The Eternal Promise

With no doubt one of the most famous celebrities of the ancient Biblical world is Noah. His story begins in Genesis 5. We should pay more attention to the genealogies in the Bible, as his direct line of descent has some amazing attributes.

Firstly, he descended from Seth. This line is sometimes referred to as “the glory line” as it leads to Abraham the father of faith and the friend of God. Subsequently, it was through the seed of Seth that Jesus was born. Noah’s great-grandfather was Enoch who went to heaven without dying, as he was someone who walked so faithfully with God, and one day God took him away, so they could spend more time together. What a privilege for him!

But he had a son, Methuselah (the oldest person in the Bible if you’re ever in a quiz) who lived to be 969 years old – and was Noah’s grandfather. Now Methuselah means something pretty significant: “When he is dead, it shall be sent.” When you do the maths, it transpires that he died the same year the flood came. Coincidence? I don’t think so – it’s a GOD-INCIDENT! His death shall bring…

This is a godly family tree. As long as Methuselah was alive, he was a walking prophecy. Although Scripture is silent I think that’s why he lived so long –for “When he dies, judgement will come” – The Good Lord didn’t want to send the flood, He didn’t want to send judgement, death or a watery grave. But His long-suffering patience and forgiveness had run out. The tipping point had been reached.

In Genesis 6, Noah’s described as “a righteous man, the only blameless person living on earth at the time…” who like his relatives “walked in close fellowship with God.” (6:9). He’s also the man, with no previous experience of boat building, who constructed back then the biggest vessel the world had ever seen. Despite living hundreds of miles from the sea!!

He’s doing it because God’s told him the world is a sinful place and about to be engulfed in a cataclysmic flood. ‘Noah’ a good place to get out of the rain? For divine judgement cannot be escaped. The boat needs no rudder or sail as there won’t be anywhere to steer it to. All it has to do is to ride out the flood. It’s an ark of salvation for Noah and seven family members, as well as a pair of every kind of animal and pairs of every kind of bird; and storage for enough food to last for nearly a year.

When we come to Genesis ch.9, a lot has occurred. All those aboard the ark survived the great flood. In perfect justice, however, thousands of wicked people perished. But now hopes are high and the world can begin again. Noah and his sons have been blessed and made a covenant with the Lord God who promises: “Never again will a flood destroy the earth”. (9:11).

Beneath the rainbow, the sign of that promise, Noah doesn’t build boats anymore; he’s taken up farming instead. Not bad for a man who’s 601 years old! All large and small wild animals, birds and fish are under his stewardship and given, in addition to plants, as food. Up until that time human beings had never eaten meat. Now they could. But not rare steaks! The kosher law prohibiting the consumption of an animal’s blood is underwritten in verse 4: “You must not eat meat with blood still in it.” That’s because God views blood as representing life (see Dt.12:23; Lev.17:11).

When paramedics arrive at the scene of an accident, one of the first things they do is check for a pulse, to feel the blood flowing, to know the person is alive. Life is in the blood. That’s why Jehovah’s Witnesses especially, and others it must be said, avoid blood transfusions out of respect to God as the Giver of life.

I accept this is all up for debate. Personally, in nailing my colours to the mast, I think the prohibition in the text today and in other OT verses is to do with ingesting blood by the mouth, not a medical procedure in which blood is transfused. I also accept that food laws are debatable. It’s up to you what you eat. But I believe that God has given us laws like this, so we avoid contamination. After all He knows what’s best for us.

That may be too simplistic; you can take it or leave it, but the Bible is consistent and true for every generation and Jesus never dismissed the laws of the OT. There is also power in His blood! His sacrifice and blood shed have sealed the New Covenant for: “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” (Heb.9:22). Like Noah, we’re given a second chance: “I am making my covenant with you and with your descendants.” (Gen.9:8). We are his offspring who can choose to be ransomed in the blood of Christ.

Every saint has a past; every sinner has a future. When the vines were sagging under the burden of Noah’s first crop, after tramping on the grapes, there’s a barrel of wine. He drinks it. It tastes really good. Full bodied, sweet and…He drinks some more…and then some more. Then his head begins to feel bad. He tries to stand unaided, but finds himself pitching forwards. Eventually he crawls to his tent. He doesn’t remember taking his clothes off. Soon he’s out cold, snoring like a bear and completely naked.

This is scandalous. Noah’s a man of God. The Bible condemns drunkenness. Don’t be fooled. Sometimes we think that people in the Bible are heroes bigger than life, but normally we see that they’re a lot like us. Noah harvested his crop. That’s good. He drank too much wine and became drunk. That’s not so good, as he set a poor example of holiness to his family.

Even godly people can and do sin and their families can be affected with damage and pain as a result. Noah’s youngest son, Ham, showed a severe lack of respect for his father, and, above all for God. He saw the state he was in, but sought out his brothers, effectively mocking his father.

When Noah sobered up and learnt what his youngest son had done to him, he pronounced a curse on his descendants, telling Ham they would be slaves to his brothers (9:25). Ham’s descendants were the Canaanites, hated by Israel and the curse was fulfilled when the Israelites entered the Promised Land and drove them out under Joshua.

Nevertheless the way God works in history is astounding! Rahab is mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus, part of “the glory line”. She was a Canaanite prostitute who saved a couple of Israelite spies when she was living in Jericho. She was a direct descendant of Ham, but what mattered is that she trusted in the true God of Israel. She was justified by faith.

And it all goes back to when the Lord placed a rainbow in the sky as a sign of His promise. Whatever race we come from is not important because of God’s covenant of free grace. We may not understand it, but through the plan of salvation, He is truly working His purpose out for entire humanity, the whole of creation.

This truth is hugely encouraging. It gives us hope when we mess things up. The rainbow states there is always the possibility of a new beginning. Noah’s descendants re-populated the earth. As the generations unfold, God uses the people He wants to use.

And thousands of years later the family line continued all the way to Jesus Christ: the perfect and final sacrifice. His blood is so powerful that, although our hearts are evil, it paid the price for all our sins. Until the judgement day when Jesus returns to destroy evil forever He is faithful to His Word. A thousand years is like a day, and a day is like a thousand years to the Lord and He doesn’t want anyone to perish.

Let’s do the maths here: if 1000 years is one day to God then one hour rounded up is 42 years. I’m 49. So in the Lord’s sight I’ve lived for just over an hour. If I live till I’m 98 then I only have just over an hour left! Time is very fleeting and precious so what will you do with your two hours on earth?

For starters be thankful for the rainbow and the cross because we need a second chance every day. The promises are forever; they will not be broken. God has not forgotten us. When we struggle with sin, seek His forgiveness and thank Him for all His mercies. We’re part of His story. If we come to Jesus, we will not be turned away.

To be saved on the ark you had to enter through a door. Jesus said, “I am the door.” (Jn.10:7). There is no other way. His blood will save us and our names will be written in the Book of Life.

Blessed be the Word. Love in the Messiah.

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SEEING GOD CLEARLY

I’ve got my double glazing with me today. I fumble for my glasses now to be able to read the Bible. If we’re out for a meal, and I forget them, I have to ask a family member to describe the menu choices!! I can’t see as clearly as I used to. So, thanks to whoever invented glasses as many of us are short or longsighted, and we deal with cataracts, or in poor xxxx case a cornea transplant in order to see clearly.

There is pain in having imperfect vision. And often there’s pain in our faith journey too because we can’t see God clearly. There’s reasons for this, chiefly the prince of this world has blinded many people who can’t see clearly because they have the world’s lies covering their eyes! They live to satisfy their own desires. God is an abstract idea; He’s old man out to get us; a God who’s watching from a distance while we live out our lives on planet earth.

The way we see God determines our attitudes on everything, including justice, morality, war, natural disasters, science, politics and love. Yet, these practical images of God are so far removed from the truth. The idea of Him at a distance is not good theology. Jesus tore the curtain that separated God from us. In Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell and through Him everything on earth and in heaven was reconciled to a holy God by making peace through the blood of the cross.

It comes down to this: He who created the universe wants to have a personal, eternal relationship with us. Jesus is the most visible manifestation of the invisible God. He showed us that God is our Heavenly Father (Jn.14:9). However, folk don’t want to know the truth and they come up with their own distorted views as to what God is like. Some think they have a relationship with Him, but they don’t because that relationship is false and they are scared in case He finds out about them!!

We can’t see God clearly if we don’t look at ourselves honestly. Many try to defend themselves as decent, noble, upright folk who live correctly, declaring that their ‘goodness’ is good enough for God. That’s no different to the folk living in Isaiah’s day. Even though they continually offered sacrifices, they made them to satisfy their own hearts. They didn’t love the Good Lord who says: “If they did, they might turn to me and be healed.” So the prophet is told: “To make their minds dull, their ears deaf and their eyes blind, so that they cannot see or hear or understand.” (Is.6:10).

In other words to deliberately preach an uncompromising, unpopular message that will irritate, provoke and enrage people compelling their hearts to change if they so desire. Many are called. Few are chosen. Jesus did pretty much the same thing with parables. Most of them are of judgement as: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” (Jn.3:19).

It matters not what we look like, or how prosperous and popular we are. What matters in the end is for everyone to have a real relationship with God. Remember Judas had the best pastor, teacher, healer, therapist, yet he failed to love Jesus. We can’t blame anyone. Definitely not God-fearing ministers who uphold the Word. The problem is not the leadership or the church we go to, if our attitude or character doesn’t change, or our hearts don’t transform – we will always be the same! No one is good, except God alone. (Lk.18:19).

We must let Him show us what He is like. He is utterly holy and different. Only Moses and Aaron were allowed anywhere near Mt. Sinai. Even flocks and herds were not allowed to graze by God’s holy mountain. He is separate, set above all creation. Divine Holiness reminds us of the divide between God and humanity. In the OT God made covenants, gave laws to His people and sent them the prophets to bridge the divide (reminding them how to live in true relationship with Him). Holiness, this aspect of God is something Isaiah wants us to see.

Ch.6 begins by telling us the exact year when he was called to be a prophet. It was the year that King Uzziah died in 740BC. Isaiah remembers that detail because in that moment, his life changed. For the first time in history he saw God in a way no one had ever seen Him. He saw the Creator of the universe sitting on an eternal throne “high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the whole temple…above him were seraphim…calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty’…” (6:1,2,3).

This is the single most important picture of God we find in the OT. His glory doesn’t just fill the whole temple – “the whole earth is full of his glory.” (6:3). More than any other attribute – mercy, grace, love, power, knowledge – He is described as holy. His Name is holy. He cannot be compared with anyone else or anything else. He cannot be incriminated with sin. Habakkuk, another prophet says: “His eyes are too pure to look on evil and he cannot tolerate iniquity.” (1:13). If we don’t see Him as holy we have the wrong view of God.

To approach the holiness of God requires reverence and absolute obedience to His commands. So often we think we can just do as we please with our lives and then come running to God for a few minutes of prayer and get an answer right away. But that’s belittling grace to satisfy our own desires. Peter reminds us: “But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.” (1 Pet.3:15-16). It’s when Isaiah sees God in all His holiness that he notices his own sinfulness. And he doesn’t like it. He mourns: “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” (Is.6:5). In that split second of his vision he realises all his so-called goodness, integrity and decency is nothing compared to God’s purity.

It’s a moment of humility and fear of the Lord. That’s why in the next verse a seraphim flies to him with a live coal in hand. When we are honest in our relationship to God, He gets merciful in His relationship to us. He deals with Isaiah’s unclean lips and the prophet, in an instant, is relieved of his guilt and sin. He’s cleansed and forgiven. If we desire that sort of relationship with God we also need to get real and see Him for who He is, and see ourselves for who we are.

When we’re cured of a disease, we want to help someone with theirs. If we find a product that relieves anxiety, improves sleep, saves us money we want to proclaim it. This is what happens next. Right after his vision he hears a conversation between the Holy Trinity: “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” (6:8). Isaiah bursts out, “Here I am, let me do it! People have to know about this. People need this kind of relationship with God, and I’ve got to go and tell them…I can’t put if off they desperately need to know.”

With his corrected vision, Isaiah could see the true picture of God, the true state of the people around him and that everyone had the same need. They couldn’t see the way Isaiah did and God warned him about people’s imperfect vision. His ministry would make their senses dull, heavy and blind to the healing God offered. Nonetheless the message must be preached: “But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!”” (Rom.10:14-15).

The Gracious Lord is always looking for people like Isaiah, an ordinary man who was willing to see God clearly and to step out in faith. The question is are we prepared to do the same? Will we be spectators or partakers? We all stumble in many ways, but it’s our love and our honesty before the Most High that reveals a true walk of faith!

Love in the Messiah. Blessed be the Word.

Holy God, Lord Jesus, you said to your disciples,“Why are you sleeping?” – may your Church today wake from its slumber and do your work of sharing the Good News of the Gospel. Amen.

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.

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.

As we share bread and wine at this table remember 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.

Lord, you are the great guide, the all-knowing shepherd who never leads his people astray. Give me the courage to say yes to you in new ways that will extend your blessing, Amen.

LIVING WITHOUT GOD

A student was in a philosophy class, where there was a discussion about whether or not God exists. The professor had the following logic: “Has anyone in this class heard God?” Nobody spoke. “Has anyone in this class touched God?” Again, nobody spoke. “Has anyone in this class seen God?” When nobody spoke for the third time, he simply stated, “Then there is no God.” The student wasn’t happy about this and asked for permission to speak. The professor granted it, and the student stood up and asked the following questions of his classmates: “Has anyone in this class heard our professor’s brain?” Silence. “Has anyone in this class touched our professor’s brain?” Absolute silence. “Has anyone in this class seen our professor’s brain?” When nobody in the class dared to speak, the student concluded, “Then, according to our professor’s logic, it must be equally true then that our professor has no brain!”

The pressures and problems of living drive rational people to a restless search for meaning and purpose in life. Many never find answers, as they live out their lives without God. So, if an atheist friend asked you, “If God is real, what difference does He make?” How would you answer?

First of all, don’t fumble for a response. Do what Jesus often did, turn the tables, replying to their query with this question: “What is the point of life without God?” Even Solomon, who next to Jesus is possibly the wisest person who ever lived, once asked this same question: In Ecclesiastes, the book he wrote, he comes up with the answer in one word that he uses 33 times – “meaningless” – concluding without God all is futile, only He gives meaning to life.

Consequently, people need to hear about God so that they can know Him and make a decision that will change their eternal destiny. Christ’s mandate to His Church is to sow the seed of the Gospel. Sin is deadly serious and the Bible pulls no punches here. But people will follow their own desires: “For a time is coming when they will no longer listen…they will reject the truth and chase after myths.” (2 Tim.4:3,4).

For example people love Christmas, and all the naff that’s tacked onto it, but they don’t love Christ. As those verses in 2 Timothy remind us, against apathy we are to “work at telling others the Good News” it’s the ministry God has given us. To fight the good fight! “We have a priceless inheritance…beyond the reach of change and decay”, says Peter. (2 Tim.4:5; 1 Pet.1:4). Therefore, don’t worry about being misunderstood and ridiculed in family, society and popular culture. We are servants of the Church and somehow surviving against all the odds. “Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you.” (1 Jn.2:15)

Christmas happened once: In Jesus, God comes to us with a desire to free us from sin, evil and death and to show us how meaningful life is with Him. Easter happened once: Jesus suffered, died and rose again to save people from their sins, giving the gift of eternal life. All human hearts need do is receive, believe and not be ashamed of the Gospel which is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes (Rom.1:16).

Life without God is a daily routine of running in circles and going nowhere: Scripture is speaking clearly: “The world only offers a craving for physical pleasure…and pride in our achievements and possessions.” (1 Jn.2:16). Yet, all our money, successes, property, stocks and shares are meaningless without God. The old saying rings true: a rich man without God is just a poor man with money!

Furthermore, not only does life not matter, if God is absent from it, then it doesn’t matter how we live, as we have no moral compass, nothing to distinguish been good and evil. All Scripture is God breathed. It’s humanity’s guide. Obedience to the Good Lord’s commands results in right conduct, diligence and virtue and “anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.” (1 Jn.2:17).

Naturally people will retort they don’t need God in order to try living according to what they think is right or wrong, good or evil. We hear it all the time: “I’m a good person, I believe in compassion, logic, empathy, honesty…et.al” but Solomon also wrote: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” (Pr.14:12). It’s fundamentally irrational to think we’re the source for our moral values. We don’t have it within our hearts. There is absolute moral decline in society; godly influence is disappearing and the Church by siding with popular opinion, and finding ways to be seen as acceptable, is complicit in activities that are morally wrong and will incur the Lord’s great anger. Same-sex marriage, euthanasia, Sunday trading et.al. Anything goes. Anything is permissible. Because without God, right and wrong simply become a matter of emotions, intellect or opinion.

If God doesn’t exist then it doesn’t matter whether you are good or bad. It doesn’t matter if you are honest or you lie, whether you give or take. If no one rewards you for good, or punishes you for evil, then what does it matter? Without God there is no justice for evil. So Hitler, Saddam Husain and countless others get away with killing millions of people. Jack the Ripper gets away with it too. Without God, every unsolved murder remains, not just unresolved, but unpunished.

Divine justice is necessary for a flawed humanity rebelling against God’s authority and holy law. God’s real and that’s the difference He makes to this world and the next. Two men were discussing Christianity. One said, “I don’t have anything to do with things I don’t understand.”

“Have you had your breakfast this AM?”

“Yes, but what’s that go to do with God?”

“Did you have butter on your toast?” persisted his friend.

“Yes”, replied the man, increasingly confused.

“Well, can you tell me how a black and white cow eating green grass can make white milk that makes yellow butter?”

“No, I can’t”, admitted the skeptic.

“Well”, his friend advised, “I wouldn’t have anything to do with breakfast then.”

Eric Liddell, the Olympic runner once remarked that the Lord requires “muscular Christians”, believers who are serious about their faith. We might say we believe in God, but does He really make a difference to our lives? Are we only moderately interested in Him? Singing hymns and sharing in worship, is good, and I’m glad you’re here, but religion is not the way to salvation.

All the Bible’s teaching points to the death of Jesus as sin-bearer and Saviour. The cross demonstrates the holiness and power of God. Because of Jesus’ resurrection, instead of standing for death and destruction, it stands for victory. We are free to accept or reject Christ’s love and forgiveness; we can either live in the power of the cross, or remain ungodly. But if we are to be saved, then we must turn to God in repentance and have faith in the Lord Jesus.

Lastly, those who don’t believe in God, ignore the judgement of God. When we ignore the judgement of God, we disregard the fear of God. Without fear we lack wisdom. Humanists, agnostics, atheists by the end of their lives will come to regret their lifestyle for their lives are doomed to end in death. Not so for Christian souls, as after death, life will truly begin.

In conclusion then life without God is like an unsharpened pencil…there is no point!!

 Love in the Messiah. Blessed be the Word.

I Believe In Angels

Blessed be your glorious name, Lord, you made the heavens and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you. (Neh.9:5-6).

If you ask a child what part they want in a Nativity play I think most hands, particularly those of little girls, would go up for the angels. The opportunity to wear wings and a tinsel halo! Boys generally get the shepherds and tea towels!

Angels are fascinating spiritual beings. This time of year, naturally, they can be a topic of conversation among believers and non-believers alike. Angels are big business; there’s angel books (not necessarily Christian ones), paintings, poetry, personal stories, as well as something called ‘angel therapy’ -whatever that is! Even in this advanced technological age, surveys show public belief in angels is still strong. 74% of teenagers and 68% of adults believe in them.

We’ve all heard of guardian angels. In the Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life an angel called Clarence comes to the aid of George Bailey, as he’s contemplating suicide. This is pure Hollywood fantasy, a feel good movie, and I hate to burst a bubble but the Bible doesn’t teach that everyone has a guardian angel. Angels only guard and protect those who will inherit salvation – those, who know, love and trust God.

Consequently, as the pop group Abba sang, I believe in angels. They definitely exist. I believe in them, not because someone has told me about them, or because they’ve seen one in a dramatic visitation (which is actually very rare). I believe in them because the Bible says there are angels and I accept the Bible is the true Word of God.

Angels have always been and continue to be mysterious. Max Lucado describes the story of angels as “biblical whale watching”. He says, “They surface just long enough to catch a glimpse and raise a question, but then disappear before we have full view.” So what do we know about them from the Good Book’s sacred pages? We know that God not only created the world and human life, He also created the heavens and things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible. God created angels, and just as we are the highpoint of His earthly creation, they are the pinnacles of His heavenly creation.

There’s a lot of them. At Jesus’ arrest, Peter drew his sword and cut off the ear of one of the servants of the high priest. Jesus chastised him and said: “Put away your sword…don’t you realise that I could ask my Father for twelve legions of angels to protect us, and he would send them instantly?” (Mt.26:52-53). A legion was equal to 6,000 soldiers. So do the maths. At least 72,000 angels were ready to rescue the Messiah. Wow!

They were created before the earth came into existence. When God spoke with Job He confirms this: “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation…while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?” (Job.38:4,7). Stars do sing by the way. Scientists discovered ages ago they emit radio waves received on earth as a high pitch: “O morning stars, together proclaim the holy birth…” the carol O Little Town of Bethlehem makes perfect sense.

Like stars, angels also like to praise and worship. In actual fact their worship of God never ends. Revelation, the last book in the Bible, says: “All the angels were standing round the throne…they fell down on their faces before the throne and worshipped God…Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power and might, be unto our God for ever and ever.”(Rev.7:11-12).

They worship God’s glory. They are singing to the Lord Jesus Christ, who existed long before He was born in the manger! His glory filled the heavens, “In the beginning was the Word” [which is a name for Jesus] and He called them into existence, everything was made through Him and for Him. Jesus spoke about the glory that He shared with the Father before the world began, and the angels first saw His glory in heaven. Therefore, angels are created beings with a definite beginning. Modern views of angels doesn’t equate with the Biblical picture. Often they are portrayed as fairies with wings, or as plump baby cherubs looking all meek and mild.

Cherubs, along with the Seraphim, are part of the angelic rank but they don’t look anything like this. In Ezekiel they are described as having two pairs of wings, and four faces; one looks like a lion, the second like an ox, the third that of an eagle, and the fourth of a human. Meek and mild indeed! They are mighty in power. An image certainly not popular on Christmas cards!!

Also in Scripture other angelic beings, when they take on human form at God’s command, are always portrayed as male, but in reality they have no gender. Although they take on human form, humans never take on angelic form. We do not become angels when we die sitting on fluffy clouds playing harps! That’s the stuff of nonsense.

Angels do not have bodies like us, so they cannot die. They live eternally. They have names. There’s the archangel Michael, Raphael, Uriel (who appear in the Apocrypha) and, of course, Gabriel who communicates God’s most important announcements to people. Angels are mighty beings. It took only one to protect Daniel in the lions’ den. They are not all powerful like God, but they are stronger than we are. They are not all knowing but have greater knowledge than we do, and though they are not omnipresent, they can travel more easily and quickly than we do.

We are not to worship or pray to them. Christ alone is the source of salvation. SJohn the Apostle was rebuked when he worshipped one: “At this I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, ‘Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.’” (Rev.19:10). It’s why Jesus was born in the first place, to reconcile to Himself all things by making peace through His blood on the cross. The crib and the cross go together. You cannot separate them.

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Lk.2:10-12). Angels are messengers sent to specific places at specific times for specific tasks. They do the Lord’s bidding and obey His word (Ps.103:20). To me it paints a picture of military precision, with angels standing to attention, waiting on an order from God to do whatever He wants them to do.

Matthew ch.1 and Luke ch.2 are the most famous of passages. In the Christmas story we see angels appearing to Mary, to Joseph (twice), and to shepherds. A whole choir of them announce the birth of Jesus: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among people with whom he is pleased!” (Lk.2:14). Angels were worshipping at the incarnation when Jesus comes into the world. They gazed on the baby in the manger. Like Mary and Joseph they saw their maker in human form for the first time. That really invites us to view the Nativity from their perspective – He was seen by angels and they burst into song. To the shepherds and to us it’s like they are saying, “Do you realise who has come to you. God has taken on your flesh? Do you realise the gift you’ve been given?

If we believe this chorus of Good News then we worship the Messiah alongside thousands and thousands of angels in joyful assembly. How can we not be captivated by their extraordinary message of the greatest gift of all time? God so loves sinners like you and me that He is prepared to send His Son to be born in humility and to die upon a cross to save us so that we might become part of His family alongside Gabriel and the entire heavenly host. Jesus could of summoned 72,000 angels but He died alone for you and me.

It’s hard to ignore angels. They serve those who will receive salvation. They provide and protect. They offered food for Elijah and attended to Jesus when they were alone in the wilderness. Perhaps we have also been provided for by others that we thought were people but may have been angels?

I really believe if God opened our eyes, sometimes we would see angels protecting our home, escorting our children to school, encircling the car we are driving in, monitoring the moves of the surgeon operating on us, and watching over us as we sleep. It’s Ps.91: “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands…”

In the midst of an ordinary night, ordinary shepherds encountered an extraordinary thing. At first they were scared to death. To calm their fears, an angel of the Lord said to them: “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy. Today a Saviour is born!” (Lk.2:10). This Christmas, instead of being stuck in the tedium of it all, let us truly appreciate the angels singing and the shepherds hurrying. That’s what the birth of Jesus means. Joy to the world, the Lord is come!

Love in the Messiah. Blessed be the Word.

 

 

Things Aren’t Always What They Seem

A blind lady was flying from London to Aberdeen on a budget airline. Unexpectedly, the plane was diverted to Leeds along the way. The captain explained that there would be a delay, and if the passengers wanted to get off the plane they could re-board in an hour. Everybody got off the plane except the one lady who was blind. The pilot had noticed her as he walked by and could tell she was blind because her guide dog lay quietly underneath the seats in front of her. “Excuse me, we are here for an hour. Would you like to get off and stretch your legs?” The lady replied, “No thanks, but perhaps my dog would like a walk.” So the pilot, who incidentally was wearing sunglasses, walked off the plane with the guide dog and everyone came to a complete standstill. The other passengers, with mouths opened wide, not only tried to change planes, but they were trying to upgrade to a better airline!!

The old adage that “things aren’t always what they seem” rings true here, as indeed it does in today’s Gospel passage. Jesus is King. But in John 18 we encounter that King – beaten, bloody and bruised with His hands tied behind his back. Jesus looks nothing like a king. He’s meek and unassuming, interrogated by Pilate, who no doubt was wearing his robes of office, and was a man who had worldly power and might, with armed soldiers at his command standing by. When we think of kingly power, that’s what we think of.

This text highlights the debate between Jesus and Pilate. A supposed rebel against Roman authority, a would-be “King of the Jews” exchanging ideas with the procurator: a man employed by the Emperor to manage the affairs of the Jewish people. But Jesus was no usurper to Pilate’s crown: “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom” He said. (18:36).

Things aren’t always what they seem. Earthly kingdoms rise and fall. Flags, borders and military might define nations. It’s easy to see who has the power in the kingdoms of this world. Presidents and dictators have their moments of glory. God’s realm, though, is entirely different. There are no borders, but there is angelic might and heavenly power that unites all believers under the banner of the Cross.

The Kingdom of God is justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit; judge not, love your neighbour as yourself, look at the log in your own eye before criticizing others. The Kingdom of Heaven is like a wedding feast and is, therefore, no threat to this world. If it were then a battle would already have been fought. “My followers”, says Jesus, “would fight to prevent my arrest. But my Kingdom is not of this world” (18:36). Then in the end Jesus says, “I came into the world to testify to the truth.” (18:37).

Things aren’t always what they seem. This carpenter’s son from Nazareth is King of all the earth! How can this be? The crowds didn’t “clap their hands and shout to God with loud songs of joy”, as we heard in our opening Psalm this morning (47:1). The learned men, the priests and scribes, had overlooked the prophecies that spoke of Israel’s king as a suffering servant who would be rejected and killed. It’s no wonder that few recognised Jesus as the Messiah. It doesn’t have an easy explanation. But what matters is Scripture’s affirmation.

That’s the life application to us garnered from these verses. To recognize who Jesus is and know that what He has done in the lives of millions of people, He can do for you. However, you’ve got to allow His Spirit the opportunity to challenge your heart – for that’s where faith begins and sees what has been carefully revealed as God, throughout history, has unveiled His opus of salvation.

My eyes work fine. I don’t rely on a white stick, or a guide dog. I don’t need glasses to assist my vision. Yet for years I couldn’t see that the way I was living my life would eventually lead me into eternal damnation. Though I could see the world around me, I couldn’t see the need for Jesus Christ. Like Pilate, who goes on to say, “What is truth?” (18:38) – I shrugged my shoulders at the outrageous notion that Jesus was the High King of Heaven even at His birth. I was celebrating Christmas for the wrong reasons.

It’s a tragedy when we fail to recognise this unchanging truth. It’s God’s testimony to a stubborn people. It’s not like the X-Files with the truth being out there somewhere! It’s right here. Truth was birthed and walked among us and stood right in front of Pilate stating: All who love the truth listen to me.” (18:37). What more could the Truth say? Yet that’s the message that Jesus’ contemporaries rejected. It’s the truth people still have to freely accept today. Yet the promise is that more understanding will be given to those who diligently seek the fullness of life in the Kingdom of God.

Things aren’t always what they seem. Pilate’s cynicism is the wrong reaction. He couldn’t find Jesus guilty of any crime, but had to show his authority to pacify the bloodthirsty mob. “Your leading priests have brought you to me for trial. Are you the king of the Jews?” (18:33,35). Well yes He is! And we are truly blessed if we can confess Jesus as King of kings and Lord of lords without arrogance or mocking. He shall reign forever and ever. His Kingdom is not of this world. It’s upside down. It’s not about power and status. Where did Jesus spend His time? With outcasts, the poor and sinners. In His Kingdom we are treated as friends and equals. That alone should determine our attitude in the presence of the King.

Things aren’t always what they seem. Jesus redefined what Kingship means. A reminder worth having on Christ the King Sunday is that despite His glory, we can meet the Lord in unexpected ways. Secondly, that as our King, as the Truth, Jesus gives us our freedom. Ultimately though God wants us to change. That’s the point of His love and forgiveness shown by the cross. However it’s in our nature to wander from the truth. We want to have our cake and eat it, believing that whatever we do isn’t really important as it will all work itself out somehow and eventually we’ll all end up in heaven. Naturally, God’s Kingdom is open to anyone and will have no end, but it does make demands on us. Let’s face it, if we don’t change from whatever we’ve done in the past then we remain unrepentant sinners. Remember that our faith is based on a relationship of love, obedience and service to God in our lives.

Things are not as they seem. Yet there was no contradiction in anything that Jesus said and did. He gave hope to all whom He encountered. Embrace that hope; be encouraged, motivated and refreshed – for next week it’ll be Advent Sunday and once again we’ll begin to prepare the way – for Christ the King in splendour arrives!

Blessed be the Word. Love in the Messiah.

The Will of God

Think back to the last funeral that you attended. As you held the order of service and looked at the picture of the deceased, you noticed the dates of their birth and their death. Every one of us is guaranteed them. But did you notice the hyphen between them? This represents that individual’s entire life and that short line is what God looks at as we move through life.

If we want our lives to count today and last beyond tomorrow, we want to make sure the line we’re on is pleasing to the Lord. If we’re at a crossroads in life He wants us to “Come back to the old godly way and walk in it. Travel its path where we will find rest for our souls.” (Jer.6:16). His goal for us is spiritual maturity. His will is for us to become more and more like Christ. It’s not reached by the passing of the years, but by obedience to the will of God.

In the Bible there are plenty of passages describing our relationship with Him: “Those who delight in the law of the Lord are like trees planted along the riverbank bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.” (Ps.1:3); whilst those who believe in His Son have the right to become children of God (Jn.1:12). Growing spiritually, being made holy, involves an encounter with the will of God. We pray “thy will be done” and sing “let us be content to know and do your will.”

The Hebrews reading shows us Jesus’ approach to the will of God where He states: “Look, I have come to do your will…” (Heb.10:7). How does this compare with our approach? Being self-centered folk we either do what we want to do, or do what we think we ought to do, rather than do what God wants us to do. The last option is the best. Adopting the first one can cause major conflict. The second may lead us to make hasty decisions. But doing God’s will remedies the problems caused by the other two.

How can we, therefore, know God’s will? When we’re stumbling and struggling through it all how can perceive what God wants or desires? Naturally, our knowledge of divine will is limited to what our minds can comprehend, but His Word is always a lamp for our a feet and a light for our path, so let it speak for itself, just pick it up and read it!

First there’s God’s SOVEREIGN WILL. This is those things that the Creator is determined to make happen that nobody can stop. The Lord Himself fulfills His own decrees. For example, the virgin birth of His Son, His death on the cross, His resurrection and His second coming are all a part of God’s sovereign will. Ephesians 1:11 says: “Because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, for he chose us in advance, and he makes everything work out according to his plan.”

Secondly there’s God’s PRACTICAL WILL or His MORAL WILL what He considers right and wrong for us to do and how we ought to believe and live. This is most fully revealed of course in the commandments, as well as through the life and teachings of Jesus: “Anyone who wants to be my disciple must follow me, because my servants must be where I am. And the Father will honour anyone who serves me.” (Jn.12:26).

Thirdly, there’s God’s PERSONAL WILL for our lives. The Bible is full of promises which show us how He guides His people. The most famous being: “The Lord’s my Shepherd; I have all that I need.” (Ps.23:1). Martin Luther King said: “The purpose of life is not to be happy, nor to achieve pleasure nor avoid pain, but to do the will of God, come what may.”

Basically he’s saying if we’re serious about our relationship with God it means that we need to seek His will in every area of our lives, including all those daily decisions – do I take this job; have this holiday; buy this house; does God want me to join the Bible study?

You know the Good Lord does speak to us. As a general rule not audibly, but through His Word – living and as sharp as a two edged sword, through the daily activity of prayer, letting ourselves be guided, through visions and dreams, through prophesy, through a third person acknowledging something to you, and through circumstances – not coincidences but God-incidences.

The first step in knowing God’s will begins with complete trust in Him: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart do not lean on your own understanding.” (Pr.3:5). The word ‘trust’ means to ‘lie down upon’ or to ‘stretch out on.’ Nobody sleeps with one foot on the floor because we don’t question stretching out on our beds at night. We just trust the bed to hold us. That’s the first step to beginning to understand God’s will for your life. You’ve got to stretch out on Him – completely trust Him. Like Peter when he stepped out on the water, or like blind skiers obeying the “Left!” and “Right!” of their sighted partners skiing next to them. Absolutely trusting them that they are not going to hit a tree!!

Of course we can manage our lives on their own, we can make decisions and get them right. But we can’t lean on ourselves! Proverbs continues: “In all your ways acknowledge him” (3:6). If you acknowledge something you pay lip service to it, or nod at something. But here, acknowledge means to “focus on something and follow it.” Focus on God like a laser to discover His will by putting yourself in a position to hear His voice: “Your own ears will hear him”, says Isaiah, “Right behind you a voice will say, ‘This is the way you should go,’ whether to the right or to the left.” (Is.30:21).

So far the verses in this proverb have been about what we are to do. Now notice God’s part: “And he shall make straight your paths” (3:6). This means that He directs and shows us His personal will for our lives. By trusting Him and following His guidance, we can be confident He’ll guide us even when we feel like we’re in the dark. Listen to another tremendous verse from Isaiah: “I will lead the blind by ways they have not know, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.” (42:16).

When we put the Good Lord in His rightful place, He will put us in the right place. This doesn’t mean that life will always be easy or hard times won’t come. It does mean that we will always be where God can protect us and provide for us as we walk in the paths He directs: “Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in obedience to him.” (Ps.128:1).

Lives are transformed by discerning God’s will. To quote George Muller –“Nine-tenths of the difficulties are overcome when our hearts are ready to do the Lord’s will.” When we begin to follow Him with our entire lives, our priorities and desires change. Ultimately His will is for us is to worship Him, love Him and serve Him. If we do that, the future becomes a lot clearer.

Almighty God, you know the way I should live, and you are present in every one of my choices. Give me complete trust in you so that I can see the path you are leading me down. Amen.