the days leading up to the birth of Jesus they had looked to all those OT scriptures and anticipated that God would save them.

 Was it ever going to happen? Well, age didn’t deter their faith, or their optimism. They were waiting because they believed in the coming Saviour. Simeon was eagerly waiting for God to come and rescue Israel. It’s the Holy Spirit who opened his eyes to see the One he had been waiting decades for. It doesn’t matter how old you are as far as the Lord’s concerned.

We are living in an ageing society. The retirement age for both men and women will rise to 66 in 2020. Folk are living longer through improvements in health and diet. There are currently more than 3 million people aged more than 80 in the UK and this is projected to double by 2030. Growing numbers of elderly people; that society as a whole can so easily write off as past it:-

An elderly person got a UltraHD TV for Christmas but could see no difference when watching it, so he asked the call-center hotline what difference there should be. “How old are you”, asked the person: ’82’ was the reply. – “Well at your age you won’t notice any difference!” said the unhelpful person.

Some suggest that old age is a terrible complaint and impacts on the NHS. Our faculties diminish, sight and hearing are impaired, memory begins to fade, joints can be painful; replacement ops are needed for hips and knees. We are slower than we used to be. Bob Hope said, “You know you’re old when the candles cost more than the cake!!”

But God values senior citizens. If you read Paul’s letter to Titus, in the life of the church it’s very important to have people who are godly seniors who have sound faith, and live in a way that honours God. Older women must train younger women to live wisely and do good: “Then they will not bring shame on the Word of God.” (2:1-5). Throughout Proverbs the “ripened one” is viewed as being a blessing to the grandchildren (13:22) who provides the wisdom and instruction of the Scriptures.

The Bible is brimming with examples of the value of the elderly. The tests of Abraham’s faith began at age 75, but really did not climax until he was well over 100 (Gen. 22). Most of Moses’ life concerns his leadership role after he was eighty years of age. Daniel’s greatest exploits and courage took place long after the normal age of retirement (Daniel 5 & 6).

Anna and Simeon, essential to God’s plan, were still baring fruit in old age, and they coped with old age by casting their cares on the Lord whom they knew was sustaining them. The Holy Spirit revealed to Simeon that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. He saw the answer to his prayers at the end of his life, and yet they still trusted God. That is faith, calling on Him in the morning, at noon, and in the evening. Praying, and in Anna’s case fasting too, telling God what they needed and thanking Him for their longevity and all that He promised would bring joy once more into their lives someday.

Because they were like trees planted in the Lord’s house, old age was a blessing. Never leaving the temple was a physical thing for Anna – but interpret it spiritually – “never leave God do not give up on Him…as He will never fail or forsake you.”

 Thus, primarily Simeon and Anna are thankful. There was no dissatisfaction or resentment about the ageing process. Instead they praised God. There was no bitterness either. Anna had every reason to feel life was unfair. She’d only been married for 7 years before being widowed. She didn’t complain. Instead, she spent her life centered on God, praising Him for His goodness over many generations, thanking Him by being positive.

This demonstrates that to live a God-centered life is a vital quality for every believer. Not only is it good preparation for the next life of praise and thanksgiving, but in the here and now it’s important that our relationship with God doesn’t grow cold. Don’t be lukewarm in faith, rekindle, and reconnect with God, treasure that relationship with God, like Anna and Simeon.

Their relationship with God was more important to them in their old age than when they were young and the Holy Spirit was upon them and their daily companion, inspiring them, guiding them and revealing to them the purposes and the character of God. Be devout, expectant, focused and prayerful people.

Anna and Simeon blessed a lot of babies and children in their old age. They lived their lives with the possibility of unfinished business. Their expectations were fulfilled and Simeon prays: “I have seen your salvation which you have prepared for all people…so now you can take me Lord. I’m ready to go.” Another act of faith, because he never lived to see Jesus go to the cross, yet he believed that somehow God would work it all out.

Consequently, in this “post-Christmas” period, the decorations have been packed away for another year. But we can stretch out the wonder of this season throughout the whole year by honouring God’s Son. Some will fall and perish, but Jesus will also cause many to rise up and be saved. Our hopes and fears are met in Christ. It’s not just a carol we sing at Christmas. Surrender everything into the arms of Jesus. Just as He was safe in Simeon’s arms, so we can be safe in His. In life or in death there is no safer place to be.

Lastly, God used Simeon and Anna to reinforce to Mary and Joseph the incredible significance of their Child. As we move further into this New Year, may we understand His life, death and resurrection even more – born to die, so that we may live – and may God continue to bless us as we do our best to share our Saviour with friends, family, neighbours and strangers.

Love in the Messiah. Blessed be the Word.

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

What’s really in a name: Is it just a label, or is it something more? Shakespeare might have the answer: “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” – from that most famous of his plays…“Romeo & Juliet” – in which the love struck heroine argues that it doesn’t matter that her boyfriend is from a rival family named “Montague”.

You see our name is our identity. One of the saddest things is seeing a headstone inscribed “A soldier of the Great War…known only unto God” – hundreds of men who died in the WW1 trenches, whose names we don’t know, lie buried in France & Belgium. Names have meaning because they are a declaration of self: “my name is me!” Names carry weight. If you meet someone for the first time with the same name of someone you used to know, more than likely you’ll think of the previous person from the past.

Moreover, when someone doesn’t call us by the right name, pronounces it or spells it wrong, we are offended by it. We would call them disrespectful. I had a utility bill emailed to me last week missing my forename: “Dear Mullings” it said – which left me a little miffed because a name is more than just a phrase used to get our attention. Parents aside choosing our name at birth, where does it come from? What does it mean? You may be surprised at how many familiar names have Hebrew origins. A name, in Hebrew, designated the character or function of someone.

Adam means ‘man’ and comes from “Adamah” that means “earth” – from which he was created by God.

Abraham means “father of many” – fulfilled by having descendants greater in number than the stars or grains of sand on the shore.

Obadiah means “servant of God” – appropriate for a prophet.

Job means “Howler” and looking at his suffering we can see why.

Hannah means “favour” or “grace” – we know her story of the Good Lord making her womb fruitful to bare Samuel.

In fact the Biblical genealogies are more than just a list of names. The names were given for a purpose, each name is significant and some individuals stand out. Methuselah the oldest man in the Bible means “His Death Brings” – he lived until his grandson Noah built the ark. The patient Good Lord waited 969 years before sending the Flood as He promised Methuselah would not be killed with the unrighteous. The longer he lived, the longer God’s deserved wrath on sinful humanity was held at bay! His death brought the Flood.

From this we can see that names are more than labels. The very name “Christian” itself was first given in the city of Antioch, where those early believers established a church (Acts 11:26). Taking the title marks us out as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ – the very name which the angel had given him before he was conceived (Lk.2:21) – the name above all names which means……“God Saves.”

In ancient times it was important to know your god’s name. Altars to “unknown gods” (as Paul found in Athens) were an “insurance policy” against offending gods by not knowing their names. Knowing the name gave you power and helped you trust in that power. In Scripture the Lord’s name remains enigmatic because He has more than one!!

Often the Bible reveals a new name of God when the people either face a great need, or when they see God bless them in a spectacular way: El Shaddai means “Lord God Almighty, the All Sufficient One”; Jehovah Jireh means “The Lord Will Provide”; Adonai means “Lord, Master”; El Olam means “The Everlasting God”. People asked for God’s name, but the closest they got was “Yahweh” – “I AM who I AM” first revealed to Moses (Ex.3:14). To pronounce this was considered blasphemous. In the Book of Leviticus, the Hebrew letters for the sacred Name Y-H-W-H (there’s no vowels like we have in English) is spelled with every seventh letter. It’s no coincidence. The law is pointing to the Name of God. All Scripture is God breathed. 

Bible codes can clarify things in Scripture, and we shouldn’t be surprised by the number 7, but we don’t need to hunt for them. How blessed we are to have the Bible’s clear message and instruction, which can help us know God. Isaiah promised: “That my people shall know my name…they shall know that it is I who speak; here am I” (52:6). Christmas was a little over 3 weeks ago, the child in the manger has made God fully known to us, because Jesus really becomes what His name means: “Our Saviour.” That’s what Christmas is all about. The Magi came with gifts fit for a prophet, priest and king. That’s why we must worship in spirit and truth celebrating the Name of Jesus: “Christ the Lord…who brings great joy to all people!”

The Hebrew word “Messiah” and the Greek equivalent “Christ” means “Anointed One” – In the OT anointing with oil symbolised being chosen by God for a special mission: “He gives power to his king; he increases the strength of his anointed one” (1 Sam.2:10). Jesus was God’s choice to be the Messiah. The Gospel reminds us on the eight day after His birth, He had to be named and circumcised according to Jewish Law intimately connecting Him with Yahweh and God’s people. Jesus is the glory of the Lord (Is.40:5).

Look at some of the different names Jesus has in the Bible:-

  • The Alpha and Omega.
  • The Lamb of God.
  • The Root of David.
  • The Good Shepherd.
  • The Word.
  • The Light of the World.
  • The Morning Star.
  • The Man of Sorrows.
  • The Mediator
  • The Horn of Salvation
  • The Bread of Life.
  • The Prince of Peace.
  • Wonderful Counsellor
  • The King of the Jews.
  • The Son of God.

By means of the Gospel, as Paul says in Ephesians, we gentiles are partners with the Jews in receiving God’s blessings: “We are members of the same body and share in the promise that God made through Christ Jesus.” (3:6). Psalm 98 from which we read: “Sing a new song to the Lord, for He has done wonderful deeds…His holy arm has shown his saving power…He will judge the world with justice and the nations with fairness.”

We celebrate and worship our Saviour because it’s all in the Name: “Lord Jesus Christ – Son of God have mercy on me a sinner.” At His Name every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. I think this New Year we should make a resolution to reclaim the Name of Jesus. His Name needs to be treated with a lot more respect. Too many people, and not just those outside Church, use His Name as a swear word. It shouldn’t be socially acceptable to slander the holy Name of God (even with the abbreviation OMG!). Dammit is not His last name either! Taking God’s Name in vain is breaking the Commandment. It’s blasphemy. Muslims don’t stand for it when their god is crudely drawn in cartoons and their prophet ridiculed, so why do we when Jesus is a Name that’s dear and important to us? We need to remind people that God does not bless them for breaking His commandment: “For the Lord will punish anyone who takes His name in vain.” (Ex.20:7).

“I AM who I AM, the LORD” – is not just a collection of Hebrew letters, but is specially holy as it’s the name that pointed forward to the coming of Christ who gave His life for the forgiveness of sins and who from the adoration of shepherds would establish a new faith community called the Church; the new Israel. 

We can be an ungrateful lot can’t we? Christ is for life, not just for Christmas! The Gospel lets us know that not everyone appreciates the greatness of God’s gift. The world does not recognise the special baby who had to grow up to become the man who preached about the Kingdom of God and who healed the sick before being executed on the cross. The world does not recognise the great triumph of Easter Day and the promise of eternal life, for as God complained through His prophet Isaiah 3,000 years ago: “All day long my name is constantly blasphemed.” (52:5). Yet it is Jesus’ Name that has power over sin, sickness, the devil and death. Prayer in His Name grants us access into the very presence of God. It is His Name that gives us confidence to ask in prayer and to believe that we shall receive. It was the name used by disciples in healing people: “Silver and gold I do not have” said Peter, “but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” (Acts 3:6).

That’s the Gospel. That’s good news! It’s a privilege to acknowledge in our lives the Name of Jesus. But seriously there’s nothing more dangerous than to abuse it. Let us keep these things in mind, as we begin this New Year. As the Lord says: “If my name is spoken as a blessing upon the people…I will bless them.” (Num.6:27).

Love in the Messiah’s Name & Service. Blessed be His Word.

Be Among Us As One Who Preaches The Word

To preach salvation by good works and human ability flatters people. There is no necessity for the Cross except to show God’s love. It’s a fruitless message. Salvation is by grace alone. The Cross satisfies God’s wrath. We are under His righteous judgement. The crucified Christ bore our sin and is the only Saviour. Faithfully preaching this essential truth reduces one’s popularity. But God fearers don’t mind this!!