As in the Day

“Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5)

This was the assessment of the Lord concerning mankind prior to the world wide flood in the days of Noah. By the grace of God Noah and his family were saved to accomplish God’s plan and purpose. The people of Noah’s day were warned by Noah’s testimony as he built the ark. Those who ignored his testimony went on as before and were drowned in the flood.

Jesus warned that His second coming will be in similar circumstances (Matthew 24:37f; Luke 17:26f). In these days God’s warning of impending judgment and the outpouring of His wrath against sin is through the faithful preaching of the Gospel of Christ as revealed in the Bible. Those who do not heed His words will carry on as before and be unprepared for His judgment. Those who receive it will be saved from wrath (1 Thessalonians 1:10; 5:9; Romans 5:9).

In the days of the Tribulation the Lord’s witnesses will be 144,000 Jews who will preach the Gospel to all nations and ethnic groups in all languages. Those who carry on as before and ignore the warning are destined to endure God’s wrath. Those who receive it will be delivered through it or from it by bodily death.

Jesus also gave the illustration of the city of Sodom (Luke 17:28f). Lot had been less than faithful in warning the people that their wickedness would bring an outpouring of God’s wrath. The judgment of God fell upon those people also.

Denying either of these historical events is to call Jesus a liar and renders one carrying on as before and unprepared for the wrath to come. His words are clear; when every intention of the thoughts of the heart of mankind is evil, then we can expect God to again judge the earth.

God is presently allowing Satan to test the hearts of nations and of individuals to reveal openly whether they are truly His or not. He is giving us an opportunity to see the world as it would be without His righteousness and without Him. Perhaps some will turn to Him and call for mercy.

Of that great city, Nineveh, the Lord said, “Their wickedness has come up before Me” (Jonah 1:2). Jonah was sent to warn them. With reluctance he went saying, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4). Unlike in the days of Noah and the days of Lot the Ninevites had a change of heart and pleaded for God’s mercy. They believed the warning and acted upon it through prayer and fasting believing that God might show them mercy. God will always respond to genuine calls for mercy.

It is not difficult to see that our world is at the threshold. Those who know the truth have the privilege and responsibility of warning others. We don’t know whether the world, our nation or our neighbour will respond in the way the people in Noah’s and Lot’s days did or in the way that Nineveh did so let us persevere in sharing the Gospel of grace and see what the Lord does in the hearts of people and nations.

Living Godly

“Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” 2 Timothy 3:12

Paul had just listed some of his own experiences that included persecutions and afflictions and then states the principle quoted above. People who have no desire to live a godly life are already serving the god of this world and the spirit of antichrist that emanates from him. As soon as a person has the desire to live godly in Christ Jesus everything and everyone in Satan’s dominion will be in opposition to them because it is opposed to Jesus Christ.

Christians can avoid Satan’s attention by going along with the world in its ungodly way, as Lot did (Genesis 19), but how will they face Jesus without extreme shame? Peter experienced this in part and we can read of his experience of this in Luke 22:54-62 & John 21:15-19.

The world is becoming more bold in its persecution of Christians. Governments and media are unwilling to report persecution and murder of Christians and by their silence they condone and encourage this behaviour. What those who oppose do not realize is that Jesus Christ will have the last say and His judgments are perfect and just. For the unrepentant sinner He is much more to be feared than any man made religion (Luke 12:5).

Paul wrote a principle that is for the Christians of his day and is applicable to all Christians throughout the church age. It will only end when Jesus returns and establishes His Kingdom on earth thus answering a part of the Lord’s model prayer recorded in Matthew 6:10. The manifestation of persecution will vary according to culture, political ideology, the dominant religion and other circumstances, but it will always be present in some form and some degree.

In his letters to Timothy and Titus Paul points his readers to Christ’s appearing five times. This is where our focus of attention should be and it will be supported by sound Biblical teaching which he mentions nine times.

It is tragic that Christians are suffering and will continue to suffer but we must remember that Jesus allows it for His own reasons which can, to some degree at least, be determined from Scripture. One of the things Jesus said while on the cross was, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). Stephen followed this example when he was being stoned; “Lord, do not charge them with this sin” (Acts 7:60). This is the heart attitude that we will also have toward those who persecute desiring that they will also know Christ’s forgiveness and be saved from the wrath to come.

Making the Connection

“But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel” Luke 24:21

At Passover Israel looks back and reflects on the great deliverance the fledgling nation experienced under Moses’ leadership. But the Passover also looks forward to the Messiah who would deliver Israel again from Gentile dominance – and much more. The two disciples discussing this were speaking to the risen Jesus though they didn’t know that it was Him at that time.

Even though Jesus had told His disciples several times that He would die and rise again (Luke 6:44; 18:33; Mark 9:31; Matthew 16:21; 17:9, 23) they still had not grasped it even now that He had been crucified. They had not yet made the connection between the Passover and Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.

One of Jesus’ statements on the cross was, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). Not only the religious Jews but also Jesus’ own disciples had not understood that the Christ must be crucified and rise again before anyone could be forgiven. The angel reminded the women, “He is not here, but is risen. Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, saying, ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again’” (Luke 24:6-7). These two disciples walking to Emmaus knew of the encounter the women had with the angel (v 22) yet they did not yet believe that Jesus had risen. As a consequence, instead of being overjoyed, they were extremely saddened at what they perceived a failure.

Israel is still in a similar position. They are still missing the truth that Jesus is the Passover Lamb. They have not made the connection. John the Baptist recognised Him from the start crying out, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

Many people will take part in some Easter activities and may even attend a church service and yet they will not make the connection and miss the true meaning.

One of the thieves crucified with Jesus did and understood who Jesus is. He confessed his sinfulness and asked for forgiveness (Luke 23:40-43). Since Jesus had just asked the Father to forgive those who were crucifying Him he knew he would receive a positive response. Let us pray that, this Easter, many more people will come to the same realisation as this thief on the cross. If they follow his example they will also be forgiven.

The Day of Visitation

“… because you did not know the time of your visitation” Luke 19:44

These words came from the lips of Jesus mingled with His tears. He had presented Himself to Israel as their promised Messiah and been rejected. His presentation began in the town of Bethlehem. The scribes and Pharisees knew that Messiah would be born in there but they were too preoccupied to even have a small contingent in Bethlehem waiting for the arrival of Messiah.

Instead of the religious leaders being summoned for the great arrival shepherds were invited to the birth of the King of kings. Instead of Israel’s king being invited, Gentile men living in expectation of this King came.

The words of Jesus, “… because you did not know the time of your visitation” could be repeated throughout history to people collectively and individually. There have been many periods in the history of the church when the Holy Spirit has opened the minds and hearts of great numbers to turn from sin and receive forgiveness through Jesus Christ. It could be said of the multitudes that did not respond that they missed their opportunity. Each time the Gospel has been shared individually many have responded but for those who would not receive the ministry of the Holy Spirit they also missed their opportunity for eternal life. Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost.

Christmas and Easter are times when the world has its attention drawn in some measure to Jesus Christ. It is a special opportunity for those of us who know Jesus Christ to share the Gospel with others. For those who do not know Him it is an opportunity to come humbly to Him and find mercy and forgiveness. Since that is the reason He came, He will give it to the genuine seeker. “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17). The next verse reveals that the world is already condemned and in need of a Saviour.

When a person or group of people miss the time of Christ’s visitation to them it is a time of sorrow to Jesus and it ought to be so for us also. It is a time of grief when a soul does not take advantage of their opportunity to know Jesus Christ. Jesus finds no pleasure in a person dying without sins forgiven (Ezekiel 18:23, 32). In contrast, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints” (Psalm 116:15). In the one, any hope of an intimate relationship is lost forever. In the latter, that intimate relationship will endure for eternity. We pray that many will know His visitation this Christmas.

Defining the Man

“Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” Luke 12:15

Quite a few years ago we took my parents on a ferry trip to Fremantle from Perth. Someone was giving a kind of commentary which almost exclusively focused on who owned which mansion and how much it cost. That person was defining people by what they possessed. It is a sad thing when a person believes that their employment or their possessions define who they are.

In this parable of a wealthy but foolish man Jesus does not criticise the fact that he was rich but that his motivation in life was to possess “treasure for himself” (v 21). In pride he then spent some of what he had on providing greater capacity to keep what he had for his own pleasure. One does not have to have great wealth to have this heart motivation.

There are three errors in this man’s thinking. First, he believes that his ability to create wealth and accumulate wealth defines him. Secondly, he won’t live to spend his wealth. The third and biggest mistake is in believing that he is the sole reason for his ability to create and retain wealth and that it is for him.

What did he have that was not given to him? Yes, he had to take advantage of his environment and his talents but these were given to him by God. No one chooses where or when they will be born or who their parents will be. No one chooses their genetic makeup that may or may not grant mental and physical capacities as well as other inheritable traits.

Jesus goes on to teach that we have no need to be anxious about our earthly needs because God will provide for us. He gives the birds and flowers as examples of His gracious provision. Since our earthly life is so brief Jesus urges us to have our minds set on things above and lay up heavenly treasure. What is His logic? “It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (v 32).

Whether it is one’s employment or accumulated wealth, or lack thereof, a person is not defined by these things. Some people have taken Jesus at His word, “sell what you have and give alms: provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in heaven that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys.” (v 33).

A person is defined first by the fact that they are created in the image of God. Everything we think we possess is actually His and Jesus affirms that what He seeks are faithful stewards. The key error of the person in the parable is that he believed his wealth was his and for himself (v 15, 21).

Approved Approach

“I did not even think myself worthy to come to You” Luke 7:7

These are the words of a Roman centurion, a Gentile. It is not the kind of words one would expect from a man who is used to throwing his authority around and expecting people to look up to him with a measure of fear. Something had happened to this man that changed his attitude and behaviour toward others, especially toward Jews.

When he heard that Jesus, a Jew, was approaching his town he sent Jewish synagogue leaders to Jesus pleading for Him to heal his servant. It would appear that they did not represent him faithfully. On his behalf they presented him as one worthy who merited Jesus’ power to heal. Their appeal, typical of Israel at the time and most Gentiles then and now, was on the basis of good works and merit.

As Jesus came even nearer to his town, without response, the centurion sent friends who were faithful to the centurion’s words. They repeated his words, “I am not worthy … I did not even think myself worthy to come to You.” He knew that Jesus came in the authority of God (v 8) and he knew that while God is holy he was a sinner and unworthy of His presence.

The people following Jesus in Capernaum at the time were most likely all Jews and He took the opportunity to point out the contrasting means of approach to Him by saying, “I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel” (v 9). The leaders of the synagogue had sought Jesus’ favour on merit but the centurion sought Jesus’ favour on mercy and grace. We can readily see to which Jesus responded and approved.

Historically this is how Israel has generally approached favour with God but they are not alone in this. Most religions of the world, even some claiming to be Christian, come to Jesus like the synagogue leaders, on the basis of merit or partial merit. Therefore, thinking they deserve God’s favour, they praise themselves and not God and they are unthankful toward God. After all, they did not receive a gift, in their eyes they received a payment for works done.

Of the ten cleansed lepers recorded in Luke 17:11-19 only one returned to give thanks to Jesus for healing him. The other nine thought they deserved His favour and that their healing was merited. They saw no reason to thank Jesus. Only one knew that he was unworthy and was therefore thankful.

If we do not continually have thankful hearts to the Lord it is because in some way we think we deserve His favour. At those times we are like the synagogue leaders who presented the centurion’s case to Jesus and the nine unthankful cleansed lepers. Jesus said, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Luke 5:32). This centurion was not worthy to come into Christ’s presence and he knew it but he is just the kind of person who Jesus is calling to Himself.

Reconciliation and Restoration

“I will heal their backsliding,

I will love them freely,

for My anger has turned away from him”
Hosea 14:4

These words were very precious to me when a man I had never met shared them with me many years ago. I had been away from the Lord but the Lord had brought me back. In a way it was a picture of God’s love for Israel. In the book of Hosea we read of God’s severe chastisement of Israel and we might wonder how a God of love could inflict such severe pain. However, it is a reflection not only of God’s anger against sin and love for the sinner but also of the hardness of the human heart apart from Christ. I don’t believe God will chastise more than necessary. That people still do not respond reveals the hardness of their heart.

So often in the prophetic books of the Bible we read this same pattern; God’s severity on Israel for turning away from Him and His gentle love for them when they return. In all of the prophecies concerning Israel’s return there is certainty that the day will come. When God says, “I will,” He means He will perform it. If He can’t then He is not the God of creation.

There is no comfort in these words for unbelieving Israel but there is enormous encouragement to believing Israel, the “remnant”. God is still on track and on time in fulfilling His Covenant promises to Israel.

Likewise there is no comfort in these words for unbelieving Gentiles but to those who have trusted Jesus Christ there is great encouragement in our walk with Him. These words from the Lord to Israel reveal the love and compassion that God has for His people when they walk with Him. For a Christian who has strayed these words show the welcoming arms of God when they return.

In 14:1 & 2 God invites the one who has strayed to return to Him. In verses 2 & 3 we see the evidence of repentance and in verse four is God’s response. Reconciliation is complete.

Another verse that was shared with me by the same person at the same time follows on from this scenario and is recorded in Joel 2:25, “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten.” While this verse is written to Israel and has application upon their reconciliation it reveals the heart of God toward Christians who return to the Lord after straying. We may have wasted years in going our own way but God is able to turn that to His and our benefit.

God forbid that we should ever stray from walking with the Lord but if we do, or have, the revelation from these verses and many others is that He is waiting with loving arms for our return and repentance to reconcile us to Himself and reinstate us in fellowship. To read Jesus’ words on the subject read Luke 15:11-32.