God’s Faithfulness

‘God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; your name shall not be called Jacob anymore, but Israel shall be your name.’ So He called his name Israel” Genesis 35:10

More than twenty years had passed since Jacob left his father and mother in fear for his life from his twin brother, Esau. In that time his experiences with his uncle, Laban, and his meeting with the Lord on the return journey prior to meeting Esau had made him a much changed man.

Before he left the promised land the Lord appeared to him at Bethel and affirmed that the covenant He had made with Abraham would be fulfilled through Jacob in all three aspects; land, descendants and a blessing to the nations (Genesis 28:13-14).

At a time when Jacob was unsettled in his relationship with Laban and began to fear him, the Lord called him back to his father, Isaac. Interestingly it was again fear that disposed Jacob to have a listening ear toward God. That remains a provocation for people to have an ear toward God still. At this time the Lord reminded Jacob of their previous meeting and Jacob’s vow (Genesis 28:20-22; 31:13).

The incident at Shechem (Genesis 34) again stirred up fear in Jacob which apparently disposed him again to have an ear toward the Lord. By commanding Jacob to return to Bethel, the Lord was again reminding him of his vow (Genesis 35:1).

Jacob obeyed all that the Lord said and again the Lord affirmed that the covenant that he had made with Abraham would be fulfilled through Jacob and his descendants. The message to Jacob and to us is that God is faithful to His word no matter how circumstances may appear.

The seal of this affirmation came from the Lord in the new name given to Jacob. First mention of the change of name was given by the Lord after the night long encounter Jacob had with Him (Genesis 32:28) but it was not applied until Jacob had fully returned, built an altar to the Lord and removed all association with false gods. At this time the Lord now called him Israel (Genesis 35:10) and affirmed the three key aspects of the covenant made with Abraham. This name became the name for all Israel’s descendants and remains so to this day and forevermore.

The name means, “Prince with God” and that is what Israel is and shall always be (cf. Jeremiah 31:31-37). The very name, Israel, shouts the faithfulness of God to His word.

Know His Comfort

“To wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” 1 Thessalonians 1:10

In this letter Paul expresses considerable affection for the Christians in Thessalonica (2:7-8). Many of his intended readers had turned from either Judaism or idols to follow the Lord Jesus Christ as a result of his earlier visit (1:9).

There were others who were jealous of the affection of the Christians toward Paul and they attempted to discredit him. They accused him of proclaiming Christ for financial gain and for prominence and power over people. However, this was more likely the motivation of his accusers.

Paul reminded them of his first visit. At that time he provided for himself so he had not been preaching for financial gain. Also he proclaimed the plain truth of the Gospel that produced conviction of sin so he wasn’t seeking a following for himself by deceit (2:5). Further, he accepted the persecution that followed preaching of the Gospel (2:2). On reflection the Christians in Thessalonica could readily see that the accusations against Paul were unfounded and false.

Another concern of these Christians was the return of Jesus Christ to establish His earthly kingdom. Fortunately for us, in correcting their confusion, he also corrects the confusion that is about now.

To keep his readers rightly focussed he pointed them to Christ’s return and kept that expectation alive throughout his letters. It is this expectation that keeps our minds on Christ. Key to the church’s future is that it will not endure the Tribulation. Jesus will deliver the church from this time of trouble on the earth (1:10). Paul’s words in 5:13-18 regarding the process of deliverance were intended to bring comfort. There would be no comfort if this was not to be taken literally (v 18).

To affirm what he has already written, Paul writes, “God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ: (5:9). That Christians would not endure the Tribulation is intended to bring comfort and encouragement (5:11).

As Paul poured out his love and affection he asked them to remember how they first received the Gospel. He then asked them to look forward to when they will meet the Lord (2:19). In closing and to sum up his letter Paul writes, “He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it” (5:24). Remember when we responded to the Gospel; keep our minds steadily fixed on the day we will see Jesus, and trust Him to do all that He has said (cf. Isaiah 26:3; Philippians 1:6; 3:20-21). Then we will know His comfort.

Worthy to Suffer

“At midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” Acts 16:25

Paul and Silas were not visiting prisoners, they were prisoners. Without any judicial inquiry they had been beaten with rods until their backs were marked with many painful and bloody stripes. To ensure they did not escape they were placed in the inner cells. I remember visiting the high security section of a prison in South Africa. As we left I counted the locked doors, all with guards that we passed through. There were eleven! Paul and Silas may not have had so many but they were well secured. What could have justified such strong action?

Paul had wanted to go to the Roman province of Asia to preach the Gospel of Christ but was forbidden by the Holy Spirit. So he tried to go to Bithynia with the same outcome. For a man like Paul this might be a little frustrating but then the Holy Spirit directed him to Philippi where he had opportunity to preach the Gospel and see results. In the process of this a demon possessed woman followed him everywhere and was distracting his hearers from his message. He became so annoyed that, after many days and under Christ’s authority, he cast the demon out of the woman. This was a relatively insignificant distraction but it led to Paul and Silas being beaten and imprisoned.

We should not be surprised that relatively insignificant distractions may lead to significant service for Jesus Christ. Quite often these are only seen in hindsight.

Paul and Silas could have been filled with self pity or questioned whether or not they were in the will of God. Some may have thought they had been disobedient to God. Others may have asked what terrible thing they had done or maybe they just assumed Paul and Silas were workers of much evil. Instead, they were praying and singing hymns “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” (cf. Acts 5:41). This is where many of Christ’s followers fall short. We are not all willing to suffer for His name. Instead we are inclined to seek the pleasures and enjoy the comforts of this world. In so doing we forsake Christ. Unlike Paul and Silas we are more likely to be concerned about our position rather than the condition of others. That they were singing hymns tells us that they were definitely not sulking or wallowing in self pity. Though beaten and imprisoned unjustly they were singing praise to God from their hearts with thanksgiving.

We ought not to be surprised that the Lord then gave these men the opportunity to lead many to Christ. There is a link between being willing to suffer for His name with leading others to faith in Jesus Christ.

Serving Christ Together

“Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it” Mark 10:15

The faith of a child is a simple faith yet it is the very essence of what is required for a person to be saved. Their faith in parents is based on the relationship. The actions of parents will reveal whether that faith is well placed or not. One of my granddaughters, when very young, liked to jump into the pool for me to catch her. This was repeated many times until I was distracted by her younger cousin and missed her jump. Her faith in me vanished and no amount of encouragement could get her to jump to me again that day. Her child-like faith endured until the object of her faith proved unreliable. Jesus will never be unreliable though there may be times that we think He has. That is our error not His unfaithfulness.

In the verse previous to the one quoted above Jesus tells his disciples to bring children to Him while they are young and are still capable of that simple faith. Once the world has filled their minds with false ideas and questioned God’s reliability and love (Genesis 3:1-7) faith in Jesus will be more difficult.

It is not difficult to see why parents are, when possible, opting to remove their children from public education. Political lobby groups of the spirit of Antichrist know the value of the mind of a child and are doing all they can to fill children’s minds with worldly concepts and values before they hear the truth in the Gospel of Christ.

The role of parents is being diminished year by year by a world system that makes it difficult for a mother to stay at home. Mothers who choose to actually mother their children are not valued as they should be. There seems to be a move toward professional child carers who are under some degree of government control, through licensing, training, and often, through funding arrangements.

We have heard about the “stolen generation” in Australia’s past but now we are experiencing an attempt to steal a whole generation of children from their parents and destroy the intimacy of the parent-child relationship. Included in this is an attempt to prevent children hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

We live in the world but we are not of the world. It is critical that we resist ungodly worldliness as much as possible and ensure that our children hear the true Gospel of Christ as early as possible. This role is for parents, grandparents and church family serving Jesus Christ together.

A Faithful Ambassador

“This is the twenty third year in which the word of the Lord has come to me; and I have spoken to you, rising early and speaking, but you have not listened” Jeremiah 25:3

There are probably many people who share the Gospel who identify with Jeremiah. For twenty three years he had been a prophet of the Lord faithfully passing on what the Lord had given him to speak yet the people of Jerusalem and Judah had taken no heed. The Lord retained a remnant in Israel so the rejection was not total but successive kings of Judah had turned the hearts of the people away from the Lord. There were many other voices proclaiming what was supposed to be the word of the Lord but they were liars who deceived the people by telling them what they wanted to hear rather than the truth (27:10, 14-16). The same tactic is employed by some today. They proclaim a false Gospel while claiming it is from the Lord.

Jeremiah seemed alone in proclaiming the true word of the Lord yet he refused to compromise to appease kings, priests, other prophets or even to save his life (26:8). He would rather be an offense to people than offend the Lord.

The world might judge him as being unsuccessful but the Lord judged him otherwise. Successful in ministering the word of God is not determined by whether hearers receive God’s word. Success is measured in whether one is faithful to the Lord’s word and calling.

Jeremiah had to withstand the wrath of kings, accusations from religious leaders and stand face to face, in the presence of witnesses, with one who claimed to speak for the Lord but was a liar (28:1). He did this knowing that there was a strong movement among the false prophets to have him killed. He would not compromise the word of the Lord to save his life. His words to them were, “I am in your hand; do with me as seems good and proper to you” (26:14).

Like Daniel’s three friends, he knew that whether he lived or died he would not compromise the word of the Lord (Daniel 3:18). Like the apostle Paul he knew that, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

The church needs people who will proclaim God’s word as He gave it and not how people want to hear it. In the days of Jeremiah the false teachers were in the majority and they ridiculed, mocked and threatened Jeremiah. They deceived the people who then suffered the Lord’s chastisement. By rejecting the faithful word and believing a lie they set themselves against God.

A person may spend twenty three years as Christ’s faithful ambassador but whether they are successful or not is not in the numbers of people who respond and follow Christ. False teachers more readily gain a following because they speak what fallen people want to hear. The successful ambassador of Christ is the one who stands firm and faithful to Christ’s word even in the face of threats and persecution. The acclaim of people and numbers are no way to measure success. Faithfulness and obedience to Christ are the only measure and Jesus Christ alone is able to measure that.

Exercise Your faith

“If you say to this mountain, ‘Be removed and cast into the sea,’ it will be done” Matthew 21:21

When I was younger I was physically active and had no need to give special attention to my fitness but later my life became more sedentary and it was necessary to actively seek out physical activities in order to try and keep my body reasonably fit and strong. The fitter and stronger we are the better we are able to enjoy life. I sought out appropriate sports, activities and even joined the local volunteer fire service with a view to keeping physically active. When these were not an option I attended a gym.

We all know that if we want better physical capabilities we must exercise our muscles. That usually means discomfort and perspiration but the end result from regular exercise is a stronger and fitter body to enjoy life.

I have heard it said that the brain works like a muscle. If we don’t use it we lose it. The same can be said of faith in Jesus Christ. If we do not exercise our faith it will become stagnant and shrivel. Many of us desire a stronger faith and God has provided the way – faith exercises! Generally we don’t like exercising, unless it is in the form of a sport, but we do enjoy the results. In order to exercise faith we must live in circumstances where faith in Jesus is tested regularly. As we read the Bible we see many examples of God taking people through circumstances where they needed to trust Him. The result was that their faith increased.

Job’s faith in the Lord was tested; Abraham and Isaac’s faith was tested (Genesis 22) and many others. In each case, when their faith in God was proven, their faith increased. Paul wrote in his letter to the Christians in Rome, “For in [the Gospel of Christ] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith” (1:17). The way to more faith is to exercise the faith one already has.

Don’t be confused by the untrue cliché, “faith can move mountains.” It can do no such thing. It is the object of faith, Jesus Christ, who moves the mountain. When we are exercising faith it must always be faith in Him to perform it if the mountain is to be moved. It is not the amount of faith that matters; it is the object of our faith that matters.

Jesus is not a miracle worker to do everything we want but He delights to respond to faith placed in Him. He will send us many tests and as we act in faith we will grow stronger in faith. If our faith is weak there are two closely linked possible reasons – hearing (Romans 10:17) and heeding His word. It is necessary to first know and understand God’s word and will and then to act faithfully on it. If we don’t use it we will lose it.

Covenanting with God

“They entered a covenant to seek the Lord God of their fathers with all their heart and with all their soul” 2 Chronicles 15:12

We don’t hear very often of people, either individually or corporately, entering into a covenant with the Lord. God has revealed Himself as one who makes and keeps covenants so we would expect that His people would do likewise. Fear of failure or an unwillingness to commit may be major reasons we don’t covenant with the Lord. King Asa failed later in life and is an example from which we may learn.

King Asa started out well by doing what was right and good in the eyes of the Lord. In the early years of his reign over the Southern Kingdom the Ethiopian Zerah came against him with an army more than twice the number of his army. Asa cried out to the Lord and the Lord routed the Ethiopians apparently without any effort on the part of Asa’s army. It was at this time that Asa and the people entered a covenant with the Lord. The Lord gave King Asa “rest” from war until his 36th year as king. Then King Baasha of the Northern Kingdom came against him with an army.

Instead of turning to the Lord for counsel and deliverance King Asa turned to the king of Syria for help. The prophet Hanani was sent by the Lord to make him aware of the change in his relationship with the Lord but King Asa refused to repent. Instead, he became angry at Hanani for exposing his sin and had him imprisoned.

What happened in the 35 years of “rest” from war that allowed king Asa to have such a change of heart? There are several observations we can make:

  1. The miracle of the Lord destroying the Ethiopian force did not guarantee Asa’s continued loyalty and reliance on the Lord
  2. A long period of time of prosperity and things going well with the people did not guarantee loyalty and reliance on the Lord
  3. In reality it would appear that the miracle and the extended period of peace and prosperity led to complacency and/or presumption with the result that the King no longer turned to or relied on the Lord

Peace and prosperity do not provoke reliance on and loyalty to the Lord. However, they do not of themselves provoke disloyalty. When things are going well we need to pay double attention to maintaining intimacy with the Lord. The history of God’s people in the Bible, in church history and in living memory of many of us, teaches us that miracles, peace and prosperity do not close the door of disloyalty and unfaithfulness.

Peter wrote, “Brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things (mentioned in the preceding verses) you will never stumble” (2 Peter 1:10).

When we make a covenant with the Lord it needs to be on the basis of the cross and God’s, gracious enablement and faithfulness otherwise we might follow Asa’s example in which pride welled up within him so that he no longer relied on the Lord.