Sunday, March 30, 2014

Environment and the Cross

Key verse. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed (then) the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. Romans 8:19,21.

Six days it took for God to create the world and proclaim it very good. One moment of rebellion shattered it all. The account in Genesis chapters 1-3 is simple, sometimes terse and to the point. Adam’s sin is so profound it not only enveloped his offspring, it tainted all of creation. Yahweh then cursed the ground which turned some of what was pronounced “good” into thorns and weeds. Compounding this tragedy we are informed in Ephesians 2:2 that Satan set up his control centre ‘in the air.’ Since that time the universe has been under the sentence of extinction, “They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded” (Psalm 102:26). Climate change is evidence of this!

“If God places no trust in his holy ones, if even the heavens are not pure in his eyes, how much less man, who is vile and corrupt and drinks up evil like water” (Job 15:15-16)! Why are the heavens impure? Many of the constellations, including the signs of the Zodiac, became objects of worship and subjects of idolatry. “The children gather wood, the fathers light the fire and the women knead the dough and make cakes of bread for the Queen of Heaven. They pour out drink offerings to other gods to provoke me (God) to anger” (Jeremiah 7:18).

Further, the actions of Humankind has polluted the very ground it has walked upon. “Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it” (Numbers 35:33). It becomes very apparent that Creation has been in bondage and under a curse since that day Adam violated his trust around the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. How easy it is for us to take lightly the doctrine of sin and its wicked and degrading power. This is part of the reason why the Scriptures in both the Old and New Testaments reveal a new heaven and a new earth coming. When that takes place righteousness and peace will rule.

Before the Day of the Lord ushers in such a wonderful new Creation, the curse on the old creation must be lifted. The prince of the power of the air must be dethroned. The polluted land, saturated by innocent and unrequited bloo
d must be atoned for. How could this happen? Who could bear the curse, purify the heavens and atone for the land? Of course we know it could only be the Creator. In becoming a curse upon the tree (Galatians 3:13) Jesus lifted from all Humankind and Creation the horror begun in Eden. The tree on Calvary provided the ‘fruit’ for the condemned sinners that would heal them of the curse. It also provided the power to transform the environment, one day, into atmosphere of Eden. Isaiah 11:6-9 describes that time, usually named the Millennium, “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them …The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest… the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord…”

In the Romans’ passage the Apostle gives redeemed creation personification as it anticipates the day of liberation. Similar to us who are saved and looking forward to its ultimate fulfilment, creation awaits the promise of God written in Isaiah’s passage. It’s as though creation knows something more about the future glory than we do, even with the completed Scriptures. It is waiting for the day when the sons of God are revealed. That surely points to the completion of God’s purposes in salvation and purification. What a wonderful day it will be when all the saved enter into God’s millennium kingdom, for which we have prayed in the Lord’s Prayer!

When Jesus was grappling with all the issues of sin, curses and judgement the heavens covered the scene with its dark shroud. It was as though it too was ashamed of its part in the cross. What a change Sunday morning of the resurrection would have brought. Salvation was for Humankind and a return to Eden’s pre-fall time was assured for Creation.

Reflection. Do I have a sense of expectancy similar to Creation’s about enjoying God’s reign on earth with his throne set in Jerusalem?

Cross thread. My word that goes out from my mouth it will not return empty, but will accomplish what I desire…Instead of the thornbush will grow the pine tree, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow. This will be for the Lord’s renown, for an everlasting sign, which will not be destroyed. Isaiah 55:11,13.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

How Death Died

It was a fair enough question the atheist asked: “Why did an all powerful God have to die to save Humankind”? As the Passover or Easter event draws near we are once again confronted by this issue. Does the Bible give us some answers? Yes!

There are many reasons for the necessity of the cross of Christ. Of course there is the issue of our salvation and the conquest of sin. However there is one aspect more often than not left unconsidered. In Romans 5 it is written that ‘Death reigned from the time of Adam.’ (Biblically this precludes any such thing before Adam’s treasonable act of Genesis 3) Notice the word ‘reigned’ it intimates sovereignty. Death is personified and it claimed superiority over the Sovereignty of the Creator God who is Life.

Here is a direct challenge that must be answered. It is a contest in which there can be only one who reigns supreme. But here is the problem for the God revealed in the Bible, how can Life beat death? The only answer can be found in the pages of Scripture and the person and purposes of Christ Jesus. Death can only be defeated by embracing it, dragging it into the tomb, and crushing its power by personal resurrection. This is a major reason for the need for God to become Emmanuel, God with us in human form. Here is the reason for the virgin birth so that the human nature would be without a sin nature. Here again is why the Lord God went to so much effort to present in symbol, prophesy and promise a plan which culminated in an historical time and upon a cross.

Even if after the crucifixion, the entombing and the resurrection of Jesus Christ no one became a believer in Him, Jesus still had to die. Only by that means could Jesus render death powerless by His physical resurrection. That is the great angelic victory shout ‘He (Jesus) is not here (in the tomb) He is risen!’ Ever since that glorious day the Church’s anthem has been that fact. Ever since the cross and the resurrection the gospel has been proclaimed. Ever since and for all eternity the resurrection declares Death has been dethroned, ‘It’ is no longer able to claim sovereign status. Though it remains our enemy it is doomed to utter destruction on the day Christ Jesus returns as Judge and to rule His creation. (Revelation 20)

To look on the Easter/Passover event simply as referring to our forgiveness event achieved by Jesus is to limit its majesty and power. The cross of Christ bears testimony to a Cosmic conflict affecting all creation with eternal consequences. Some will view the cross as stupid, others as an offence. Those who have eyes to ‘see’ and a heart to believe embrace it as the power and grace of God. For such people they understand that Jesus is The Life which triumphed over the Usurper Death. As such Jesus has crushed its hold over believers in the risen Lord. There is just so much more for you to know even on this one aspect of the Cross of Christ. I invite you to read such passages as 1 Corinthians 15; Isaiah 25:6–10; Revelation 1:1–18 as starters.

Because Jesus Christ is the risen Lord, the sovereign of Creation, Eternal Life and conqueror of Death, Sin and Satan, an invitation is given to you. That is, become a partaker in his victory. Let Him break the power and fear of death in and over your life by asking Jesus to be your Lord and Saviour. Let His resurrection life become your possession now and it will last you through all eternity.

(For those able and interested in obtaining and reading two devotionals which explain some of these issues see my ‘The Bethlehem Warrior Baby’ and ‘Captured by Calvary.’ Both are printed by ‘Even Before Publishing’ or can be obtained through any Christian bookshop).

Sunday, March 16, 2014

In the Shadows of Purim.

Around the world the Jewish people have celebrated the Festival of Purim. It is a joyous time with much story telling, gift giving and feasting. As most understand this is a celebration of deliverance of the nation from genocide. The account is recorded in the Biblical book of Esther.

There are some remarkable issues in this beautiful book. A Jewish girl wins a beauty contest and is appointed the Persian’s king’s queen. Her uncle, Mordecai reveals a plot to assassinate the king and is later rewarded with a parade. Then there is the twisted ego and racial hatred of Haman. This high official felt slighted by Mordecai and sought revenge. As is seen constantly through history such twisted emotion spreads. Haman developed a plan to destroy Mordecai and the Jewish people.

How this was thwarted makes compelling reading. Esther has to reveal her Jewish identity at great risk. This she does and is the means of saving her people from Haman’s spite. The words of Mordecai to her have echoed down the centuries and been applied specially to individuals with great responsibilities. ‘Who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?’

In the Bible this is a very interesting book for a number of reasons. One fascinating aspect is the absence of the name of God. And yet you cannot read this account without sensing His presence in the shadows of events. This appeals to me for a number of reasons. To Israel the Lord made a promise to bring the Messiah into the world through them. Haman’s scheme would have prevented this. The Lord keeps His word and so working within historical circumstances delivered His nation and ensured the coming of the Messiah. I believe the Lord was making a statement which we need to understand and rely upon. It has significance for today!

Haman has his irrational, vindictive and Israel hating descendants today. They are intent on wiping this nation off the planet. Should they succeed then they would make the Bible a piece of lying parchments, they would prevent the return of the Messiah to reign from Jerusalem, they would reduce the Church and its gospel of Jesus Christ to mythology and also they would escape the revealed judgments upon such God hating nations. Do you think the Lord God will sit idly by in Heaven and let that happen?

What the celebration of Purim reminds us all about is to look beyond the surface of events. When we view the Middle East and its ongoing tragedies and hatreds we can wonder ‘where is God?’ He is in the shadows. He is protecting His word and promises. There will be the horror of hatred sowing and reaping its destructive powers in lives and nations which is an indictment upon the human condition. However, the Lord has recorded in many, many places that such things will happen.

What then does He seek to do in all of this? Our Lord wants you to trust Him and His Word. Even when you are in the turmoil of tragedy and sadness remember He has promised to be with you. Life will throw up lots of ‘dust and debris’ which seeks to smother the Lord’s presence and ‘bury’ His word. Don’t despair, He is with you, or wants to be if you will let Him. The account of Esther and the Purim celebration is to remind us that Islam’s evil intent will fail. It declares that Gentile boycotts and unbelieving Christendom will be made to regret their rejection of God’s unconditional guarantee to Israel’s existence. God is faithful to His promises. He has painted the broad canvas of future events within Scripture so that we will have hope. Read it in Ezekiel chapters 34 – 39.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Noah's Ark and God's grace.

Noah, portrayed by Russell Crowe, is a film released in 2014. It will be met with mixed reviews as it raises again the question of a world wide flood. Was it as the bible says a catastrophic overthrow of the world as an act of God's judgement by water? Did it really happen? Can the Biblical account be trusted? There is plenty of evidence to support the Bible's claim for it. However for my 'money' its reality is endorsed by Jesus as He told about a future worldwide judgement.'For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.'Matthew 24:37

Very little is given about the times of Noah. What we have must be put together and when we do we have a glimpse of a terribly wicked time. When Jesus said ‘In those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage… until the flood came.’ The term ‘eating and drinking’ is very important when placed alongside other such references. Exodus 32 is the account of the Golden Calf idolatry and it says ‘They (Israel) rose early the next day and brought sacrifices of well – being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.’ (Compare 1 Corinthians 10:6-8)

The days of Noah would have been tough going for those in the lineage leading up to this man. It will be similar in the time Jesus refers to also. How did they stand tall, strong, resolute and separate from the corruption of faith, family and future? Their example is our guide as to the way to overcome the anti-Christ forces. This is even in the ever present reality of martyrdom.

We have in Genesis 5 the godly line highlighted. It becomes evident how the truth of God was passed down from family to family. Here is our first responsibility. As we know God as Lord and Saviour so our life under–girds our words to our children and to all those in our care. Righteousness empowering prayer can open another’s ear to hear the word of the Lord.

The brief mention of Enoch holds a powerful message. Remember he was living in an increasingly corrupt and violent world. His epithet reveals a brave man. It also is a motivation to us and others in a godless age. The record says ‘Enoch walked with God.’ His very life must have made the depraved and demonic inhabitants hate him. They would have sought ways to bring him down to their level. He stood resolute. His testimony is an indictment on his community. It is such a lifestyle even today which explains why the righteous are assailed by the unrighteous. The ungodly know their wickedness but refuse to seek holiness and want to crush all that disturbs them.

From the brief account in Genesis it is easy for folk to presume God to be callous, even cruel in destroying the civilization through water. Those of us who know the Lord and His word appreciate the fact that He is holy and gracious, just and merciful. How does that come out in this setting? The people had the choice of believing or rejecting the ways of Yahweh. Too often we hear ‘seeing is believing’ which doesn’t work out in practise. The people up to Noah’s day could see the Garden of Eden guarded by the Cherubim; the sad testimony of Adam and Eve’s rebellion, passed down from him over many years; the example of the believers such as Enoch. His being ‘raptured’ (seized up) into God’s presence surely would have been newsworthy. Then there is Noah’s work of building the ark. It took 120years. Not one of those who perished could accuse God of being unfair, unjust or impatient. This remains true for all who leave the Lord out of their lives today.

The culmination of all this is in Noah. How did he find grace in the sight of the Lord? Hebrews 11:6-7: ‘By faith Noah, warned by God about events as yet unseen, respected the warning and built an ark … The testimony of Godly men (and assuredly women) made Noah aware of and sensitive to hearing God’s voice. He was prepared to stand up to and stand out from the unbelief of his day. He wore their mocking in building the boat but he also had the last laugh, which was probably saturated with tears for the lost.

It strikes me that Jesus linked His return to the time of Noah to show us the World is not on a self improvement course. Without the ministry of God’s Word and the transforming power of the Cross it is doomed. Every age and every society is infected with the self destructive ‘viruses’ of unbelief and rebelliousness. Ultimately all that will culminate in ‘as in the days of Noah.’ God in grace provided a safe place. For Noah’s day it was the huge ark. For us it symbolizes the Cross and the risen Lord Jesus. He is our ‘ark of refuge’ accessible by faith. That requires believing in the Lord Jesus Christ as the crucified, buried and risen One. That is the biblical ‘passport’ for entrance into the place of safety called Christ Jesus. It is up to an individual to claim it, possess it and with it enter into a new life and destiny safe from the coming judgement of God..


Sunday, March 2, 2014

Poking the 'Eye' of God.

How do you poke God in the ‘eye?’‘Truly, one who touches you (nation of Israel) touches the apple of my eye.’ (Zechariah 2:8).
How do you make God jealous?‘Thus says the Lord of Hosts; I am jealous for her (Jerusalem) with great wrath.’ (Zechariah 8:2)

Some will say that was long ago and not relevant to today. Think again. ‘Thus says the Lord; I will return to Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem; Jerusalem shall be called the faithful city and the mountain of the Lord of hosts shall be called the holy mountain. (Zechariah 8:3). That hasn’t happened. Will it? Islamic nations hope not. In league with anti–Semitic Gentile nations they are doing everything in their power to prevent it. Will they succeed? Are the United Nations plus the World Council of Churches, whose decrees we know, stronger than the Word of God, which calls us to trust it? This is ultimately the choices before us.

Zechariah calls Jerusalem a ‘cup of reeling’ for all the peoples surrounding the land and city. Their insane craving to consume this place will ultimately make them devoid of reason and inflame acts of violence. We live in an era where we have witnessed small scale acts of the ‘reeling power’ of this city. According to scripture it will get worse. So what are the implications of the opening statements? The Lord God unveiled in the bible is dismissed as a non–event and the people who are His ‘eye’ are expendable. Because it appears God is silent and has forgotten Israel (He hasn’t) the anti–Semitic nations feel invincible. However the Lord has set aside a time of vengeance; of judgement; of deliverance when He will honour to His Name and word.

This is the era of grace. How long it will last is known only to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. When His patience ends judgement begins. So as to leave no doubt in anyone’s mind about its architect God has had it recorded. His enemies have tried to obliterate His book since day one. Why? It’s not simply because they don’t like their destiny, they want to make God a liar. They will never succeed! Zechariah speaks about this time in his 12th and 14th chapters. The nations fight against Jerusalem and seem to win. However the Lord of hosts says “Enough!” No more poking of His eye by arrogant unbelieving nations. No more being scoffed at. No more the city of His heart being trodden under foot.

The prophet foresaw this event and described it as the Lord touching down on the Mount of Olives. He strides into His city to reclaim it and establish the promised reign of righteousness and justice. On that day ‘the Lord will become King over all the earth; on that day the Lord will be one and his name one.’ (Zechariah 14:9) What about Jerusalem? ‘It shall be inhabited, for never again shall it be doomed to destruction; Jerusalem shall abide in security.’ (Zechariah 14:11) Notice those two words ‘never again!’ Well worth a study where they are used.

The bible has so many references to the history and the future of Jerusalem it would take many articles to explore. Why did Jesus weep over it? (Matthew 23:37) He saw their unbelief. He saw the Gentile nations’ hatred. He felt the Gentile’s collective ‘finger in His eye’. He knew their destructive intent and the terror they would inflict upon the city of His heart.  

However the Lord Jesus did not despair. He also knew the future and looked to the day beautifully described in Isaiah 62. Please read the whole passage. Suffice it now to quote verse 4: ‘You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married.’ The word ‘Delight in Her’ in Hebrew is ‘Hephzibah.’ Therefore any person, any nation, and any Church group should be careful about their actions and their attitudes are levelled against this city. Why? ‘You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.’ (Isaiah 62:3).