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.

Partakers of His Holiness

“God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten.” Hebrews 12:7

The men and women of the Old Testament have parts of their lives recorded for us as witnesses to us of God’s ways and the sinful nature within us. This is for our benefit not amusement. The key phrase in chapter eleven is “By faith.” Their experiences were as diverse as ours will be. We should never expect that God will take us along the same disciplinary path as someone else or that they will travel the same disciplinary path as us.

God’s grace may also be revealed in quite different ways. For some the grace of God in response to their believing His word brought about wonderful and miraculous miracles (11:33-35a). For others God’s grace in response to their believing His word brought horrendous trials, suffering and persecution (11:35b-38) but He delivered them out of them all. Under threat of fiery furnace Daniel’s three friends said, “… our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us from your hand” (Daniel 3:16-18). Whether by burning or preservation they knew they would be delivered from the King’s hand.

The writer exhorts us to lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us. Anything that drags us back from realising God’s purpose, revealed in 12:10, should be cast off. The sin that so easily ensnares us is no mystery. This whole part of Hebrews deals with it. If believing God’s word is faith then unbelief is the sin that turns us from faith. The fact is that we become ensnared in the sin of unbelief all too easily and may thereby invoke a disciplinary action from God. This action demonstrates that we have a special Father – son relationship with Him. The absence of it may seem good but it may also reveal that we are not sons of God.

There is a huge consequence to us individually and corporately (church) when we do not take God at His word and act upon it. Matthew tells us this consequence: “He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief” (Matthew 13:58).

Ignorance of God’s word will produce the same effect but love for Jesus will compel us to study the Bible for ourselves. No one enjoys discipline even though the outcome is good. We also know that discipline can be avoided if we study God’s word, believe it and act upon it (the evidence that we believe it).

God’s wonderful purpose in this is that His holy Divine Nature given to us (2 Peter 1:4; Hebrews 12:10) may be worked out in our experience for His glory. The O.T. record shows us many examples of God achieving this in the lives of men and women just like us.

Withdrawal of Service

“He threw down the thirty pieces of silver in the temple and departed and went and hanged himself” Matthew 27:5

Many years ago the union of which I was a member demanded that all members withdraw their labour in order to obtain higher pay. This action is a form of blackmail and contrary to God’s word, “Be content with such things as you have” (Hebrews 13:5). I refused to go on strike and withdrew my membership from the union.

What do we do when Jesus does not come through as we think He should? Judas went to the extreme of taking his own life. That is the ultimate and supreme act of rebellion against God by a total and permanent withdrawal of labour.

What many Christians do when they sense they have failed, they didn’t get their way or Jesus did not intervene or act as they thought He should, is that they withdraw labour. When some withdraw their service to Jesus Christ they become either spiritual policeman or spiritual advisors. The former considers it his service to Jesus to criticize those who actually do as Jesus taught (Matthew 28:20) and the latter believes he is serving Jesus by telling others how and what they should be doing. In both cases they have withdrawn their labour from Jesus Christ and replaced it with the appearance of service. It may look spiritual, and may feel spiritual; but it is an act of rebellion against Jesus Christ. This is similar to the kind of response that we observe in Judas. He withdrew his labour in one final act of rebellion from which there was no opportunity of repentance.

Jesus said, “He who is not with Me is against Me” (Matthew 12:30). When we fail to openly identify with Jesus we are identifying with the spirit of anti-christ and Satan. When we read of Peter’s failure to identify with Jesus we observe a much different response to that of Judas. Peter grieved in his heart that he had betrayed and hurt Jesus by not identifying with Him. In spite of this failure he pressed on proving a great depth of repentance and love. In spite of his past failure Peter pressed on and Jesus restored the relationship (John 21:15-19).

At times we will fail through ignorance, disobedience, or not identifying with Jesus – but what we do afterward will demonstrate whether we really were serving Jesus or merely serving our own ambitions and goals. Anyone who does not persevere, evidenced by a withdrawal of service to Jesus, gives evidence that they have been serving their own ambitions and goals, not Christ’s. They have been living in the realm of the flesh, serving the spirit of anti-christ, and not the Spirit, serving Jesus Christ.

That is failure but there is still the opportunity to confess that sin and have a change of heart. That is what Jesus desires. Persevering after failure reveals true faith in, and love for, Jesus and is evidence of His working grace. This will lead to reconciliation and success in glorifying Jesus by bearing spiritual fruit.

The Secret Place

“The heavens declare the glory of God” Psalm 19:1

Returning to Perth by air this week I was again struck by the beauty of the upper surface of the clouds. From beneath, clouds are shades of grey and reasonably level. From above, where the sun is upon them, they are pure white and shaped like bundles of cotton balls. Off on to the horizon and beyond this beauty exists but for the most part it was unseen by any person and possibly even less recognised as God’s handiwork. Largely hidden from the eyes of people, day after day and for millennia, God has been expressing Himself in such beauty. It is only in the past hundred years that people have been able to see the clouds from above yet it has been unrelentingly showing off the glory of God.

For even less time we have been able to see the beauty and variety of creatures that live below the seas at depth. Some had been caught in nets or found dead on the shore but multitudes of new creatures of extraordinary appearance are now being discovered in the depths of the oceans. For millennia these creatures have been expressing the beauty and wisdom of God without any person observing them. Perhaps more than at any time since God brought “every beast of the field and every bird of the air … to Adam to see what he would call them” (Genesis 2:19) we are closer to discovering all the living creatures that God has created. All that time since the creation these creatures have expressed God’s glory even though many have not been seen by people until recently.

As we look up into the night sky we marvel at the majesty, beauty, wisdom and power that has created all that exists in the heavens. Mankind has discovered more distant heavenly bodies with each new telescope and marvelled at their beauty but they have all been present since the creation expressing the glory of God, whether seen by people or not.

We may be inclined to think that God is only glorified by things seen by people. However even the things unseen by people glorify God. Jesus told His disciples, “When you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut the door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:6).

People who follow Jesus do reveal and express the glory of God publicly but perhaps the time we glorify God most is in the secret place for there we have no need to play the hypocrite. There we can be honest with God since nothing is hidden from Him. Like all the things of creation that are rarely if ever seen by people it is perhaps our time alone with Him that glorifies Him most. It is when we are alone with God that we worship Him from a pure heart. “Do all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

His Voice

Jesus said to them, “have you never read in the Scriptures: …” Matthew 21:42

This is just one of six times in Matthew’s Gospel that he records Jesus making this statement. It is quite an extraordinary thing that Jesus would say this to the chief priests, scribes and elders (vv 15, 23) who would have known the Scriptures better than anyone else. They most certainly had read and studied the passages that Jesus quoted to them and may even have memorised them. Their problem was that they had not understood them as applying to Jesus. They did not want to recognise Jesus as Messiah no matter what the evidence from Scripture or from His words and deeds. They did not want to recognise His authority.

It is possible for us to put blinkers on at a superficial understanding of Scripture and become blind to a more complete comprehension that will give us a greater appreciation of what we are reading. How often does it happen that, having read a passage of Scripture many times over the years that we gain a greater appreciation of what is written? An oft repeated statement is, “I have read that many times but I never saw that before.” It isn’t that we misunderstood it before but that we now have a greater appreciation of what is written.

The reason Jesus frequently quotes the Scriptures and why Matthew records them is so that people might begin to make the comparison and connection of the Scriptures with Jesus. When they do, with honest and open hearts, the Holy Spirit will reveal the truth concerning Jesus.

If we are content with our early understanding of Scripture we will likely become like the scribes and chief priests and focus on outward religious performance rather than heart intimacy with Jesus. It is a trap awaiting any of us. Jesus is not a set of rules. He is a living Person with whom we may live every moment of every day. Jesus said, If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love Him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. He will make His home in our hearts. WOW!

The scribes, chief priests and the elders knew the Scriptures well but they did not recognise who Jesus is. As it was for them it is possible for us to understand a literal rendering of the Scriptures but not know the Lord Jesus. It is possible for us to know the Scriptures but not be intimate with Him. The answer to this situation is found in Jesus’ words to the church in Laodicea, Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. It isn’t the one who hears the knock only but the ones who hears His voice that opens the door. What is the difference, you ask? The one who hears His voice recognises a familiar friend because of a previous intimate relationship; “they know His voice” (John 10:3-4).