153. Supernatural and extraordinary – it is for me!

“He is not the soul of Nature, nor any part of Nature. He inhabits eternity: He dwells in a high and holy place: heaven is His throne, not his vehicle, earth is his footstool, not his vesture. One day he will dismantle both and make a new heaven and earth. He is not to be identified even with the ‘divine spark’ in man. He is God and not man.”   

C.S. Lewis, Miracles

The words of the ancient prophet Isaiah are poetic.  Reading in English would not make it clear, but to the scholars who can appreciate it, the Hebrew text is quite phenomenal.  Isaiah was a singing prophet.  I can only imagine how he would sing the sharp judgments over idolatry, godlessness and sin over evil cities and hardened hearts in a deep angry voice. On the other hand I can hear him in an anguished cry to repent and a passionate joyous call declaring the loving promises of God over his people.  Isaiah feels like my dear friend, sometimes the wise and loving grandfather I never knew and most often the trusted mentor I desperately need.

I wonder how the words of Isaiah 61 would have sounded in his voice and words.  It is words of magnificence about the healing, salvation, liberation and restoration for the loved ones of a miracle-working God who has everything under control.  Can you “hear” him in you inner being?

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me,
Because the Lord has anointed Me
To preach good tidingsto the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim libertyto the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord,
And the day of vengeance of our God;
To comfort all who mourn,
To console those who mourn in Zion,
To give them beautyfor ashes,
The oil of joyfor mourning,
The garment ofpraisefor the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.”

Just these first verses stir up a passion in me to experience the Spirit of God and speak the words of God.

All the heartache, desperation and destruction of a broken world could find solace, comfort and salvation from these life-changing words of Scripture.  It is significant how much emphasis is on mourning and tears.  The promise of freedom from the limitations of spiritual imprisonment by the evil woes of life is a powerful promise of deliverance.  Life breeds fear, anger, sexual sin and other kinds of wickedness to enslave us to the devil. Supernatural release and restoration are promised to all who seek salvation in the grace of God.

And they shall rebuild the old ruins,
They shall raise up the former desolations,
And they shall repair the ruined cities,
The desolations of many generations.

The brokenness of our world is a ruin of tears and depression.  Fear and bondage of any kind keep us locked up and limit our potential. The good news is that the century old remedy for all oppression still stands as the powerful solution to all desolation of life.  It is the outstanding theme of the Psalms.

Praise God!  Look up and praise your Saviour and Lord.  Know that He will deal with the ruins and misery of your life.  Grab hold of his greatness and goodness like a drowning man in a raging sea.  “See” yourself as a tree of righteousness.

In the words of this same prophet as few chapters earlier, God says to you:

O you afflicted one,
Tossed with tempest, and not comforted,
Behold, I will lay your stones with colorful gems,
And lay your foundations with sapphires.
(Isaiah 54:11)

You are the jewels in his crown. (Malachi 3:16-18)

You are the afflicted one who are going to rebuild, who will surrender control to the Holy Spirit to initiate peace and restoration of the walls of your city, your family relationships and all the wreckage of life around you.  You will announce freedom to the prisoners and live in the comfort of your loving Father.

Think with me through the details of this Word from God.  The consolation of God’s presence and intervention is to be found in the reality of daily living. It is the oil of joy and the garment of praise that heal and cover.  Oil is what we take into our bodies for nourishment and medication.  A garment is what we wear on the outside.  We do not go naked.  Our world is obsessed with clothing.  Just think of the percentage clothing stores in any shopping centre.

A garment of praise is probably the most beautiful and most elegant clothing possible.  Think of a cloak embroidered with the finest gemstones and silk thread.  Your foundations in sapphires…

Years ago my mother had a dream about my husband and I.  She was in our driveway with her car, struggling to unload a heavy chest from the trunk.  We stood on the front porch and did not offer any assistance.  She knew she had to open the chest and show us what is inside.  When she opened it, it was full of the most beautiful cloaks she has ever seen.  My mother was a seamstress herself and appreciated fabrics and embroidery. She told me of the dream and announced that she will pray for an interpretation.  Early the next morning she phoned.

God said: We had to wear our testimony and Word revelation so that others would be blessed by it.  The jewels and gold were the tests that refined us as people and our Rhema-words were the jewels that we spoke when we testify of the goodness of the Lord.  We had to “look” the work of God in our lives.

What can I say?  I would be most flattered if the people say of me: Oh, here comes old Praise the Lord again!

Dress up Pebble pal!  Wear your praise.  Break loose from the bondage of depression with a constant awareness of the gemstones in your heart.  Every tear is a diamond of victory and joy, recorded by God.

You number my wanderings;
Put my tears into Your bottle;
Are they not in Your book? 
(Psalms 56:8)

Let our words be the words of Jesus of whom is said:

For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure.  (John 3:34)

 

 

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152. The arm of God.

“There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in religion (man’s search for God) suddenly draw back. Supposing we really found Him? We never meant it to come to that! Worse still, supposing He had found us?” C.S. Lewis, Miracles.

It is a most miraculous moment if you want it.  The instant that time stands still and you know the God of the universe has cast his all-seeing gaze on you.  He has seen your fear, He has answered your call, He reacts to you and acts on your behalf. You see his arm moves… in your favour.

The Lord has made bare His holy arm
In the eyes of all the nations;
And all the ends of the earth shall see
The salvation of our God.
  (Isaiah 52:10)

Behold, the Lord God shall come with a strong hand,
And His arm shall rule for Him;
Behold, His reward is with Him,
And His work before Him
. (Isaiah 40:10)

God is baring his arm for you.  It is as if I see the action of rolling up his sleeve.  It is the action of somebody who is ready to work.  All his power and goodness flow into his arm and hand that He stretches out to touch you.

Moses sang about God’s hand and arm with his powerful touch on his people.

“Your right hand, O Lord, has become glorious in power;
Your right hand, O Lord, has dashed the enemy in pieces
. (Exodus 15:6)

The Psalmist had a lot to say about God’s arm and hand.

Oh, sing to the Lord a new song!
For He has done marvelous things;
His right hand and His holy arm have gained Him the victory. (Psalms 98:1)

Many centuries later Mary sang about God’s arm in her song of praise when the angel brought her the news of her pregnancy.

He has shown strength with His arm…  (Luke 1:51)

You might say this is all good for Biblical times.  What about today?  Can I still rely on a miracle when I live in fear of the day?  Our struggle against all the evil around us: destruction, divorce, deception, disfigurement, dishonesty and so much more can be overwhelming.  We try our best in the world given to us with what we get to equip us for a daunting task.  If we look around us we might doubt the possibility of a miracle – rightly so.

The post-modern wailing about the non-existence of God casts a dark shadow over the faith of our childhood, if indeed we were so lucky to grow up with faith.  So many children grow up in a godless and god-cursing environment.  Is there extraordinary support available?  Might there be something like a miracle?

The only way to meet the God of miracles is through Jesus, whom He sent as the incarnation of himself to reveal his heart and mind to humanity.  What is the most notorious fact about the life of Jesus before his death?  His miracles- of course.  In our world with the squeal of New Atheism the miracles are attacked in a mocking and scoffing way to ridicule anybody so naïve to believe them. Water into wine – come on! A virgin pregnant – we all know where babies come from!

Christians often draw back and think they do not have the answers, or their answers suddenly feel inadequate.  The counter argument is that of science and the superiority of all that can be explained in real terms.  There are however, so many things that science are still grappling with.  They can describe energy, but not explain it.  They can define consciousness, but not explain it or the origin of it.  They cannot deny the existence of both energy and consciousness and therefore they have to accept the existence of something they cannot explain.  Why should they demand an explanation of the claim that Jesus was both God and man at the same time?

It is very important to acknowledge and know the normal course of business, to concede a miracle.  If the dead regularly came to life, it would not be extraordinary.  If 5000 homeless men are fed from one picnic basket every week, we would soon be very familiar with it, and it would be nothing special.

A miracle is God’s supernatural – above and beyond the laws of nature that rule our world daily, action in our lives.  It is his extraordinary intervention into my specific situation.

Often the most significant miracles take place inside us when fear and anger in the deepest crevasses of our heart and thoughts are stirred and healed by the Holy Spirit.  God rolls up his sleeves and get to work to heal me.

Circumstances are a field of action for miracles.  How would we ever know what a miracle is, if we never need one?  There, in the corner of discouragement and panic, we feel God’s hand touch us from an outstretched arm to reach us, however far we might have wandered off away from him.

 And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm;therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day. (Deuteronomy 5:15)

Crucial in these processes of God’s action in our life is to see, to acknowledge and to remember the miracle, in order to make it part of our testimony of praise to God.  Miracles are often judged and categorized in our mind.  We think of small and big miracles. It is important to see all of them and express your gratitude to the Lord.  The insight of the Holy Spirit alerts us to the awesome work of God in our lives.

The testimony of miracles is the gold refined by firementioned in Revelation 3:18.  The Psalmist warns against a superficial attitude when God’s intervention is to be taken seriously.

Our fathers in Egypt did not understand Your wonders;
They did not remember the multitude of Your mercies,
But rebelled by the sea—the Red Sea. 
(Psalms 106:7)

Even the disciples did not hold the miracles in high regard.

For they failed to consider or understand [the teaching and meaning of the miracle of] the loaves; [in fact] their hearts had grown callous [had become dull and had lost the power of understanding]. (Mark 6:52, AMPC)

Strong words indeed!  Let us hold the intervention of the mighty arm of God in high esteem and lift our testimony up on the altar of our pebbles of perpetuity on the banks of the Jordan (Joshua 4).  Then when people ask: why is this altar of testimony built, we can answer with the high praises of God in our mouth.  In doing so we will avoid the harsh insult of callous hearts and foolish, superficial lives.

 

 

 

 

150. Look… and receive understanding.

It is easy to look. It is difficult to see. I am sure you have had the experience that someone says: look! and you have to say: where, what?  To see what needs to be seen is the not always simple and obvious. We need a looking glass, a special instrument or someone to point it out, to look and truly see.

On a deeper level, we need insight and understanding to discern the true nature of things.  We need to see the invisible. How often do we jump to conclusions when we know one side of the story?  Another witness or the other person involved in a situation could give us a new perspective that could completely change our judgment.  We need to think about it every time we read or hear the news.  One side could be a lie.  To add the other side could bring truth and understanding.

We do not always understand what God is doing in our lives.  To us it might feel that circumstances rule, when they are working in our favour, seen from a different perspective.  There are so many scriptures to support our unqualified obedience to God and his Word.  He is our loving Father and we can trust him fully.  Hear, Pebble pals, as I write, my verse of the day from Bible Gateway slides in. Here is the heart of our blind trust in God always and in all things.

For the word of the Lord is right, and all His work is done in truth. He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the goodness of the Lord. (Psalms 33:4,5)

Praise God!

We need discernment – a gift of the Holy Spirit.  Our looking glass is the Word.  In our secret place with our Dad, in prayer and study, our deepest fear and panic is answered with the overwhelming goodwill of God and his promises to act supernaturally on our behalf.   He can do anything you know.

“Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is there anything too hard for Me? (Jeremiah 32:27)

It is in that secret place (any place where you invite the presence of God in prayer) that the ink on the page comes alive and is “spoken” into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.  It is the ultimate source of peace and release from fear.  It is the rhema word that changes us from the inside out. It should be written down and memorized to become part of us.  In Bible language – eat the Word.  Eat and digest, take some time to chew and let it be in your mouth as honey, so sweet.

He told me, “Son of man, eat what you see. Eat this book. Then go and speak to the family of Israel.”

 As I opened my mouth, he gave me the scroll to eat, saying, “Son of man, eat this book that I am giving you. Make a full meal of it!”

So I ate it. It tasted so good—just like honey. (Ezekiel 3:1-3, The Message)

Eat it, because of the devil can, he will steal it away immediately and rob you of the peace and joy the Word of God bring.  All circumstances become misty and small in the light of the living words of God.  Give attention to his Word.

Why?

Fear angered Jesus.

I have already written how I experienced the Holy Spirit as a disciplinarian.  My fear as a serious distrust in God and his intentions to keep me safe, was underlined by a random verse in the New Living Translation that I casually picked up and opened.  [Pebbles 147]

Let us consider the words of Jesus.

And He did not do many works of power there, because of their unbelief (their lack of faith in the divine mission of Jesus). (Matthew 13:58)

And He marvelled because of their unbelief (their lack of faith in Him). And He went about among the surrounding villages and continued teaching. (Mark 6:6)

Jesus was shocked by their unbelief.  He knew what He could do if invited and welcomed.  It is exactly as true today.

Afterward He appeared to the eleven apostles themselves as they reclined at table; and He reproved and reproached them for their unbelief (their lack of faith) and their hardness of heart, because they had refused to believe those who had seen Him andlooked at Him attentively after He had risen. (Mark 16:14)

Jesus speaks strong words to his disciples.  There is nothing else that could exert such strong correction from him.

Then He said to Thomas, Reach out your finger here, and see My hands; and put out your hand and place it in My side. Do not be faithless and incredulous, but stop your unbelief and believe! (John20:27)

How big is your storm today?

Jesus reprimanded them. “Why are you such cowards, such faint-hearts?” Then he stood up and told the wind to be silent, the sea to quiet down: “Silence!” The sea became smooth as glass. (Matthew 8:26, The Message)

It is the contrast between an insult and a compliment.

Taken aback, Jesus addressed the accompanying crowd: “I’ve yet to come across this kind of simple trust anywhere in Israel, the very people who are supposed to know about God and how he works.(Luke 7:9)

My heart cries out to live the faith that Jesus will praise.  It will be my ultimate worship.  I want to be strong and believe in the gust of the storm, when I am tossed and scared. Please Lord, help my unbelief.

Jesus said, “If? There are no ‘ifs’ among believers. Anything can happen.”

No sooner were the words out of his mouth than the father cried, “Then I believe. Help me with my doubts!”(Mark 9:23,24)

What is the answer and solution to fear, doubt and unbelief?

Surrender in prayer – not a greater effort in thought or deed.

Pray and ask the Holy Spirit to fill you with the Word so that it lives in you.  His words are spirit and life.

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. (John 6:63)

 

 

145. Don’t worry… you are safe!

These are the most wonderful words to hear. In the panic, in the most difficult state of affairs, in the middle of the fight, within the helpless disappointment of things spiraling out of control, these words will bring calm and reason in your mind.

You are out of harm’s way. You are protected. Always and everywhere – without exception or interruption.  It is the truth.  It is guaranteed.

Have you truly heard the Word of God?

…for He [God] Himself has said, I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support. I will not, I will not, I will not in any degree leave you helpless nor forsake nor let you down, relax My hold on you! Assuredly not!   (Hebrews 13:5, AMPC)

Permit the Holy Spirit to burn the Word of God into your heart and mind.

Most people who grew up in church would know about the stories in Matthew 14.  Maybe familiarity renders them powerless.  It is power-words from a miracle-working Saviour.  After the picnic-feast for roughly 10 000 people (5 000 men – John 6:15), the people are ready to crown Jesus King and Messiah and live the political solution they have been anticipating for centuries.

 Jesus sends his disciples away on a boat to the other side of the lake.  Were they part of the problem?  Perhaps.  They were very aware of the oppression of Roman rule and this wonderworking man was their ultimate weapon of guaranteed victory.  Jesus slips away to spend time alone in the mountains.  He had to focus on the grand plan of which earthly kingship had no part.

The lake of Galilee (sometimes called the Sea of Galilee) is the biggest freshwater lake in Israel.  The particular geological structure of Mount Arbel creates a wind tunnel through the Arbel Pass to blow up raging storms over the lake.

The disciples were in a fishing boat roughly eight meter long, two meter wide and one and a half meter deep.  The measurements were taken from a recent archaeological discovery of a fishing boat on the northwestern bank of the Sea of Galilee.  The boat could carry one-ton fish with a crew of five.  Instead of the catch, the boat could carry ten passengers with the crew.

The night was divided in watches of three hours each.  Jesus spent a few hours in the mountains and then walked around the lake to meet his men on the other side as agreed.  By the fourth watch, He sensed their panic and came to them on the water.

In the mayhem of the storm they struggled against wind and wave.  When they saw this figure approaching, they did not recognize Him.  That is exactly what a storm in your life does.  It blinds you to become aware of his presence.  Darkness and noise hold you captive to the situation.  Things are always worse in the night – true?

How will you recognize Jesus in your storm?

Precisely like the disciples recognized him! They heard his voice with these wonder-words of peace:

But instantly He spoke to them, saying, Take courage! I Am! Stop being afraid! [AMPC]

But Jesus was quick to comfort them. “Courage, it’s me. Don’t be afraid.” [The Message]

Jesus speaks clearly and direct.  No niceties – straight to the point. He knows your fear and knows the way out.  This is what He says:

I AM!

He is the source of every possible miraculous solution for your circumstances.  He does NOT calm the storm.  He speaks first to you and your mind.  The point is not the storm.  The point is the recognition of his voice.  He is there!  He is present in the storm!

Hear the echo of 2 Kings 3:18:

And this is a simple matter in the sight of the Lord.

Faith in his words is the test.  Nature will obey him.  Faith is your choice.  Will you obey him?  The heart of the matter is your choice to believe him and obey his words not to fear.

The presence of Jesus elevates your situation from crisis-level to expectation-level.

What happens next?  Oh, very good, you might say.  Now that I recognize his presence, He will act on the situation.

Well, that is not how the story continues!

 

144. The command to live by.

We are talking about the brain-bug: fear. How can we live boldly and fully? How will our lives epitomize the elements of the Christmas Advent: joy, peace, love and hope when we are crushed by the issues and dangers of modern living. All that Jesus came for, lived to exemplify and died for are rendered meaningless when fear floods our system.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with youwherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

The SECOND fear defeating principle is the command in the Word that rings throughout: Do not fear!

The writers of the Psalms are all struggling with fear.  They pour out their hearts before the Lord.  He is to be trusted. (Psalms 62:8)

Jesus repeats this principle with extended examples, repetition and warnings against the meaninglessness of worry.

Jesus forbids worry – not responsible future planning.  (Matthew 6:25-34) He does not ask for a reckless denial of the demands of life.  He is talking about that fear-filled, windmill of repetitive thoughts that robs all inner joy and peace.  The word he uses is merrimna– anxious worry.

Jesus emphasizes that God is the source of life and therefore the maintainer of life.  He creates the body and provide for the body.  He illustrates with the birds of heaven and the lilies of the fields, things that humankind does not maintain or make grow.  He cares from an inexhaustible source.  His examples are significant as they illustrate abundance and beauty.

He underscores again and again the worthlessness of worry.  He makes it ridiculous; that one might think you can grow taller by worrying. Then He makes it an insult and compares a worry-sick person with a heathen, someone who does not know God. A heathen has no God or he might have an angry God who does not love him or cares what happens to him.

He contrasts God the Father with an angry and distant god, and calls him DAD.  God is a close, loving dad who cares and provides everything necessary. It should be easy to obey this command and eradicate all worry and fear from our lives – but HOW?

Here is the THIRD fear-defeating principle.   In Matthew 6:33 is the principle of fearless living.

Jesus says:

But seek (aim at and strive after) first of all His kingdom and His righteousness (His way of doing and being right), and then all these things taken together will be given you besides.

What will be given besides?  The abundance and beauty that Jesus mentioned in the previous verses will be yours because of God’s favour and not your own good works.

What is righteousness? It is the conformity to the revealed will of God in all respects; the surrendering of your life and desires to the One who died for you. The revealed will of God is the revelation of who Jesus is.  We find all this in the Word.

 It does not mean that every worry and experienced fearfulness are sins of disobedience.  Often worry prompts us to act and do something constructive. The worry that will make us sick and considered a sin is the whirlpool of anxiety about things we cannot change, things that can only be managed through prayer to the Almighty whose trademark is the supernatural.

God promises supernatural peace.  Here is the recipe for windmill and whirlpool thoughts.  Let us again enjoy the Amplified translation.

Do not fret or have any anxiety about anything, but in every circumstance and in everything, by prayer and petition (definite requests), with thanksgiving, continue to make your wants known to God.

 And God’s peace [shall be yours, thattranquil stateof a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothingfrom God and being content with its earthly lot of whatever sort that is, that peace], which transcends all understandingshall garrison and mount guard over your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

 I am blown away by the faith knowledge that God is guarding my heart from anxiety.  This is not only fear-defeating.  It is so much more. It is the experience of peace that cannot be explained; peace and joy within the storms of life.

 The story of Mary and Martha in Luke (10:38-42) worries me a bit.  Well, I can honestly say, if one “worries” about the principles in a Bible story and how to apply it to one’s own life, worry is a good thing!

I am a homemaker.  I sort of identify with Martha, keeping things in order and especially feeding Jesus when he comes to visit.  I would have probably cooked up a storm and served a feast for him.  I know Martha loved him and served him with her talents.  In common language the “insult” to say you are a Martha, cuts deep for me. I might even say it of myself.

However, the story has a deeper line.  It is not about the daily, the superficial and the fleshly. It is all about conviction of the deeper principles to live by.  It is about life priorities.  Tending to the everyday cares of life can distract from the search for the deeper kingdom principles that the words of Jesus brought into their house. Mary sensed that and sat at his feet, not sidetracked by the ordinary.

There is no freedom from fear in the ordinary.  There is victory in the “eating” of the Bread of Life, the words of Jesus.  In the prayerful digestion of the words of the Bible, freedom from fear is guaranteed.

Just as a reminder we are promised to know what is important according to Philippians 1:9 (discussed in the very first Pebbles).  The Amplified translation defines the gift of discernment as follows: keen insight, greater depth of acquaintance, and more comprehensive discernment. So that you may surely learn to sense what is vital and approve and prize what is excellent and of real value.

This is a life-goal worth pursuing.  It is wise living.

How do you perceive God in your most anxious moments?  Is He close and accessible? Do you feel He hears your cry?

 I [the Lord] will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you. (Psalms 32:8)

Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal God’s loving eye on you to your imagination.

Let us live boldly into our future with the word of the priestly blessing in Number 6.

The Lord bless and keep you

The Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you

The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.

Receive these words in the promise of Isaiah 26:3:

You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed upon You, because he trusts in You.

Lastly, remember what Jesus said at the end of Matthew 6:

 

So do not worry or be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will have worries and anxieties of its own. Sufficient for each day is its own trouble.

 

 

[BK 23]

 

 

121. King of peace.

[John 12]

Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem.

To come to Jerusalem during the time of the Passover took great courage. Jesus knew He was already in big “trouble” with the authorities. Lodgings must have been a problem inside Jerusalem. Bethany was one of the places outside the city to stay when the visiting pilgrims flooded Jerusalem. Lazarus’ story spread fast.

The Romans loved a census. As we all know, Joseph and Mary had to go to Bethlehem for a census when Mary’s time came and Jesus was born in Bethlehem just as the prophecies foretold. The Romans were particularly good at administration and a census made sure that every citizen and resident of the Empire paid the taxes due. In a Roman census taken shortly after the crucifixion of Jesus, of the lambs slain at the Passover Feast, the number came to 256,000. There was usually a minimum of ten people sharing a lamb as sacrificial animal; and if that estimate is correct it means that there must have been as many as 2,700,000 people at that Passover Feast.

The characters in the story of Jesus are always notable. The inspiration of the Holy Spirit gave us so much colourful character shading of the people so that we could, even after so many centuries, identify with the people around our Lord.

Martha served a meal in their home.Maryanointed Him with a very expensive perfumed ointment. She poured out her best for Him.

In serving Martha also expressed her love. She was good at what she did and also gave her best. I can so identify with Martha since I also feel I should serve something for the conversation to flow. I know one of my Holy Spirit gifts is hospitality. I would have jumped at the opportunity to serve Jesus. Still I feel there is a silent criticism on Martha. As Barclay says her best took her out of earshot for His voice. Maybe there were no modern open plan kitchens! I love to cook, but I love to be part of the discussion.

As long as our gifting and even our ministry to Him do not take us out of the range of His voice, we are on the right track. I have often submitted my love of fabrics, decorating, art and fashion to be used in Kingdom service. In short I love beautiful things and I do not want that to keep me occupied. The most important thing in all my life always is to hear the voice of God. I want to hear when I read, hear when I work, hear when I write and hear when I have others around me. I want to hear Him in the ordinary things of my days.

What do you do to express your love for Jesus?

Remember it can be the most run of the mill thing, like caring lovingly for your family. That is our first calling always – to love – and to start with the closest. Jesus said to be His witnesses in Jerusalem(close family),Judaea(extended family and friends), Samaria(the people you do not like) and then the rest of the world (Acts 1:8).

Mary showed extravagance. It was a sign of honour to anoint a person’s head. (Psalm 23) Mary anointed His feet. Her humility shone through. In her own eyes, she was not good enough to honour Him.

Love made her bold. No respectable woman would let down her hair in public. When a girl married her hair was covered. Only prostitutes lured with their hair. May did not even think of that. She was not concerned about what others would think.

Her love filled the house with fragrance. In so many ways the church of Jesus followed her example. Her simple act of worship is recorded and still fills our minds with the lovely fragrance of love.

Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledgein every place. (2 Corinthians 2:14)

Judas spoke very nobly of the poor and said the expensive perfume should have been sold. Jesus knew he was going to betray him. Jesus probably made him the treasurer to trust him and win him over. He expected the best from him. It was tempting to get more for the moneybox, which he was already misusing. His gift became his downfall because of conceited selfish goals.

The word used here is bastazein, which means to carry or to steal.

Judas missed Mary’s intention. His eye was on his own interests. He could not see beyond his obsession. He missed the timing, the action, and the revelation of love. He also missed Jesus’ words that He is going to leave them.

Judas uses the money and ultimately thinks he can “use” Jesus for his won political ambition. He wanted to get rid of the Romans and thought he could force the hand of Jesus in a confrontation with the authorities.

Timing is so important.

of the sons of Issachar who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do, (1 Chronicles 12:32)

What Mary did that day could never be repeated. She took the opportunity to express her love. I don’t think any of the people there realized how imminent the cross was.

Express love to God and to those around you. Grab the opportunity and serve with the best.

To mention the poor was Judas “noble” comment. Jesus quotes Scripture:

“The poor will never cease out of the land;therefore I command thee saying, You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in the land. (Deuteronomy 15:11)

Opportunities to serve the poor never cease.

In the next verses (12:9-11) we meet the chief priests and Jewish authorities. The priests belonged to the Sadducees.

The Sadducees were the wealthy aristocratic class and they worked in close collaboration with the Roman government. Any outbreak of civil disorder brought down Rome’s hand heavily and cruelly with complete disregard for life and property. Those responsible for good government were dismissed without debate. The Sadducees saw Jesus as the possible leader of a rebellion.

 Politically they needed to get rid of Him.

 Theologically He was a big problem. They did not believe in life after death and the resurrection of the dead. Lazarus presented a big threat to them. There are theories that they could even have planned to kill Lazarus.

Truth was of no concern especially in conflict with their own interests.

In the meantime Jesus enters Jerusalem (12:12-19) like a king – just what they feared.

The crowds accompanying Him from Bethany and the others from Jerusalem, who heard He was coming, were rejoicing and singing.

The people received Him like a king and the authorities were in panic.

The crowds were made up of a variety of attitudes. Some were spectators only for curiosity; some have heard the rumours and would like to see. Others saw Him as a conqueror and brave enough to confront the church leaders.

Hosanna means save now in Hebrew.

They sang the words of the Hallel (Psalms 113-118), which is sung at thanksgiving in the Temple and part of the Passover. The children memorized it as part of religious training. They also sang it at the Feast of the Tabernacles. They sang the verses triumphantly. They sang it when Nehemiah restored the wall (Nehemiah 8:14-18).

The crowds sang in anticipation for a victory over the Romans, in expectation of the trumpet call to conquer and be restored. They were crowning Him for everything He resisted and refused to be. He had to serve their purposes.

Jesus could not speak.  He would not have been heard.

What He does speak loud and clear. He was riding on a donkey. It was a deliberate claim to be the Messiah.

 “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your King is coming to you;
He is just and having salvation,
Lowly and riding on a donkey,
A colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9)

 He claimed to be a particular kind of Messiah. The donkey was a noble animal and not at all despised (2 Samuel 17:23; 19:26). Mephiboset, the royal prince and son of Saul, rode on a donkey when he came to David. It was a sign to come in peace.

Riding a horse would signal war; riding on a donkey signaled peace. He was truly the Prince of Peace. The crowd missed the sign and symbolism of the donkey. They wanted war. They wanted their own goals.

Jewish leaders in frustration called out prophetically:

See! The whole world has gone after Him.

Jesus showed magnificent courage. He knew they were after Him and still He enters very publicly in defiance of what they could do to Him.

 

120. God in action!

[John 11]

What is a miracle? It is an event in the lives of men that can only be explained in supernatural terms. The official definition underlines the mystery aspect of a highly improbable or extraordinary event.

As the dictionary puts it: It is a surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency.

 A miracle is described as surprising and welcome, a positive outcome. It is the opposite of the crisis or circumstances that gave rise to the need for divine intervention. In other words, it is the inexplicable rectification of a catastrophic or heartbreaking situation.

A miracle is God in action. It is our loving Father, almighty creator-God, who intervenes and does the impossible for our benefit. A miracle is welcomed as a relief where relief was not humanly possible.

Miracles are answered prayers.

God is a mystery, operating in the unseen. Where shall we find Him and how will we “see” His action. God is the God of His people. We “see” Him active His community.

William Barclay explained how a certain Rabbi expounded the text in Deuteronomy 13:4:”You shall walk after the Lord your God.” He said that text commands us to imitate the things, which God is depicted as doing in scripture. God clothed the naked (Genesis 3:21); God visited the sick (Genesis 18:1). God comforted the mourners (Genesis 25:11); God buried the dead (Deuteronomy 34:6). In all these things we must imitate the actions of God.

In this section of John 11:17-27 we meet the household of Jesus’ friends in Bethany. Martha is true to character (Luke 10:38-42).  Martha loved action, and Mary sat still. Martha was up to meet Jesus.

When Martha met Jesus her heart spoke through her lips. Martha’s words were half reproach that came out in desperation and half with faith that is now so disappointed:

If you had been here,”she said, “my brother would not have died.”

Through her words she is asking: “Jesus, why are you late. If you had come when we sent the message, Lazarus would live.” Still there is faith in her words: I know that God will give you whatever you ask.”

Martha mentioned the general resurrection on the last day. It is very important words from Martha:

One of the strangest things in scripture is the fact that the saints of the Old Testament had practically no belief in any real life after death. In the early days, the Hebrews believed that the soul of every man, good and bad alike, went to Sheol or Hades. Sheol is wrongly translated Hell; for it was not a place of torture, it was the land of the shades. All alike went there and they lived a vague, shadowy, strengthless, joyless ghostly kind of life. (Psalms 6:5;30:9and many others). It is Hezekiah’s pessimistic belief that:

“For Sheol cannot thank You,

Death cannot praise You;
Those who go down to the pit cannot hope for Your truth.(Isaiah 38:18).

In Psalms 16:9-11and 73:23-24 the Psalmist wants to believe that not even death can separate him from God. This immortal hope we find in Job. While facing all his disasters, Job cried out:

For I know that my Redeemer lives,
And He shall stand at last on the earth;

And after my skin is destroyed, this I know,
That in my flesh I shall see God,   (Job 19:25-26)

In the time of Jesus the Sadducees did not believe in life after death, but the Pharisees and the great majority of the Jews did. Those who died saw God, and they refused to call them the dead but called them the living. Martha reached out in faith to this belief.

Jesus answered:

I am the Resurrection and the Life,” We have faith in Him for life. His life in us makes NO provision for death of any kind.

Not even a lifetime’s thinking will reveal the full meaning of this; but we must try to grasp as much of it as we can.[William Barclay]

Life is so much more than physical. Even if life is so hard, it makes it almost not worth living, Jesus can make him alive again.”

There is life to come. Death is not the end. Death is just a door into the invisible.

Physical death is the sunrise, the dawn of eternity.

It was the custom, especially for the women, to go to the tomb to weep on every possible occasion, for a week after the burial. Mary’s greeting was exactly the same as that of Martha.

We must remember that this would be no gentle shedding of tears. It would be almost hysterical wailing and shrieking, for it was the Jewish point of view that the more unrestrained the weeping, the more honour it paid to the dead.

Jesus was deeply moved in spirit. The word comes from the verbembrimasthai. It is used three other times in the New Testament. It means rather to rebuke, to give a stern order to.

Why the anger? It is suggested that the display of tears by the Jewish visitors to Bethany was sheer hypocrisy – artificial grief raised Jesus’ wrath. In ordinary classical Greek the usual usage of embrimasthaiis a horse snorting. Such deep emotion seized Jesus that an involuntary groan was wrung from his heart.

Here is one of the most precious things in the gospel. So deeply did Jesus enter into men’s sorrows that his heart was wrung with anguish.

John had written his whole gospel on the theme that in Jesus we see the mind of God. To the Greek the primary characteristic of God was what he called which means total inability to feel any emotion whatsoever. 

If we can feel sorrow or joy, gladness or grief, it means that someone can have an effect upon us. Now, if a person has an effect upon us, it means that for the moment that person has power over us. No one can have any power over God; and this must mean that God is essentially incapable of feeling any emotion whatsoever.

The Greeks believed in an isolated, passionless and compassionless God. 

What a different picture Jesus gave! God’s heart is wrung with compassion for the anguish of his people. God cares.

The usual Palestinian tomb was a natural cave or a space hewn out of the rock. The bodies were wrapped in linen but the hands and feet were enfolded in bandage-like wrappings and the head was wrapped separately. In front of the opening ran a groove in which a great stone like a cartwheel was rolled across the entrance to seal the grave.

Jesus asked the stone to be moved. Martha thought that Jesus wished to look on the face of his dead friend for the last time. She did not think this a good idea and pointed out that Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days. It was Jewish belief that the spirit of the departed hovered around his tomb for three days, seeking re-entrance. But after three days the spirit finally left. A decayed face was not easily recognizable.

Then Jesus spoke his word of command which even death was powerless to oppose. 

Lazarus came forth.It is weird to think of the bandaged figure staggering out from the tomb. Jesus told them to loosen the grave-clothes and wrappings and let him go. Most probably everybody around the grave stood stunned and just stared, not believing their eyes and not moving.

When Jesus spoke the power of God flowed through him.

Jesus spoke this miracle into being to honour God, just like Elijah when he prayed: “Answer me, O Lord, that this people may know that you are God”(1 Kings 18:37).

In the other three gospels there are accounts of people being raised from the dead: Jairus’ daughter (Matthew 9:18-26; Mark 5:21-43; Luke 8:40-56) and the raising of the widow’s son at Nain (Luke 7:11-16). In both cases the raising followed immediately after death. It might be possible to believe that in both these miracles the person raised was in a coma.

Burial had to take place quickly in the hot climate of Palestine. Evidence in graves pointed to the fact that people were sometimes buried alive. It could well be that these were miracles of diagnosis in which Jesus saved two young people from a dreadful death.

But there is no parallel for the raising of a man who had been dead for four days and whose body had begun to putrefy.

The Sanhedrin was called to deal with the situation. The miracle of Lazarus forced their hand.

In the Sanhedrin there were bothPharisees and Sadducees. The Pharisees were not a political party. They lived the law. The Sadducees were political. They were wealthy and aristocratic. To retain their wealth, comfort and position of authority, they collaborated with Rome. All the priests were Sadducees. They did all the talking.

They were notoriously discourteous. Their contemptuous arrogance is a stark contrast to the accents of love of Jesus. 

They were set on the retention of their political and social power and prestige. Jesus might gain a following and raise a rebellion against the government. Rome could never afford civil disorder and always quelled it with a firm and merciless hand. The Sadducees would be dismissed. It never even occurred to them to ask whether Jesus was right or wrong.

A man can set his own career before the will of God. 

History shows an example of dramatic irony. The Sadducees insisted that Jesus must be eliminated to prevent the Romans to take their authority away. In 70AD that is exactly what happened. The Romans besieged Jerusalem and left it a heap of ruins. How different things might have been if the Jews had accepted Jesus!

Caiaphas, the High Priest, made his very ironic, very true statement: Better that one man should perish than that the whole nation should perish.

The High Priest’s role was to ask God’s counsel for the nation. Moses told Joshua when he wished for God’s counsel he was to go to Eleazar the High Priest. (Numbers 27:18-21)

God can speak through the most unlikely people.Sometimes He sends his message through a man without the man being aware. He can use even the words of bad men.

Jesus was to die for the Jewish nation and the world.

By this time Jerusalem was beginning to fill up with people for the Passover. The Jews had to be ceremonially clean for the Feast. Any person would become unclean by touching a corpse. Purifications were carried out in the Temple.

One can just imagine the talk. The people knew what was going on. People are always interested in the man who bravely and stubbornly faces fearful odds. This was Jesus against the authorities.

The conclusion of the gossip was that Jesus could not possibly come to Jerusalem. He could not take on the whole might of Jewish leaders and political authorities.

But they had underrated Jesus. Nothing on earth would stop Him coming. Jesus came to Jerusalem openly. He drew attention upon himself with death-defying courage.

 

73. One day to another – no greater contrast ever.

I grew up with Good Friday. I cannot remember all of them well, but I know they were there. For a period of at least twenty five years, Easter weekend was engulfed in a church tradition called camp meeting time – a period of ten days every year when going to church and socializing with people from church were the main activities. We drove a few kilometers outside Johannesburg, South Africa to a huge piece of land where people from all over the country came to pitch a tent or park a caravan. There were also huts and wooden structures erected specially for this time of year.

Later during high school years and university, I studied through many Easter weekends, but even then I would not miss the “big” services – Good Friday morning and the celebration of the resurrection on the Sunday after. Camp meeting services were conducted in a rough and cold brick building with a corrugated iron roof. This structure could seat quite a few thousand people with a platform for an extensive band and the church leadership. The singing was heavenly and after camp meeting time, everybody went home with new songs on their lips, but more important, in their hearts.

Many testimonies of miracles were associated with this building. For most of the services the people were invited to write their prayer requests on pieces of paper. These little papers were then assembled in front and prayed over with the church leaders stretching out their hands over them. My mother once “saw” in the Spirit how one of the corrugated iron sections of the roof “opened” and the prayer requests were “flying” out as if a gushing wind were gathering them up to heaven. She knew they were all safely in the Hands of our loving heavenly Father.

My two elder boys still experienced camp meeting time. No one ever missed the last Sunday night “goodbye” service. April was usually rainy and cooler. We carried two heavy quilts into the service for them to sleep if the three hours got a bit long for them. Yes… three hours! We would sing for at least an hour, worshipping until the heavens opened in every heart and the intercessory prayer could start for a long line of needs.

My brother had a wooden structure put up, where we could meet after services and on camping chairs and picnic tables eat the most wonderful moveable feasts, carried in baskets and cooler bags from home kitchens. My boys called it: the Ark. On the last Sunday evening, we would choose one of the many church stalls baking “crepes”, which we called pancakes, but were more like the French crepes; the size of a dinner plate and wafer thin with cinnamon sugar and rolled. That would be the farewell-food, enjoyed while people came to say goodbye and sit a while for a testimony or two.

I will never forget the talk. People talked about God, all the time – freely, passionately and wholeheartedly. All ages, especially the veterans were walking worshipping testimonials to the goodness and provision of God.

Then there were the kids, joyfully bundled together in their own hall; the radiant Corner of Sunshine as it was called. A cousin of my dad was the leader and preacher and between him and his family they did the singing and the teaching. His messages were illustrated and fun; always making sure the children under 12 were learning about their good heavenly Dad, looking out for them faithfully. The farewell song of the Sunshine kids on the last Sunday night of the camp meeting, I sing to this day – the last verse of Psalm 23:

Surely goodness and mercy

Shall follow me

All the days, all the days of my life

And I shall dwell in the house of my Lord forever

And I shall sit at the table prepared for me

Surely goodness and mercy…

This past weekend was Easter and I am a million miles away in time and space from those years. Why do I remember?

I know why.

Many years later in adult life, I once attended a United Church Easter service in a town on the south coast of South Africa, called Hermanus. The reverent there was a well-known radio preacher, Martin Holt. I have always had a deep appreciation for Latin, which I learnt at school as well as university, partly since studying Law required knowledge of Latin. His sermon’s title was Vivit – the Latin for He Lives! He was so thrilled to bring this news to his congregation that his anointing rubbed off in this word that burnt itself into my mind.

I know why I remember that Easters of my past. No Easter, no church, no testimony, no prayer would be possible without the shout of the women that first Easter morning: Vivit – He lives!

This one fact changes everything. It is the contrast from a Saturday of darkness in death to the Sunday of light in life.

This week, is the week after the celebration of that day when Jesus said to Mary in the garden:

But go, tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.” (Mark 16:7)

Where are you these days after Easter? Are you caught in death and the darkness of the Saturday, just like Peter, feeling the failure of personal defeat and crushed dreams?

Jesus says to you, just as specially as he mentioned Peter, to go to the meeting place where you met Him the first time – your Galilee. He knew how utterly broken Peter was, after his betrayal and after the cruel crucifixion killing. He knew what effect His appearance will have on Peter.

He knows what you need, right now. He is waiting for you… He knows that your life will be changed when you see Him.

Go and shout it out – Vivit! – He lives … because He has risen from the dead.

51. More wind and storm… and angels.

The plot thickens in the seventh chapter. A superficial reading could be confusing and discouraging. Winds and angels, numbers and multitudes, marks and seals, loud voices and worship songs are all combined to describe cosmic history in a few words. Hang in there, go slowly and grasp the metaphors and symbols to understand and enjoy. Remember, we have anointed minds and blessed understanding. Instead of groping for a clear picture, relax and “hear” the still, small voice of your Father and His kind words of encouragement. He is very aware of your current position in His Word and He will enlighten to your mind and communicate to your heart.

It was a common belief amongst the Jews that angels control the earth. They believed the earth to be square and flat. The winds from north, south, east and west were good, but winds blowing diagonally across the earth were bad. They knew the angel of fire as mentioned in Revelation 14:18 and the angel of waters as in Revelation 16:5. They also believed that angels could hold back judgment, but only on a command from God.

The Sirocco was known as an especially dreadful wind. It was a whirlwind that withered vegetation and destroyed the harvest. (Zechariah 6:1-5, Nahum 1:3,4, Psalm 18:15, Isaiah 40:7,24, 66:15)

Psalm (83:13) declares that God will destroy his enemies as stubble before the wind. Other scriptures talk about the destruction of fertility by the wind. [Jeremiah 23:19, 30:23. Hosea 13:15]

We might know more about the weather patterns, but we should always appreciate that God is in control.

 The control of the angels holds the winds and blocks harm until salvation is sealed over the godly. The winds are symbolic of evil forces. The east was always regarded as the source of blessing; the rising of the sun. The sun symbolizes the giving of light and life. God promises life and light within strife and adversity.

We serve the living God, in contrast to idols made by human hands, more than enough against the overwhelming evil forces. [Isaiah 44:9-17, 2 Kings 18: 17-37]

We are privileged to carry the seal or mark of the living God, so that we are protected from evil. We read about the man clothed in linen, with a scribe’s writing case at his side who marks the foreheads of the faithful in Ezekiel 9: 1-7.

In ancient times the king’s seal was very significant. The king wore a signet ring to authenticate documents and property. It was an undisputed authoritative representation of the King’s command and trust. [Genesis 41:42 – Joseph, Esther 3:10,8:2]

The lion’s den was sealed (Daniel 6:17) as was Jesus’ tomb. (Matthew 27:66). It indicated a source of possession for merchants and vineyards.

To the early church the seal was baptism. In the early church people were always baptized wearing white clothes. [Zechariah 3:4]

Our baptism is sealed with the Holy Spirit. It is the full package of salvation and protection from evil in this world.

And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, (Ephesians 1:13, NIV)

We are sealed from God’s wrath, not from tribulation and death. We are not exempt from distress on earth, but safely brought through. We are the testimony to the world. The church is the warning, the assurance and the promise – all at the same time. We live and walk side by side with the unbeliever, but plugged into the Source of life, to live as an example of a life of excellence within the brokenness and strife.

The 144 000 is a symbol of completeness. The military division of the camp of Israel was 1000, thus 10x10x10, which is a perfect cube. The number 144 is 12×12, which includes the elders – the tribes and the apostles. It is the symbol of the faithful remnant of the Old and the New Testaments. It is the complete spiritual Israel. [Galatians 6:16, Revelation 14:1-5]

The number is inclusive and not limited. It depicts multiplication.

Not all Jews belong to Israel, according to Romans 9:6-8:

It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.

We are Abraham’s offspring in Christ. [Galatians 3:29, 6:16]

The tribes mentioned in Revelation 7 are in no particular order. Judah is first as the source of Jesus. Dan is omitted because of idolatry and judgment (Genesis 49:17) and regarded as the enemy (Jeremiah 8:16). Manasseh (Joseph’s son) is in this list.

Verses 9 -17 talk about the blessed state of the redeemed in heaven. It is the church triumphant, with the great cloud of witnesses.

(Hebrews 12:1) The number of the martyrs is too great to count. Israel blesses every nation on earth. [Genesis 15:5, 32:12] It is a great multitude from many nations and many tongues.

They will have palms and white robes, illustrating their victory and jubilation, filled with praise and worship for the Source of Salvation. A sevenfold ascription of adoration flows in praise:

Blessing, glory, wisdom, thanksgiving, honour, power, might and everlasting.

Power can be described by 4 words in Greek:

  • koach – capacity, ability
  • exousia – authority, right to act
  • dunamis – might, great force
  • kratos – effective power shown in reigning

All the words used are in the present participle tense, expressing continuous and repeated action. Worship is not a once-for-all. Tribulation is taking place throughout the church age and still the church is triumphant.

The great tribulation is an acceleration and intensification of troublesome times climaxing in the second coming of Jesus.

Only through the Blood can we be made righteous and therefore white meaning cleansed from sin. The blood covers the sacrifice for the past (forgiveness of sins), the present (peace and salvation through faith) and the future (guaranteed glory with Christ). Ancient mysticism involved the blood of sacrificial animals to wash over a person.

They are sheltered by the presence of God. He will spread His tabernacle over them. The promise of His presence is open to all; also women and the gentiles. The shechinah was His visible presence like a tent. The Temple in the time of Jesus separated the places for the gentiles and the women. It explains Jesus’ anger and His highly controversial cleansing. (Matthew 21:12)

The Lamb is the shepherd – a well-known image in the ancient world. [Psalm 23, Isaiah 25:8 Ezekiel 34:24] He will care for His sheep with fountains of the water of life – no lack, no thirst. [Isaiah 55]

These verses are full of encouragement and hope fulfilled into the best possible scenario – victory in spite of tribulation. Their weeping is comforted. They will shout of triumph as in the days of Jericho.

Deliverance is not escape, but conquest.

God brings them triumphantly through trouble. Life is not easy, but life is great. This is the true Christian hope: not to be saved from trouble and distress, but to endure and to be guaranteed the glory of reward – Jude 24.

Their hunger and thirst for righteousness, will be filled. [Matthew 5]

Jesus is the Bread of Life. In Him there is no hunger or thirst. [John 6:35]

…but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14)

 

They will neither hunger nor thirst,

    nor will the desert heat or the sun beat down on them.

He who has compassion on them will guide them

    and lead them beside springs of water. (Isaiah 49:10)

 

 The divine shepherd.

This is a precious picture in any age; but it was more meaningful in Palestine than it can ever be to those who live in cities. Judaea was like a narrow plateau with dangerous country on either side. It was only a very few miles across, with on one side the grim cliffs and ravines leading down to the Dead Sea and on the other the drop to the wild country of the Shephelah. There were no fences or walls and the shepherd had to be ever on the watch for straying sheep. George Adam Smith describes the eastern shepherd. “With us sheep are often left to themselves; I do not remember to have seen in the East a flock without a shepherd. In such a landscape as Judaea, where a day’s pasture is thinly scattered over an unfenced track, covered with delusive paths, still frequented by wild beasts, and rolling into the desert, the man and his character are indispensable. On some high moor, across which at night hyenas howl, when you met him sleepless, far-sighted, weather-beaten, armed, leaning on his staff, and looking out over his scattered sheep, every one on his heart, you understand why the shepherd of Judaea sprang to the front in his people’s history; why they gave his name to their king, and made him the symbol of Providence; why Christ took him as the type of self-sacrifice.”

Here we have the two great functions of the Divine Shepherd. He leads to fountains of living waters. As the psalmist had it: “He leads me beside still waters” (Psalms 23:2). “With thee is the fountain of life” (Psalms 36:9). Without water the flock would perish; and in Palestine the wells were few and far between. That the Divine Shepherd leads to wells of water is the symbol that he gives us the things without which life cannot survive.

He wipes the tear from every eye. As he nourishes our bodies so he also comforts our hearts; without the presence and the comfort of God the sorrows of life would be unbearable, and without the strength of God there are times in life when we could never go on.

The Divine Shepherd gives us nourishment for our bodies and comfort for our hearts. With Jesus Christ as Shepherd nothing can happen to us, which we cannot bear.

 

[Quoted from William Barclay – Daily Study Bible – Revelation – http://www.studylight.org]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

43. No confusion – listen and live!

God never intended confusion, yet when we look at the world around us, confusion reigns like a mad, headless horseman, galloping through public life and characters as well as personal lives and relationships. Governments struggle to maintain order, people strive for stability and security, all of which typify the kingdom of God. What we learn, we must teach our children as a treasure so that they can listen and live.

The things [the doctrine, the precepts, the admonitions, the sum of my ministry], which you have heard me teach in the presence of many witnesses, entrust [as a treasure] to reliable and faithful men who will also be capable and qualified to teach others.

2 Timothy 2:2

On our walk through the revealed mystery of Revelation, we must first and foremost declare God as multi-faceted and larger than anything we know or hope to know. The explanation that we will study together is a scraping of the surface and a possible analysis. Mostly I have endeavoured to stay away from dispensational interpretations of which there are a number who are all plausible.

“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things which are revealed and disclosed belong to us and to our children forever, so that we may do all of the words of this law. Deuteronomy 29:29

We are in the unique position in the universe to have experienced the salvation of God. This treasure is our legacy and distinguishing symbol – the mark on our forehead that will make us known to the angels, who are not saved beings, but created by God as the hosts of heaven. The church carries the great work of Christ in the universe as Paul declares:

to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places. Ephesians 3:10:

What a magnificent and majestic role to play in our time! Gear up Pebble pals – our triumphal parade ground with Christ is far beyond all we can think or dream of. May God equip us in every way, especially with a word in season.

“The Lord God has given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him who is weary. Isaiah 50:4.

Reading through the first chapter of Revelation, be quick to recognize the most important principles for studying the book. The Holy Spirit governs everything. His portrays the mind of God. Christ has given everything to the world, now He comes to take account.

Always the attitude is positive. His desire is to bless. Blessing is the purpose of exposure, warning and uncovering. Every step of the way there is encouragement and reward for obedience.

All judgment and condemnation are always meant to clear the way for blessing and God’s approval.

Sin blocks blessing. This is a spiritual principle. (1:1-3) There are seven blessings proclaimed throughout Revelation. Let’s rejoice in it.

 

  1. Blessing of the word – to read, hear, keep, obey (1:3)
  2. Blessing of the Dead (14:13)
  3. Blessing on those who stay awake (16:15)
  4. Blessing of the Invited (19:9)
  5. First resurrection – no touch of death (20:6) Salvation keeps you from death.
  6. Blessing of the wise (22:7)
  7. Blessing on those who have washed robes (22:14)

For those of us who have been redeemed by the Cross and therefore have received everlasting life through rebirth, all of the above apply.

The central theme of the whole prophecy is to bring Christ in His supreme fullness into view. Absolutely everything is centered on Christ. John paints a very vivid word picture of Jesus as he sees Him in this chapter.

Seven-fold characterization:

  1. Garment – head to foot
  2. Girdle of gold
  3. Head and hair – like wool
  4. Eyes as a flame of fire
  5. Feet as burnished brass
  6. Voice as the sound of many waters
  7. Sword – sharp and two-edged, proceeding out of his mouth

Seven spirits (1:4,5) depict the sevenfold expression of the Holy Spirit. The throne is a symbol of government and authority, which is one of the functions of the Holy Spirit. Describing the throne is a vision of the Trinity in action who demands the features of Christ in the church. [I hope you are now reaching for your Bible to read the first chapter again.]

 “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. (1:8)

John bends Greek grammar to show his reverence to God. He shows God to be supreme even if language demands otherwise. Alpha is the first letter and Omega the last letter of the Greek alphabet to signify completeness and full inclusion of everything ever.

The beginning and the end is God’s description of Himself – Isaiah 44:6, 48:12.

To call God Almighty is to declare His dominion over all things. The church was failing and scattered at this point in history. It is best described in the words of the English poet Sir William Watson: the panting huddled flock whose crime was Christ.

The encouragement comes strong and clear. Revelation 19:6: The Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Nothing can pluck us away from the hand of the Almighty.

The lamps are torches of fire to reveal, test and determine. The lamp stand is a familiar image. The candlestick was pure gold in the tabernacle, as was the candlestick in the Temple of Solomon (1 Kings 7:49) and the vision of Zechariah (4:2). To reveal sin and to purify our lives are functions of the Holy Spirit. Christ will baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit in the words of John the Baptist. (Matthew 3:11,12)

Important principle: the best way to prepare for the revelation of new truth is to study the revelation, which God has already given. John knew the Old Testament well. We have the revealed will of God in the Word. His specific will for our lives will be revealed when we study that which is given.

Son of man (1:13) is how Jesus calls himself in John 1:51. Man is God’s special creation. The title “Son of man” embraces the original purpose of mankind – lost then redeemed by the divine Son of man. Jesus is God’s model for what He intended in the first place. The lamps reveal truth. The truth is how evident the Son of man is in mankind. We have Christ in us.

Garment covering is full covering, not priestly, but is reminiscent of the priestly garment signifying the opening to the Presence of God. (Daniel 7:13.) Fine linen with a gold girdle was the robe of kings as well as special messengers of the king. Christ stands as divine messenger (prophet) from the Throne. He is priest, prophet and king.

Girdle of gold (1:4,5) is the burning fire of the first love.

It is only with love that we are girded for action. The Pharisees were not girded, only clothed with their own garment – the law. Love makes you worthy. Love will stand the test of fire, never pride and pretense.

Testing of fire is the crisis in our life. 1 Corinthians 3:12,13:

Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.

Girdle is good for action so that no pretentious clothes get in the way of work (ministry). Gird up your loins is the call for action. Gold always speaks of God. Breast always speaks of love. Love is first then works will follow.

Head and hair – white as wool, like snow

Daniel 7:9 describes the Ancient One and stainless purity. (Isaiah 1:18).

Eyes as a flame of fire

Daniel 10:6: Eyes like flaming torches is a description of eyes that can never be forgotten. The Gospels give the impression that those who looked Jesus in the eye could never forget Him. (Mark 3:34, 10:23, 11:11) His eyes flashed in anger – Mark 3:5, looked in love – Mark 10:21 and sorrow – Luke 22:61.

To study this precious vision is to catch Jesus’ eye. The impression on our life can never be ignored or forgotten. In the words of C.S. Lewis:

“I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away?”

Feet like beaten brass – refined by fire in a furnace.

Daniel 10:6 – arms and legs of the divine messenger was like burnished bronze and Ezekiel 1:7 the feet of angelic beings. It brings us under the impression of strength and the shining rays of speed – God is swift to help.

Voice like the sound of many waters

Ezekiel 43:2. For John it might have been amplified by the roar of the waves in the cave on the island. God’s voice is not confined to one description. It can be the still small voice that Elijah heard in 1 Kings 19:12.

Seven stars in His right hand.

God controls the stars, with His outstretched hand. Job 38:31. He alone can tell you not to be afraid.

Out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword.

The sword described here was the Roman fighting sword – short and tongue-shaped, not the long fencer’s blade. (Isaiah 11:14 & 49:2,

Hebrews 4:12)

His face was as the sun shining in its strength

Matthew 17:2 describes the transfiguration on the mount and says his face shone like the sun. John was present on that occasion.

In His almost unapproachable glory He says: Don’t be afraid. They were terrified by the divine. (Matthew 17:7)

He declares himself the living one who was dead and alive forever, as identification to John. John himself experienced the empty tomb on that Sunday a few decades before he writes this.

Keys to death and Hades

Christ rules over the gates of death. (Psalm 9:13, 107:18 & Isaiah 38:10)

Christ brought life and immortality. (2 Timothy 1:10) He lives and because He lives, we live (John 14:19) For the saved, the bitterness of death is forever past (1 Corinthians 15).

At the end of the first chapter, it is clear that Revelation feeds on the well-known images and symbols of the entire Scripture as was known at the time John wrote the vision. This was the code according to which he got the message out. Remember always that John called himself the beloved disciple. Jesus did not love him more than the others. John himself had a special revelation of how much Jesus loved him. What a blessing! May we come to the revelation of God’s love for us as the first blessing of the study of this book.

It is impossible for us to get the message out without the code. Our code is LOVE.

And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:2

Pebble pals, you might feel the first excitement of revealed knowledge, a clear view of our loving God and more understanding. I hope so. That is good. BUT…test yourself first and foremost:

Love suffers long and is kind;

     love does not envy;

          love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; 

does not behave rudely,

     does not seek its own,

          is not provoked,

thinks no evil;

     does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 

          bears all things,

               believes all things,

                    hopes all things,

endures all things.

 

Next time: The seven churches.