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.

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).

Precious to God

“’Get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die?’ ‘For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,’ says the Lord. ‘Therefore turn and live’” Ezekiel 18:31, 32

How often do we hear people who do not know the Lord criticize Him? Because His ways are not our ways He is criticized as unworthy, unjust, unrighteous and unloving by people who do not know Him. One of the frequently asked questions is why God allows people to suffer and die. He is considered to be unjust, vindictive or cruel, one who enjoys punishing people.

God did not turn away from people first. People first turned away from Him. These days He has been cast out of our schools, government and now there are those trying to remove him from conversation – especially in the media. That same media reports the consequences almost daily.

The above words of the Lord state a principle of His Divine Nature that is fully expressed in the cross of Jesus Christ. God invites every person to turn to Him and live with Him eternally. There is no reason for any person to go to hell since Jesus Christ has died for all sin. Why should you die? says the Lord and invites everyone to come to Him. People are only separated from God because they choose not to come to Him. They have been seduced by Satan’s lie to Adam, you will be like God.” His door is always open to anyone who will turn to Him. As Paul writes, “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). No one is excluded. That door will only close upon bodily death but then it closes forever.

If God found pleasure in punishing people He would never have sent the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, to take away our sin. This one act is an act of love and compassion. To confirm His desire He says again, “’As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die?’” (33:11). There is much passion in these words that express the heart desire of God.

On the other hand, the Lord says, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints” (Psalm 116:15). These are those who accepted His invitation to turn from their ways. These are those who know the love, kindness and grace of God. They know that He is not cruel or vindictive but rather He is a loving Father who wants His children to have all that is good and best for them. The moment believers die bodily they are in the presence of Jesus and see Him face to face. What a glorious moment that will be and it is “precious in the sight of the Lord.”

Awesome Majesty

“On this one will I look: On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word” Isaiah 66:2

About twenty years ago I was in the co-pilot’s seat of a light plane flown by an MAF pilot. We were flying from Bokondini to Wamena in the central highlands of Papua, Indonesia. I knew nothing of how to fly the plane and it was my first light plane flight in the region. Fortunately there was no need of a co-pilot’s services and any uneasiness on the part of my friends on board was relieved!

For several days previously, we had been unable to fly due to smoke and fog. Now, we were soaring between huge steep mountains with cavernous gorges kilometres deep. We were awestruck at the scale. We might say that we trembled at the beauty and scale of what we were beholding.

Twice in Isaiah sixty six the Lord refers to trembling at His word (v 2 & 5). He does not mean the kind of trembling that demons experience (James 2:19). Theirs is a trembling of fear of God’s impending wrath and judgment that is hanging over their heads. The “tremble” in Isaiah is one that arises from being awestruck at the beauty, wisdom and holy magnificence of the Lord. In colloquial terms, we might say it is the “WOW factor”.

Who will stand in awe of the Lord and tremble, not from fear of wrath or judgment, but in seeing the greatness of His beauty, wisdom and majesty? The Lord tells us that it is the one who is poor in spirit and of a contrite spirit. In Isaiah 57:15 the Lord says that He dwells with the one who is of a contrite and humble spirit. The Psalmist writes, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart – These, O God, You will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). The “poor in spirit” in Isaiah equates with the first Beatitude in Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” That is, those who know that they are spiritually bankrupt with regard to righteousness.

Sometimes when we are out walking, riding, driving or flying, we see some amazing scenery and are moved in awe of great beauty. This, however, is only a subdued emotion compared with that of the tremble we may experience as the Lord allows us glimpses of Himself through His word and the experiences of life we have as we walk with Him. The next corner in our lives that we turn or the next page of the Bible that we read, may be the means by which He reveals Himself to us with more of His beauty, wisdom and awesome majesty and holiness.

We cannot demand that the Lord reveal Himself; but we can put ourselves in the right place so that, when He chooses, we will have the right spirit of heart that causes us to tremble in delight at His presence.

The Greatest Miracle

“For we have made lies our refuge and under falsehood we have hidden ourselves” Isaiah 28:15

Isaiah had been observing his own nation, Israel, and was writing concerning their situation in his day. As we consider this verse we can’t help but believe that he is observing and writing concerning our own nation as it is today. He is not describing every individual in Israel because we know that God always maintains a believing remnant. We would not apply these words to every individual in our nation either because there are those who are faithful to the Lord and His word. But nationally they suit all too well.

Jesus called Satan a liar (John 8:44) and Peter discerned that Satan had moved Ananias to lie (Acts 5:3). Paul recognised that people had “exchanged the truth of God for the lie” (Romans 1:25). He also wrote that because people choose to turn away from God, God will allow them to be deceived (2 Thessalonians 2:11).

Isaiah is saying what we know to be true. People believe the lie about Jesus Christ because it comforts them in their sin. Hence, lies become our refuge, our place of safety and comfort – but only in the short-term. It is easier for a sinner to believe the lie that God does not exist and that they will not have to give account for their lives than to deal with the truth. So they take “refuge” in the lie.

Secondly we hide from the truth by peddling things that are obviously lies. This is why people believe in evolution. It gives them, in their minds, a place to resist the truth and hide from it. Anyone who does some research desiring to know the truth will discover the great falsehood of the Theory of Evolution but it is a convenient hiding place for people who do not want to face the truth.

Psalm ten reveals the three presumptuous thoughts of the person who wants to conceal in their minds the truth by embracing a lie.

  1. I am okay, I am invincible (v 6)
  2. God is not interested or is dead (v 11)
  3. I will not be held accountable to anyone for my life (v 13)

These are all lies of Satan that people all too readily embrace because they love sin and do not want to face reality. Considering the long-term consequences it is staggering that anyone would choose to take refuge in lies and present falsehoods to their own mind and soul to escape thinking about the truth but such is that nature of sin.

Those who do want to face reality will face the Lord Jesus Christ and discover that He has borne their sin on the cross and is able, therefore, to forgive all their sin and, much more, cleanse them from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). The greatest miracle of all is that God is able to bring any sinner to repentance, most of all me, but He does and still is. Hallelujah!

Seeing the Eternal

“We do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but things which are not seen are eternal” 2 Corinthians 4:18

In a world that has gone haywire and is governed by the spirit of antichrist (1 John 2:18) it is possible that we might get our eyes on wrong things which will cause us to lose heart. Paul is writing to a church living in an environment not that different to the one in which we live. The Roman world and the religious world of Israel were hostile to the Gospel of Christ. Paul had been the lead persecutor until he met the risen Jesus Christ.

In verse sixteen he writes, “Do not lose heart.” The Christians were suffering affliction at the hands of the ungodly but Paul writes encouraging them to keep their eyes on the things that really matter, on things eternal. The book of Ecclesiastes is written from the perspective of one who sought meaning in temporal things but concluded that such was futile. Only when he looked at eternal things did life have meaning and hope.

People who are trying to save this world will eventually be greatly disappointed. Because of sin the world will pass away. All the ambitions of men that drive them to labour and war with one another over wealth and power will prove futile. The very things they fight for are temporal and put them in opposition to God and make them blind to things eternal.

Paul does not shy away from the fact that it will appear that Jesus Christ and His people are on the losing end but that is only when we lose focus of the end. The Psalmist wrote it this way, “When I thought how to understand this it was too painful for me – until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I understood their end” (Psalm 73:16-17). The sanctuary is the place where we meet intimately with the Lord. Like the psalmist, when we are in the Lord’s presence we will understand the end of His enemies.

It may seem that we are enduring this ungodly world for too long but relatively speaking it is but a moment compared with the “far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (v 17) that we will experience forever when we are with the Lord.

We remain in the world to be salt and light and to make disciples until He deems it time to bring us home. Let us keep our eyes on things eternal; keep our expectations on things eternal; keep our prayers and hopes for our loved ones on things eternal. All that is seen is passing away so let us not lose heart giving our affections to them. Paul wrote, “Seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind [affections] on things above not on things of the earth” (Colossians 3:1-2). If we do as Paul has written we will not lose heart but walk with Jesus full of joy and peace.

“Behold Your Mother!”

“Then [Jesus] said to the disciple [John], ‘Behold your mother!’ And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home.” John 19:27

When Jesus spoke these caring words to John he was already nailed to the cross and suffering excruciatingly from that cross and events leading up to it. We are not told how or when Joseph had died but from this passage it is clear that Jesus had assumed responsibility sometime before this for His mother’s care and well being. In Paul’s letter to Timothy Paul writes concerning the care of believing widows and the responsibility a son has for his widowed mother. He writes that it is unthinkable that Christians would not care for their ageing parents (1 Timothy 5:8). After all, it is an aspect of the fifth commandment!

It appears that Jesus was not just asking John to look after Mary until she could get back to her other sons in Galilee. He was commanding John to treat Mary as he would his own mother and Mary was to relate to John as her own son – indefinitely. At this time none of Jesus’ half-brothers believed that He was the Son of God and Israel’s Messiah. That would come later but for now they seemed to have little interest in His teaching or what was happening in His life.

Jesus wanted to ensure that a godly man was caring for His mother. That John was chosen ahead of other disciples may be for several reasons. John referred to himself as “the disciple whom [Jesus] loved” (v 26) so there was already a very special bond between Jesus and John and most likely between Mary and John also.

The society and culture in which we live is quite different but the principle remains the same. We have a privilege and a responsibility to care for our parents when they are unable to do so themselves and especially our widowed mothers (1 Timothy 5:8; John 19:26-27). As a church body we have the privilege of being able to care for them according to their need. Paul writes that we should honour such mothers by caring for them (1 Timothy 5:1) just as Jesus provided for His mother’s care even while on the cross.

There are several places in the Bible where we are told that the Lord will care for the fatherless and widows (cf. James 1:27; Psalm 146:9). The church is Christ on earth and is therefore His heart, arms and legs to minister to the need of believing widows when family is unable or unwilling to do so. The church is the “John” to the widowed mother without believing children. The application of that caring may be as varied as there are widowed mothers. We honour and reveal Jesus Christ in the world when we apply His example.