Sunday, August 25, 2013

Questions from God #5...Who Do You Say I Am

Who Do You Say I Am

The twelve disciples had been with Jesus for over two years. Now near Caesarea Philippi Jesus wants their assessment of who He is. That’s fair enough! If you are going to call yourself a follower of someone best to make a true and accurate judgement. The account of their assessment and that of others quoted is found in Matthew 16.

When you seriously consider this question your response becomes the most critical one you will ever make. So much hinges on your understanding and thereby your choices.

Views about Jesus range from him being a myth, a miracle worker, a teacher prophet to Saviour, Lord and Son of God. The overwhelming bulk of information about this Man of Nazareth comes from the Judeo-Christian Bible. Some say this is biased. True! However that doesn’t make it false. These 66 books have been placed under the severest scrutiny. No flaws have been discovered in their testimony even though they have undergone such stringent examinations over time.

Across the centuries individuals and religious movements have endeavoured to tie Jesus to their ideology. Such attempts feign to honour him when in reality they are either exploiting or denigrating Him. One such group today calls Him a prophet. That is true. Then they betray their real view by disclaiming most of what He said, especially about Himself. The biggest issue is His assertion to be the Son of God. (Matthew 26:63-64. John 10:22-39. Romans 1:1-6)

This religious and political movement also rejects what Jesus claimed to be His ultimate mission. He came to fulfil the references to the Messiah in the 66 books of the Old Covenant. That meant He was to be the suffering Servant of Isaiah 53. To be that meant He had to die. For that to happen meant charges worthy of death. The Jewish people’s charge was about blasphemy. The Roman’s charge was about treason and sedition. The manner of capital punishment for non Romans of that time was Crucifixion. History and Scripture record that event.

Why then would any one who says they honour Jesus especially as a prophet call Him a coward and a liar? He is made into a coward by duping some other person to take His place. He is a liar because He claimed this was His mission. Jesus was to die as a substitute for Humanity. Why? To deliver them from eternal judgement and loss but if He chickened out it was a failed mission! Who wants to be named as a follower of such a wimp!

To deny the Eternal nature of Jesus is a subtle way of contradicting the biblical view of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Granted such a view of the Eternal Living God is hard to understand. However that is how He has revealed Himself. Some would try and say that when Jesus used the filial term of Father He was referring to Allah. This is nonsense and anti biblical. Allah has links with the Moon god not to the one who said ‘I am that I am’. The triune Lord God revealed in Scripture is the God from everlasting to everlasting.

Whenever people want to make Jesus more presentable to the modern age they actually rob Him of His identity. Included in that is the rejection of the cross and resurrection, His role as Judge and returning King to reign over the Kingdom of God.

So much more can be said. In coming question time more might be stressed about the person and work of Jesus. Why is the question Jesus asked about a person’s assessment of who He is so important? Because the answer you give will have eternal consequences that no other religious leader, prophet or guru can match. This is perhaps one reason Jesus isn’t liked by other religions. Jesus said ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me.’ On that there is no compromise!

What do you think of Jesus? On whose authority!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Questions God Asks #4 Can these bones Live?

The Question about Bones

You would have to feel some sympathy for Ezekiel. This prophet was asked a leading question by God. Remember he was a prisoner in the kingdom of Babylon for his nation had been conquered and scattered. The promises to Abraham and David had not yet been fulfilled. It looked like such promises would rot amongst the dry bones.

Ezekiel was granted a vision of a valley filled with dry bones. He understood it referred to the Nation of Israel. God’s question in Ezekiel 37:3 ‘Can these bones live?’ put him on the spot. I think the prophet knew God could do it, but would He? Like many Ezekiel remained neutral, uncommitted, afraid of being wrong.

There were unnumbered bones, dried, scattered. Being unburied was a sign of shame as well as defeat. Now the prophet was told to speak to this pile of bleached bones, how depressing. Sometimes we may feel we speak to disinterested audience, how must he have felt. What was the Lord God’s aim? Ezekiel 37:6 ‘You shall know that I am the Lord.’ Verses 13and 14 repeat this concept. In fact throughout this book that theme runs like a golden thread, a promise of events near to Ezekiel’s time and others in the far distant future.

Of course history records the return of the scattered remnant of Israel. The Gospels highlight the promised One the Old Testament spoke about. However those bones which came alive for the coming of the Christ once more experienced a warrior’s death under the military might of Rome in A.D. 70 and 135. The nation’s carcase was once again portrayed by Ezekiel’s vision. Through the pages of the Bible God again asked the question: ‘Can these bones live?’ Few believed they could or even should. However on May 14th 1948 the Nation of Israel came together from the scattered ‘bones’ of a persecuted, shattered, despised people.

Has this nation felt again the living breath from Heaven? It is apparent that the bones have come rattling back into a coherent form. The testimony of their continued existence against the fury and fighting forces of surrounding nations says something about God’s oversight. Unfortunately their spiritual ‘breath’ has not yet been blown into them. When will that happen? At a time known only to the Lord God! This we do know, it will happen. On what authority do we claim that? The Scriptures of both the Old and New covenants, and also the words of the Lord Jesus. This will take place after a most terrible time (Matthew 24. Revelation 6-20. These refer to the Nation of Israel, not the Church)

In this 21st century the question isn’t ‘Can these bones live?’ They have come together into a most impressive nation. I think should God speak to any of us today His question would be; ‘Can this nation of assembled bones survive?’ The Islamic world and their Western allies say ‘No! Not if we can help it’. Many a sympathetic supporter of Israel might squeeze out ‘I hope so’. The Word of God says unequivocally that the Lord returns to rule from Jerusalem, be worshipped in the Temple and to fulfil the promises made to Israel through the prophets.

There are many difficult times ahead for this nation. However there are greater and more severe times ahead for those who seek to make God’s promises to this Nation a lie. If you are interested look up the following references as you ask yourself ‘can this nation of assembled bones survive?’

Isaiah 54:17. No weapon that is formed against you shall prosper.
Zechariah 14 1-21
Isaiah 2:1-5
Ezekiel 341-31. 36:38.
Joel 3:1-21

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Questions God Asks #3

God Makes His People Laugh
Has God made you laugh at some challenge or invitation? He certainly made Abraham and then Sarah laugh at a promise. For Sarah to conceive was biologically impossible. She was in her nineties. Abraham had the capacity even though he was one hundred years old. He had already fathered Ishmael. Later after Sarah died he remarried and had six other children.

So when the Lord told him (Genesis 17:17) he would have a son from Sarah why did Abraham laugh in his heart? He had believed the Lord’s promise years ago. Was it becoming too much for him to believe now? When Sarah heard the Lord tell Abraham she would conceive she laughed. The Lord questioned Abraham ‘Why did Sarah laugh, and say, “Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?”’ She tried to deny it, a natural reaction. She did conceive and Isaac was born.

God likes to make His people laugh at some impossible command or mission. As you read the history of the Church it is a recurring theme. God calls upon His disciples to undertake some task which is far beyond them. The possibilities of success are humanly speaking almost zero. However after enjoying what they see as a joke they realise the Lord is serious. They have been commissioned. When you read the story of Christian Missions over the centuries and across the world it is a wonderful story. From laugher at what is impossible the faithful servants bow in awe as the Lord brings it to pass.

I like hearing the testimony of men and women and their encounters with the Lord. Whether they have been self righteous, self satisfied individuals or rampant rebels against God and society God called them to himself. Often they say how people scratched their heads and laughed that God would save such a person. In such situations the Lord likes to help such scoffers ‘eat their words and swallow their laughter.’

Whether calling a person out of sin and judgment or commissioning them to undertake mission impossible God hears people laugh. That’s okay. What the Lord God is doing over and over again is demonstrating His grace and His power. The words ‘Is anything too wonderful (‘hard’ in another translation) for the Lord?’

The Bible is the account of the Lord God doing the impossible. The nation of Israel is an example. Their formation, history, continued existence speak of God keeping His word. There is still more to come for that nation! People laugh at what the Bible promises about this besieged nation today. However once again The Lord says to an unbelieving world ‘Is anything to hard, impossible, wonderful’ to me to do?’ And guess what? He has spelt out His intentions. Don’t let your laughter be one of scorn. It will choke you. Let your laughter be one of amazement and of faith.

The birth and ministry of Jesus the Christ and the impossibility of His rising from the dead repeats the theme. Nothing is beyond the power and Grace of God. The Easter Sunday morning shout is “He is Risen! Christ Jesus has triumphed over sin and death.”
 You may consider it impossible however when you check it out, and ask God to verify it to your heart something wonderful takes place. Doubt gives way to conviction; conviction leads to commitment; commitment leads to the laughter. Laughter leads to a life of discovery with the Lord God of the impossible.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Questions God Asks #2. The Face Reveals the Heart.

In cartoons anger is drawn by distorted face, glaring eyes and a smoke fumes rising from the shoulders. I doubt if Cain would have been like that in reality though the Bible says his face ‘fell.’ The Lord God used the occasion to ask him a question: “Why are you angry?”

The Genesis 4 record gives the occasion though with so little explanation. Both brothers had come to the altar to present a sacrifice to God. This had probably been a regular ritual since Adam and Eve had been evicted from Eden. They had violated God’s tenancy laws. The Lord provided a sacrifice to cover their treason and we assume Adam realised the ongoing need for such a practice. It was a reminder of failure; a testimony to mercy; a promise of a greater reality to which the sacrifice pointed.

For whatever reason the brothers, Cain and Abel, came together to present their sacrifices to God. The former offered the vegetables of the ground. Remember all of society at this time would have been vegetarian. But there was a problem with this being used in a sacrificial manner. The ground had been cursed (read Genesis 3) and it required self effort to sow plant and reap.

The latter brother offered an animal from his flock. From later references we realise this was reminding the offerer that to come before the Lord required the covering of a substitute. (This is one of the many teachings about Christ’s cross. 2 Corinthians 5:17-21.) Abel’s was accepted. Cain’s rejected. We may rightly assume the reason for rejection was not following the principle set in Eden. Included would be the fact that Cain was giving back to God what God had cursed. (This is the danger today by Christians offering God worship whilst endorsing or practising lifestyles God’s word has called abominable)

When the Lord of glory asked the question of Cain it was to save the man from a greater calamity. He was envious of Abel and angry with God. As he couldn’t tackle the Almighty, Cain took it out on Abel. As it brewed in his heart the poison spread and dominated. The result was murder. That is always the outworking of unresolved issues and anger. Murder may not be as literal as what Cain did however many relationships, enterprises and personalities have been ‘slain’ by envy and anger.

Actually I believe the sacrificial act was the final ‘straw’ for Cain. It seems to me he had developed animosity towards his brother over an extended period. I wonder if that was another reason for Yahweh confronting him with “Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen?”

When I was going into Bible College my minister gave me a New Testament with a well known saying in it: ‘This book will keep you from sin or sin will keep you from this book.’ Cain let sin dominate and smother God’s word and inquiry. The result stands as a constant warning to us all. We need to realise anger isn’t the real issue. We all experience this emotion, even Jesus. The issue is not allowing it to lead us to sin. (Ephesians 4:26, 31-32).

The ‘why’ is what the Lord also asks of us! Can we look Him in the eyes (as it were) and explain it? Will we confess it? Deal with it? And be cleansed and forgiven from it? The issue is therefore a sinful heart unbowed before the Lord which He is wanting to transform by grace through personal surrender. To ignore God’s question is to self destruct in time and beyond.

Ray (who heeded the question) Hawkins.