138. He does what He said He would do.

[John 20]

THE RESURRECTION

Christianity as a whole is based on the Resurrection.

It was customary to visit the tomb for three days after the burial.  They also believed that the spirit of the person hovered for three days and only then departed.  Thereafter the body would become unrecognizable through decay.

For Jesus they could not make the journey on the second day, the Sabbath.  It would mean they would break the law. On Sunday morning Mary came early. The Greek is proi, which means the last of the four watches between three and six am.  The sky was still dark grey but she couldn’t wait any longer.

Mary Magdalene loved Jesus.  She was liberated, healed, redeemed and whole and she will never forget the Man who made it all possible.

She was amazed and shocked.  Tombs in ancient times were hewn out of rock and closed by a huge circular rock running in a groove in the ground to close the opening.  The authorities sealed and guarded the tomb of Jesus (Matthew 27:66).

Mary might have thought the Jewish leaders took the body, but it is unlikely that they would touch a dead body or have anything to do with the dead over the Sabbath.

She had to share the fact that He is not there, so she ran to get Peter and the others.  In the other Gospels it tells of the man or men guarding the tomb who told the women (it was not only Mary) that Jesus is risen (Matthew 28, Mark 16 and Luke 24).  Mark tells of the young man by the grave specifically mentioning Peter’s name.

What follows is the description of a race – by John himself with, most probably, himself in the race.  It reads almost comical.  (John 20:3-8)

Peter was still acknowledged as the leader.   It was to him that Mary went.  Jesus mentioned Peter by name.  He was amongst his brothers.  Even in his failure, defeat and heartbroken state of bewilderment, he found his way back to them. Judas was alone in his suicide. Peter’s denial of Jesus probably spread like wildfire, but he could still, in his deepest brokenness, face his brothers and found solace in their company.  Even in his defeat he was still the leader.

John ran faster; he was younger.  John looked in but Peter ran right on and in, so typical of his nature.  Peter was amazed and still, but John’s mind started working.  If somebody stole the body why did they leave the grave clothes?

The clothes were not disarranged.  The clothes were where the body had been and exactly in the shape of the body – in their folds.  The grave clothes told a whole story of their own.  They looked as if the body has just evaporated from them.   The napkin for the head was folded neatly.  It was folded like the napkin of somebody with the intention to come back to the meal at the table.  The sight spoke to John and he believed.  He saw with his own eyes and believed.

Love is the foundation of faith.  Love brought Mary to the tomb, love made John believe.  Love opened his eyes and mind.

Love is the interpreter of life.  Love knows truth when the mind is still struggling and uncertain.

The scene in the garden where Mary recognizes Jesus is probably one of the most dramatic moments in literature.  Mary was the first to see the risen Christ.  Her love is the driving force of all her actions.

Mary brought the news to the disciples and was probably left behind in the race, but comes back to the garden.  They have already left again, running to the others with the news.  Mary stood weeping.  She didn’t know where to now or what to make of things.  She was confused and bewildered.  She could not recognize this man talking to her through her tears.  Her sorrow blinded her.

In loss we weep for ourselves.  The loved one is with God, no need for tears there.  But we feel the sharp pain of loss.  As long as our tears are lifted up to God so that we do not miss the glory.

Mary’s eyes were on the tomb.  She was looking in the wrong direction.  Our eye must be on heaven and God with us where we will know that our loved one is in His presence.  Tears are good, cry, grieve – but do not despair and keep your eyes on the tomb.

Her conversation reflects her love.  She asks to know where Jesus is.  She asks humbly and respectfully.  She does not mention His name.

She assumes that everyone will know of whom she is talking.  Her whole world begins and ends with the man she loves.

He calls her name.  She knew immediately.  The way He spoke her name was instant recognition.  Her answer was Rabboni (Aramaic for Rabbi or Master).

Jesus instructs Mary not to touch Him (20:11-18).  Just later on in the chapter he invites Thomas to touch Him (20:27).  He says He is flesh and bone (Luke 24:39).  Normally one would say: flesh and blood, but His blood was shed and He never took it back.

In Matthew (28:9) the disciples held His feet and worshipped Him.

The commentators give various reasons for this.  They suggest it might be a mistranslation and might have been intended to be: Do not fear, instead of do not touch.  They also think it might have been Jesus’ instruction to Mary not to hold on to Him too much, since He was on His way to heaven and will not be with her always.  She had to learn to communicate with Him without physical touch.

My own inclination is to accept the explanation that Jesus was on His way to enter heaven triumphantly as described in Revelation 5. He was the first fruit of the church (sheaf of wheat) to wave before the Father, just like at the Feast of the Firstfruits:

“Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, when you come into the land which I give unto you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then you shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest unto the priest.

And he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, to be accepted for you: on the morning after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it” (Leviticus 23:10-11)

The Feast of the Firstfruits is celebrated after the Sabbath in the week of the Passover and the first sheaf of wheat is waved before the priest. Jesus was the first fruit of the harvest of the church and was glorified before the Father.

 But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  (1 Corinthians 15:20)

We have to explain things in calculated time.  In a glorified state Jesus could enter time and leave it again as He wanted to.  He had full control over His glorification.  He was back in His heavenly realm and showed Himself on earth to whom He willed and when He wanted.  He entered the seen from the unseen as He conducted His appearances until the Ascension.

It could be that His words not to touch Him, reflects the heavenly Feast of the Firstfruits.   He entered heaven without human touch to be glorified before the Father in triumphant celebration of His victory.

 And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain,having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth.  Then He came and took the scroll out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. (Revelation 5:6,7)

Our earthly spiritual rituals as explained in the Word of God have heavenly counterparts.  The New Jerusalem is the perfect cube just like the Ark of the Covenenant, signifying the presence of God.

It is what the church should be – the place where the world enters into the presence of the Most High.

Jesus’ resurrection had actually occurred near or at sunset the previous day as the weekly Sabbath day was ending.  The Sunday is actually not the day of the resurrection, but the celebration of the first fruits.

Jesus ascended to the Father to be accepted formally as the first to be raised from the dead in God’s spiritual harvest of humanity.

 

*****************************************************************************

 

[A short explanation of Easter and the origins of eggs and bunnies:

Easter is associated with the Babylonian feast of first fruits, a spring festival when the pagans asked their fertility god Ishtar, where the name Easter comes from for new babies.  The egg hunt is to celebrate the attempts to conceive new life.  Fertile things in nature are worshipped like rabbits.  The people wore new clothes to celebrate the buds on the trees.]

 

 

Advertisements

137. The cross and the grave.

[John 19:17-42]

THE CROSS

There was no death more terrible than by way of crucifixion.  Even the Romans trembled by the thought and found it despicable.  No Roman citizen could be crucified.  For a Roman, execution was mostly beheading or forced suicide by drinking poison.  Crucifixion was for slaves and criminals.  The cross was originally a Persian method of execution.  They argued that a criminal could not defile the earth while dying and should be lifted up.  The Carthaginians in North Africa took it over from the Persians.  Through them it came to Rome.

Jesus died the death most dreaded in the ancient world.

Execution took place immediately after a verdict was pronounced. The convicted had to carry his own cross.  After scourging it was a bloody procession of lashing and mocking to get the staggering prisoner to the place of execution.  In front of him was a soldier with a placard stating his crime.  He was led through as many streets as possible to serve as a warning to all watching, but also possible leniency.  If there were any person who could bear witness in the prisoner’s favour, he was allowed to come forward. If so, the procession stopped and the trial was repeated.  Nobody came when Jesus walked the Via Dolorosa.

In Jerusalem the place of execution was called the Place of the Skull (Hebrew = Golgotha). Calvary is Latin.  A criminal could not die in the city so it was outside the city walls.

The name could have come from the shape of the hill as a skull, but others suggest that the Romans never buried the body of the criminal.  They simply let it lie on a “rubbish” heap of bodies until it rotted away.  Death by crucifixion could last for days.  The Jews, however, buried a body by nightfall.  They would never have a place for dead bodies just outside the city walls.

Bleeding, in shock of the cruel beating, Jesus carried His cross to Calvary.

The placard for the cross was written in Hebrew, Latin and Greek. They were the three great nations of the ancient world at the time. The culmination of their talents could have been great.  The Romans taught law and good government, the Greeks taught philosophy and art and the Hebrews had access to the one true God.

Jesus was the supreme beauty and highest thought of God.  In him was the law of God and the kingdom of God. In him was the very image of God.  All the world’s seekings and strivings found their consummation in him.  It was symbolic that the three great languages of the world should call him king. [William Barclay]

The inscription on the cross was to irritate the Jews.  Pilate did it on purpose. The Jewish leaders asked him to remove it and he refused saying: What I have written, I have written.  Stubborn about his words, he yielded to them condemning an innocent man to death.

The soldiers received the clothes of the victim.  Crucifixion needed four soldiers. There were probably five items – shoes, turban, belt, tunic and outer robe.  They threw a dice to divide the items and the outer tunic was left.  It was seamless, woven in one piece and they could not cut it in a way that each one would have something of value.  They probably carried dice with them to while away the hours below a cross waiting for death.  They had to guard the body lest any of the friends would cut Him down.  The soldiers could have been intoxicated. Usually they had alcohol with them to dull their senses in carrying out such cruelty.

Their indifference to the agony of the dying man is shocking.

Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?
Behold and see
If there is any sorrow like my sorrow,
Which has been brought on me,
Which the Lord has inflicted
In the day of His fierce anger.(Lamentations 1:12)

The tunic woven in one piece was described exactly as the one the High Priest wore. The function of the High Priest was to be the connection of the people to God.  The Latin for priest is Pontifex, which means bridge-builder.  This is exactly what the cross did.  Jesus was the perfect High Priest, the bridge-builder to the presence of God.

The dividing of His clothes is foretold in Psalms 22:18.

There were four women at the cross.  Jesus’ mother Mary, her sister, Salome, Mary, the wife of Clopas and Mary of Magdala.  It was always dangerous to be associated to anybody on the wrong side of Roman authority.  Their love overcame their fear.  They had to be with Him, in His presence until He died.

His mother’s presence was natural and expected, although risky.  There was Mary’s sister, Salome, the mother of James and John (Mark 15:40; Matthew 27:56).  She is the one who asked about her son’s positions in the Kingdom and received a correction from Jesus.   Even after being reprimanded by Jesus, she is here at the cross, which demonstrates His perfect love in correction.

Mary of Magdala is the woman mentioned in Mark 16:9 and Luke 8:2. Jesus cast out seven devils from her.  He rescued her life.  The third Mary, wife of Clopas, is unknown and only mentioned in John.

In a beautiful concern for the immediate future Jesus committed the care of His mother to John, his cousin and trusted disciple.  As her eldest son He cared for her and He never failed in His duty as a son.

John’s presence also speaks of love that overcomes fear.  He took a great risk to join the woman and be present at a time when most other criminals would be completely alone.  Jesus was no ordinary criminal.

Jesus expressed His thirst.  It emphasizes the agony of the cross. Many people believed Jesus to be a phantom-like godly figure.  Here John underlines His humanness.  He felt the pain of the cross.  Jesus became fully man to redeem man.

In Psalms 69:21 the thirst of Jesus and the vinegar drink were foretold: They also gave me gall for my food,and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.

The other Gospels tell of Jesus dying with a great shout on His lips. They do not say the words (Matthew 27:50; Mark 15:37; Luke 23:46).  John tells us what He said.  He said these words not in weary defeat, but in a voice one does not expect from a dying man.

The words: it is finished is one word in Greek = tetelestai. It also means great shout.  He died when the price was paid and God said enough.  He leaned back His head and gave up His spirit as if He rested after the work is done.

THE GRAVE

The Romans left a body on a cross for days.  After they have taken the body down, it would be left to the crows and dogs get rid of it.  The Jews buried by nightfall (Deuteronomy 21:22-23).

In this case the next day was the Sabbath.  The burial had to take place before sunset.  Every so often the Roman soldiers finished a criminal off by smashing their limbs.  It was done to the two criminals crucified with Jesus, but Jesus was already dead.  In Numbers 9:12 it is said that not one bone of body of the Passover lamb shall be broken.

To make sure that Jesus was dead, a soldier drove a spear into His side and out flowed water and blood.  It was a sure sign of death but also the sign of a very sick man.  He literally took our sickness on Him.  Another prophecy was fulfilled: They look on him whom they have pierced. (Zechariah 12:10)

It is said by some commentators that Jesus died of a broken heart.  When the heart ruptures the blood mingles with the fluid of the membrane around the heart.  The spear was thrusted towards the heart.   Blood and water flowed.

John was the eyewitness to all this. It is a symbol of water-baptism and the blood that saves.

The disciples were poor and a proper burial was expensive.  Two men came forward.

Joseph of Arimathaea was a member of the Sanhedrin and a disciple of Jesus.   He kept his discipleship secret but now came forward.  Nicodemus was the nightly visitor of Jesus (John 3), a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin.

It is said that both of them were left out of the meeting with the High Priest when the nightly trial was conducted.    The Sanhedrin never met at night.  The High Priest could therefore say it was out of the ordinary and for some members only.  He probably realized he would face opposition from Nicodemus and Joseph.  The dark workings of the Jewish council had to take place under the cover of darkness.

Joseph and Nicodemus stepped out boldly.  Joseph fearlessly approached the Romans for the body of Jesus.  In His death he drew men unto Him just as He prophesied (John 12:32).

Two prominent leaders cast their hesitation and reputation aside and honoured Jesus with their leadership and wealth.

How often does death confront with the deep issues of life?  People get caught up in everyday life with little regard to the profound questions of truth, humanity and life after death.  Death itself compels the mind to focus on more than the superficial.

Death is an intimate experience into the unseen.  Jesus stepped into the unseen from where He came.  Three days…

 

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.

 

119. Oh, Death, who’s afraid of you now?

[John 11]

It is the one certainty of life. Death follows every life on earth. For as long as man draws breath, death is the existential fact of life, mystified into fearful speculation and hesitant philosophical debate.

Death and the realm of death is a mystery that belongs to God. All that we have is the one-sided accounts of near-death experiences that provide a glimpse into something outside our realm of reality.

As we are so aptly instructed in Deuteronomy 29:29 (The Message):

God, our God, will take care of the hidden things but the revealed things are our business. It’s up to us and our children to attend to all the terms in this Revelation.

There is no doubt that life provides us with enough to take care of. Making a living, raising children with the values and courage to secure the next generation, caring for our earth and extend the hand of God in love to the immeasurable suffering and destruction around us, are more than enough for one lifetime of responsible living. How can we still worry about death?

But death comes, or rather strikes, daily. Sometimes it is anticipated in the elderly and enters slowly into the suffering of disease and weakness, with expectation and even relief. Accidents and crime shock and traumatize the loved ones when death is a painful punch out of nowhere, bruising our inner being with merciless irreversibility.

Death is part of life. Let us then listen attentively to the details of the encounters of Jesus with death, which was such an expected and terrifying cruelty of the young and old in Palestine of the first century.

Just the words He chose to describe the situation are indicative of the victory He brought. He always called death, sleep…

Lazarus and his sisters provided Jesus with a place to feel at home. Jesus said He had no home (Luke 9:58), but in Bethany He had a place of rest. These three people truly loved Him. There He found a place of relaxation and escape from the demands of the crowds.

The name Lazarus means God is my help. It is the same name as Eleazar (Aaron’s son), which is the Hebrew version. Lazarus fell ill, and the sisters sent Jesus a message to say that he is sick. The sisters’ message included no request for Jesus to come to Bethany. They knew that it was unnecessary; they knew that the simple statement that they were in need would bring Him to them.

It is sufficient that Jesus should know. Jesus would not ignore His sick friend. Jesus, on the other hand, was not alarmed. He knew He had the power to deal with anything. God’s glory had to be served.

The power of prayer is that you know He knows. The Bible says He knows everything – He knows before we pray. I can testify that over the years God knew better than me what I needed. Even my request is imperfect.

When we pray we expect the glory of God in action.

Upon hearing the news Jesus makes a statement. What a magnificent answer to the prayer of supplication this is!

This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.

Jesus talks of his glory in connection with the Cross. (John 7:39) When the Greeks came to Him, Jesus said: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (John 12:23).

He talks about the kernel of wheat, which must fall into the ground and die. (John 12:16) John says that the disciples remembered what Jesus said about dying.

It is our dying to self that magnifies the glory of God’s redemption in our life.

The Cross was His supreme glory and the way to glory. To cure Lazarus was to take a step, which would end in the Cross. It did and He knew it.

Jesus accepted the Cross to help his friend. He knew the cost of helping. He was prepared to pay it. There was no other way to glory than through the Cross.

When He received the news about Lazarus, He stayed for two more days.

There are various reasons mentioned by some commentators:

Jesus waited so that when He arrived Lazarus would be indisputably dead. It would make the miracle all the more impressive. There was a superstition that the soul of the dead still hovered around the body for three days, seeking re-entry. Thereafter it left and death is fully acknowledged.

Jesus takes action entirely on His own initiative and not on the persuasion of anyone else. When He turned water into wine at Cana (John 2:1-11) Jesus’ first answer to Mary is: “Don’t bother about this. Let me handle it in my own way.” In John 7:1-10 it recounts Jesus at first refusing to go to Jerusalem and then going in his own good time.

Our prayer should be that we leave it up to Him to do things His way.

To go to Judaea at that time seemed to them, the surest way to commit suicide by church leaders. The disciples were shocked.

“Are there not,” he asked, “twelve hours in the day?” We live within the confines of time here on earth. It will be worth our while to note the great truths in this statement of Jesus.

A day cannot finish before it ends. The period is fixed; nothing will shorten or lengthen it.

There are twelve hours in the day. There is time for everything a man should do. There is no need to rush.

There are twelve hours but only twelve hours. A day cannot be extended. Time cannot be wasted.

There is time enough, but not too much. The time we have, must be used to the utmost. [See Pebbles 109: And you? What do you have to say?]

If a man walks in the light, he will not stumble; but if he tries to walk in the night, he will stumble. These words might have two meanings: on the surface and is true, and on another level which lies below the surface it is even more profound.

The Jewish day, like the Roman day was divided into twelve equal hours, from sunrise to sunset. The length of an hour varied according to the length of the day and the season of the year.

On the surface: a man will not stumble when the sun is shining, but when the dark comes, he cannot see the way. There were of course, no streetlights in country places. Travelling stopped at nighttime.

A man must finish the day’s work within the day, for the night comes when work is ended.

In a deeper meaning, John uses the words the dark and the night to describe life without Christ; a life dominated by evil as in the case of Judas: “So, after receiving the morsel, he immediately went out; and it was night” (John 13:30). Night is when a man goes away from Christ and when evil reigns.

The threat of time is at the heart of the Gospel. A man has only so much time to make his peace with God through Christ. We have the limited time of this life to do God’s work.

Time has in it two tones of truth: the glory of being in time and the tragedy of being too late.

In the section of John 11:11-16 we see that Jesus’ conversations always follow the same pattern. Jesus says something, which sounds quite simple. His saying is misunderstood, and he goes on to explain more fully and unmistakably what he meant.

Jesus says: Lazarus is sleeping. To the disciples that sounded like good news. Sleep is good medicine. The word sleep has always had a deeper and a more serious meaning. Jesus said of Jairus’ daughter that she was asleep (Matthew 9:24); at the end of Stephen’s martyrdom we are told that he fell asleep (Acts 7:60). Paul speaks about those who sleep in Jesus (1 Thessalonians 4:13) and of those witnesses of the Resurrection who are now fallen asleep (1 Corinthians 15:6).

So Jesus had to tell them plainly that Lazarus was dead. It was a good thing, because it would produce an event, which would serve their faith.

The final proof of Christianity is the sight of what Jesus Christ can do. Words may fail to convince, but there is no argument against God in action. The power of Jesus Christ has made the coward a hero, the skeptic a man of faith, the selfish a servant. The plain fact of history is that the power of Christ has made the bad good. The redemptive power of the Gospel cannot be denied.

We should be a living proof of his power. Our task is to demonstrate in our lives what Christ has done for us.

As a great scholar once said: “I do not like crises; but I like the opportunities which they supply.”

At that moment the disciples might well have refused to follow Jesus. They realized that going even close to Jerusalem would mean certain death. It is the lone voice of Thomas that says: “Let us, too, go that we may die with him.” 

All Jews had two names – a Hebrew name by which a man was known in his own circle and a Greek name by which he was known in a wider circle. Thomas is the Hebrew and Didymus the Greek for a twin. So Peter is the Greek and Cephas is the Hebrew for a rock; Tabitha is the Hebrew, and Dorcas the Greek for a gazelle.

Thomas displayed courage. In his heart it might not even have been courage, but loyal despair. However, Thomas was determined – he would not quit.

Real courage means being perfectly aware of the worst that can happen, even being sickeningly afraid of it, and yet doing the right thing.

 

Death swallowed by triumphant Life!
Who got the last word, oh, Death?
Oh, Death, who’s afraid of you now?

(1 Corinthians 15:55, The Message)

118. I am a sheep.

[John 10]

Do you know about sheep? They are peculiar animals; very different from cattle. Since the earliest times the Hebrews were sheep farmers. When Jacob and his family moved to Egypt in the famine and Joseph was second in command of all the land of Egypt, they received land away from the Egyptians and their cattle.

And the men are shepherds, for their occupation has been to feed livestock; and they have brought their flocks, their herds, and all that they have…. that you may dwell in the land of Goshen; for every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians.”(Genesis 46:32-34)

Jacob’s family lived in the land of Goshen, a very fertile land in the eastern part of the Nile delta.

The Egyptians were mostly cattle farmers. They looked down on sheep farmers. Sheep feed on the whole grass plant and pull it out root and all. The shepherds often moved their sheep to a variety of pastures. Agricultural researchers recommend grazing the picky grazers like horses and cattle first and following with the less picky grazers sheep orgoats. Cattle typically tear off large mouthfulsof forage.

Sheep usually follow the rest of the flock. They are notorious to follow each other into danger. The shepherd sometimes trains one of them to follow him and knows the rest will follow.

Here in John 10 Jesus talks about the lost sheep of Israel for whom He came. Thereafter His ministry was opened up to include everybody.

The disciples had to go out to Israel first (Matthew 10:5-6; 15:24).

Jesus was known to reach out to the Gentiles:

  • He healed the servant of the Roman centurion (Matthew 8:10)
  • He spoke to the woman at the well in Samaria (John 4:40)
  • He said that the descent from Abraham was no guarantee into the Kingdom (John 8:39)
  • He healed a Samaritan leper who turned around to say thank you (Luke 17:18-19)
  • He told the story of the Samaritan traveler who showed mercy (Luke 10:37)
  • He welcomed many people from all directions (Matthew 8:11; Luke 13:29)
  • He commanded his disciples to go out to all nations (Matthew 28:19)
  • He is the light of the world (John 8:12)
  • He loved the world (John 3:16)

In Jesus the world can be one and all nations like brothers.

Unity is only possible when we know His voice and follow His voice.

We go out to teach others to know His voice so that they can follow Him. We do not teach church doctrine. We teach people to listen for His voice.

The church of Jesus is the flock. It is that invisible body of people in this world whose hearts are set on Him and His teachings. It has nothing to do with organized religion. We are the Kingdom of God on earth. We are united by choice not by chance.

The passage in John 10:17-18 tells us so much about Jesus.

He lives in full obedience, even unto death. Sonship to Him was nothing but obedience in the highest sense possible.

Jesus views the Cross as the path to glory. He never doubted His death, but also never doubted His resurrection. He had full confidence in God. He has not missed His destiny, as He was willing to pay the price. There is no easy way to greatness.

His death was not a condemnation by the people. He could have called heavens hosts as His defense. He was accepting death fully  (John 19:10-11). He was never a victim to His circumstances. He chose the Cross. He did not lose His life, He gave it.

In the next passage we see that the dilemma of the people is as real today as it was at that time. Is Jesus a madman or the Son of God? There is no escape from the choice. Jesus spoke about God in a way that could not be ignored.

He is not a madman.  His teaching is the only hope for this world.

His deeds are to bring comfort and restore brokennessfor others – a madman would not open the eyes of the blind.

The effect He had on people saved millions upon millions of lives. He makes the bad good. He makes the foolish wise and the destitute hopeful.

The Festival of the Dedication in Jerusalem is sometimes called the Festival of Lights (Hanukkah) celebrated for eight days in December.

The origin of the Festival of the Dedication lies in one of the greatest times of ordeal and heroism in Jewish history. There was a king of Syria called Antiochus Epiphanes who reigned from 175 to 164 BC. He was a lover of all things Greek. He decided that he would eliminate the Jewish religion once and for all, and introduce Greek ways and thoughts, Greek religion and gods into Palestine. At first he tried to do so by the peaceful penetration of ideas. Some of the Jews welcomed the new ways, but most were stubbornly loyal to their ancestral faith.

In 170 BC Antiochus attacked Jerusalem. It was said that 80,000 Jews perished and thousands sold into slavery. A small fortune was stolen from the Temple treasury. It became a capital offence to possess a copy of the law, or to circumcise a child. Mothers who did circumcise their children were crucified with their children hanging round their necks. Temple chambers were turned into brothels.  Finally Antiochus took the dreadful step of turning the great altar of the burnt-offering into an altar to Olympian Zeus, and on it sacrificed a pig to the pagan gods.

It was then that Judas Maccabaeus and his brother arose to fight their epic fight for freedom. In 164 BC the struggle was finally won; and in that year the Temple was cleansed and purified. The altar was rebuilt and the robes and the utensils were replaced. It was to commemorate the purification of the Temple that the Feast of the Dedication was instituted.

It was told that when the great seven-branched candlestick was relit, only one container of unpolluted oil could be found. The vase was sealed with the ring of the High Priest. There was only oil enough in that vase to light the lamps for one single day. Miraculously it lasted for eight days, until new oil had been prepared according to the correct formula and consecrated.

In this atmosphere Jesus utters one of the seven I AM sayings: I am the Light of the world.There is no one else ever to say these words. He is the light in the darkness of political strife, emotional upheaval and the maze of uncertainty that mark life on earth.

There on the porch of the Temple of Solomon where the rabbi’s often met their students the question was put to Jesus.

Then the Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, “How long do You keep us in doubt? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.” (John 10:24)

It was the genuine heart’s cry of longing or a trap for Jesus to utter heresy and blasphemy. Jesus answers what He so often told them.

“I who speak to you am He.”(John 4:26)

 “You have both seen Him and it is He who is talking with you.”(John 9:37)

He says clearly that His sheep will know His voice. (John 10:26,27)

Jesus promised eternal life. The physical death is just an entrance to more of the new dimension with Him. Nothing would snatch them from His hand (John 10:29-30).

Jesus trusted His father above all. He knew it didn’t matter how scattered the flock was, His Father had control and would not let anyone slip.

 …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 13:5-7, Amplified)

We have God-confidence. Jesus is faithful.

Jesus is God – here He says it. He also prays it in John 17:1 and 20-22.

Through love we are one with God in Jesus. Love implies obedience. Oneness is not philosophical or metaphysical. It is relationship.

[John 13:34; 15:10; 14:21, 23-24.]

This statement of Jesus that He is one with God, made the Jews very angry. They picked up stones to stone Him (10:31). Blasphemy was punished by stoning (Leviticus 24:16). Jesus argued amid the hostility. He is not afraid of the arguments in a heated atmosphere.

He does wonderful things. His deeds could only come from God.

Jesus said that He was consecrated by God for a special task. He is holy – set apart for a specific purpose. God sent Him as messenger from heaven. (Psalms 82:6, Exodus 21:1-6. Also Exodus 22:9; 22:28)

He tests the people to judge His deeds not His words. The fruit of His life speaks louder than words about Him. Deeds are beyond arguments.

Jesus was not stoned that day. His execution was planned and marked on the calendar of heaven. He needed quietness before the struggle. He had to meet with God before meeting men.

He went to the place where John baptized, where He was baptized. There He heard the voice of God strengthening Him and confirming Him. His baptism was one of the supreme experiences of His life.

Jacob went back to Bethel (Genesis 35:1-6).

The people remembered John and what He said about Jesus. Many believed when they remembered the words of John.

Jesus was even greater than John said He would be. He never disappoints. The Jews saw in Jesus the man John predicted He would be and many believed.

Many great men with great futures messed it up somehow and were a disappointment to many. Jesus is God. He comes with the full guarantee of heaven.

He can never and will never disappoint. In Him the dream comes true.

 I am a sheep – I will follow Him.

 

 

 

By the way…words of life.

Dear Pebble pals,

I would like to share something very personal with you.

I would like you to think about the following. We will continue our study of the Gospel of John next week.

We are in the midst of the most important weekend of the Christian calendar. For years I have asked the Lord to teach me something new about the Cross every Easter. This year and the end of last year has not been smooth sailing and many things happened that I could never have foreseen.

For many reasons I have been more away than home since we celebrated the start of 2018.

I would like to share one event with you and the circumstances around it, as a testimony of the work of God in our lives and especially His perfect timing. I am deeply convinced that next to the Word of Scripture itself, the most powerful words in this world are those of a testimony of grace and outcome.

On February 11 this year my sister died. She is much older than I am, but we were very close. I am the youngest of four siblings. We had two brothers. My one brother died years ago in a freak accident at the age of 31. My eldest brother is closer to my sister in age and I know he misses her very much. We all serve God with conviction and commitment. Sometimes when we got together it was like a blessed church service as we shared the wonder of God’s work and grace in our lives.

My sister had several health challenges in her life, amongst others breast cancer at the age of 35 when her two boys were just seven and five years old. She fought bravely and with radical surgery that left her quite scarred, she has lived cancer free to the age of 75.

Throughout last year we noticed that she walks slower and becomes more and more inactive. It was worrying and I know she tried to walk more and move more to fight the tiredness and sluggishness that she was experiencing. She lost her husband in 2011 and was living alone in a cottage in a beautiful retirement village where she could take walks, close to shops where she could shop for herself.

One day towards the end of September last year she went to the Mall nearby to do grocery shopping. She said she decided to walk through the whole Mall for exercise and then do the shopping and drive home. She did it all and was approaching her car with a supermarket cart in the undercover parking garage when everything went black.

The next part of the story has to be told by the two testimonies that I am going to include for you. It is written by people who are called angels in our family, sent by God to be at the right time at the right place to do what it took to save my sister’s life for an extension of only four months, during which she could enjoy all her children and the rest of her family over Christmas and New Year.

The first account is the husband and the next one is that of the wife of the same event. He is writing the letter to my sister’s sons.

I am writing this letter to record something that can be passed on to your children and your children’s children.

 This is not a mystical story of fantasy but an account of how God works in our lives, and if you doubt there is a God then try and analyze the possibility of this account being coincidence. Your mother and my wife were players in God’s plan that you all would have the time over Xmas to get together as a family almost like there was unfinished things God wanted answered.

 I am a Scot and was brought up leaning slightly to the right as a “Presbyterian” with both my feet planted firmly on the ground and definitely not belonging to the group who analyze our daily living looking for miracles, and God’s signs, so it is only fitting that I should write this account.

 Starting at the beginning, and looking at the events leading up to my wife and your mother getting together, has to be looked at in detail to begin to understand the exquisite timing and finite detail that was in place.

I am not a lover of modern technology and my fancy I-phone was giving trouble. I had to revert to shouting as no one could hear me. My wife insisted I get it seen to, and as there was a I-phone shop in the Mall, off I went. The Mall is a real mess and the underground parking is badly lit and very, very confusing and I ended up parking miles away from the shops which did nothing to alleviate my already short fuse. I patiently stood in a queue like a lost sheep. When I eventually got to the front of the queue, I was told that I needed to make an appointment.

 Needless to say this did not end well and I stomped out telling everyone who was prepared to listen that I was moving my loyalty to Samsung.

 It took me over an hour to find my car and by that time I was a wreck.

Where are we going with this screed well have patience and all will be revealed.

 The next afternoon my wife insisted that I go back and get my phone repaired. I was not prepared to admit that to go back to that hell hole was bordering on me going insane and I asked her to please come with me. We have a mature relationship and I was told in no uncertain manner that she had better things to do than hold my hand in the underground car park.

 In the next few moments the power drops out at the house. My wife is interrupted in her work and I haven’t left. We stay in a fancy estate and seldom have power problems but on this occasion we had two in quick succession and after the second one it didn’t come back on.

 Once again I ask in a pleading voice for her to consider my plight and come with me to which she concedes providing I behave myself.

 Normally a trip to the Mall is solid traffic and takes up to 50 minutes, but on this day and at this time there was no traffic and we flew there. We had stuff to deliver to our daughter, which I wanted to deliver first but my wife insisted we go the Mall. To try and make her understand why I was gone the whole afternoon the day before I wanted to show her exactly where I went in to the underground car park and just how confusing it is.

 As I went down the ramp your mother was pushing her shopping trolley along in front of me and as I looked she fell. Of all the people in the Mall to be in the right place at the right time my wife is by far the person you want as she takes over and has a God given talent for knowing what to do in a stressful situation.

 Both of us were concerned about security as these circumstances lend themselves to unscrupulous criminals taking advantage. My wife had started CPR, which she is very proficient at, and I was trying to get help from the centre. After 10 minutes plus and no life signs I told my wife that I thought it was over and nothing could be done. Still she persevered and one of the highlights of my life was to see your mother come back to life, flicker her eyes and the colour come back into her cheeks.

 No words can express when you are in the presence of God and the crowd gasps at the miracle we were witnessing. Time stood still for me as I looked in wonder as my wife and your mum started to talk. When you read of the miracles that Jesus performed it doesn’t quite sink in but on this day it really sunk in and all of us felt the presence of God.

 To finish this account of one of the most beautiful things that I have been privy to see, I feel it was a privilege and honour. I know that whatever the reason for the extension of her life for a few months, it was God’s desire that she spend the time with you.

 She now is by God’s side.

 Finally try and work out the odds leading up to our meeting your mum at that exact time with all the background. You cannot rationalize it and let the doubting Thomas’s try and fathom it out.

 We thank you for inviting us to the funeral and I could not but help thinking that this was a joyous occasion and that she would have agreed whole heartedly with the gathering of the family with fond memories.

 What a pleasure it was to be a small part in God’s plan.

 

The following is his wife’s account of the same event.

God has a PLAN!

Sometimes God uses us in really amazing ways.  I was used by God just recently.  And trust me, I was worse than Jonah.  I ran and ran.  God won the battle with me and this is the story.

It was a Monday last year in late September.  My husband has an I-phone and every day I marvel that a person more unsuitable to this type of technology was persuaded to think he could master this device.  Shows how branding and advertising really pay off!

To get to the story.  His phone was giving him a really hard time.  I suspected a software upgrade was required.  Anyway the whole of the Monday he yelled into his phone.  I suffered this throughout the day.  Eventually, I said ” Sweetie, please go into town and get it fixed.” If you know anything about our nearest Mall, it is a nightmare. The road from our house to the mall is around 24 kilometers of which six kilometers were under construction for the past two years.

So off he went.  After about two hours I got a frantic phone call.  (He had used my car).  “What is your car registration number?”  I gave it to him.  “I have lost the car” he said.  “The parking is chaos and under construction and I have been walking around for the last hour and I can’t find it”

Now there are six brand new parking levels, none of which are marked or signposted and no entrances are yet marked.  It is still under construction.

“Call the security guards and they can help you,” I suggested.  Around 7 pm that night he arrived home. He was in a truly foul mood.  And, you guessed it, the phone was still not working.  That is a story for another day.

Tuesday he yelled into the phone.  Actually he couldn’t hear anyone and they could not hear him.  Wednesday was unbearable.  He yelled and yelled.

On Thursday morning I woke up to no electricity.  This is a very rare occurrence where we live.  I was not in the best of moods as I had listened to yelling for three days solidly and now I could not do my work.  This was really the last straw.  I did all the tasks that did not require any electricity.  (Walk the dogs, make breakfast on a gas stove, make beds, dust, mop etc.).

By 9am the electricity was back on and I could get onto my computer and work. I also had curtains to finish for my daughter who was expecting her first child.   So I worked solidly with my husband yelling around the house.

We have lived here for five years and we have never had two power failures in one day.   It just does not happen.  I had finished my work on my computer and I was just settling down to do my work on my sewing machine.  My husband appeared behind me.  “Please come with me to town”, he said.

“I need to sew and finish these curtains,” I said.  Just as I said it the power went out again.

“Well,” said my darling husband.  “Now, will you please go with me”.  “All right,” I reluctantly agreed.

We loaded washing into the car that I had done during the week for my other daughter whose husband had an accident and broke his neck a few years ago.  She and her husband are always so cheery that I love to help them in these small ways.

The ride to the Mall would always be around 50 minutes to one hour because of the road works.  We flew to the Mall in under 20 minutes.  As we turned into the road for the Mall, my husband asked;  “Shall we drop off the washing first”.  “No,” I said.  “Go straight to the Mall and we can drop off the washing afterwards”.

We turned into the Mall and he went to the same entrance where he had parked on the Monday. In the far distance, I saw a lady pushing a trolley.  She was walking extremely slowly.  I admired the beautiful way she held herself and she was beautifully dressed.  Then my attention was drawn back to assist in looking for a parking bay.

“The lady has fallen,”  yelled my husband.  I looked forward and she had indeed fallen straight backwards and was lying immobile on the road.  Two security guards rushed up, grabbed her by her arms and started dragging her along the road.  I jumped out of the car and raced up to them.  “Leave her,”  I yelled.  They put her back down on the road.  When I reached her, she was clearly dead.  Her eyes and mouth were open. Her pallor was dreadful.  She was a deathly grey colour.

My husband, who had pulled the car alongside got out and looked down as she lay there. “She is gone,” he said.

I knelt down and felt for a pulse. Nothing.  I put my ear on her face to feel for breath. Nothing.  I don’t know what made me do it.  I pulled her head back gently, pinched her nose and gave her a deep breath.  I then started pressing down on her chest doing compressions.  I was counting.  At about 20 compressions, I breathed again.  Still nothing.  I carried on. By this time a crowd had gathered around.  They were all watching.

I saw one man in the crowd filming me as I came up to give her another breath.  “Stop him,”  I asked my husband.  He walked over and spoke to the man.

Another man sidled in on his haunches.  “Give me her jewelry and I will look after it,”  he said.  “Sir,” I said.  “If you can’t help me, go away”.

I gave her CPR for about 15 minutes.  She was completely unresponsive.  My husband kept telling me that she had gone.  Suddenly a light came on in her eyes and she gave a very gentle little sigh.  “I have her back,”  I said.  I carried on the compressions as her heart was still very fluttery.  I was then asking about the paramedics.  Nothing.  I could hear sirens but they were a long way away.

A little lady came along to me and said: ” I am the hairdresser from the shop above, can I help.” I asked her to look for the lady’s cell phone in her handbag which was next to me.  “Take it up outside” as there was no signal in the parkade.  “Look for any number that she dials a lot and call it.”  Ask for her details.  My husband was nowhere to be seen and I presumed that he had gone out to get a signal to call the paramedics.

I continued with the compressions.  When I felt her heartbeat settle down, I turned her into the recovery position.  I had been talking to her all the time.  I continued talking to her but she was unresponsive for about another 10 minutes.  I remember saying things like “don’t worry sweetheart, you are going to be all right”.   I had kept talking.  Now with her eyes closed I saw the tears on her cheeks.  She whispered:

“Where am I, am I at the airport?”

” No” I replied,  “you are in a parking lot.”

“In Canada” she asked.

“No” I replied ” In the Mall.  What is your name?”  I asked her.

She gave me her name.  She opened her eyes and stared into mine.  I continued talking to her softly telling her the ambulance was on its way.  I could hear sirens blaring.

By this time my husband was back and I asked him to get me something out of the car to put under her head, which was at a very strange angle to the ground.  He got me some of my daughter’s washing.

Then finally the paramedics and ambulance arrived.  I immediately got up and told them that she had had no vital signs for approximately 15 minutes and that I had continued CPR for the entire time.  I told them that she had collapsed about 45 minutes before. They nodded and took over.  They put her on a defibrillator and oxygen.  My husband and I moved off and went to our car.  We waited and watched from a distance.

A young woman who had been watching the whole thing came over and grabbed me and gave me a huge hug. “I have never seen anything like that.  Are you professionally trained?” she asked.  “No,” I said and did not elaborate.  “You saved her life.  It is a miracle.” She stood there with her arms around me crying.  I really felt small.

God was the only way that she survived this.  Yes I knew what to do, but if God did not have a plan for her life, I could not have saved her.

The paramedics were busy with her for a long time.  In the meantime her cousin who had been called by the hairdresser arrived.  Such a really lovely person.  I asked her where they were going to take her.

My husband and I left and went upstairs and got a cup of coffee.  I was emotional, filthy from the parkade and I was doubtful that she would make it.  So very sad.  I phoned the hospital the next day and asked if she had survived.  Yes, was the answer.  I asked if I could visit her and they told me she was in ICU but that I was welcome.

I went to visit her in the hospital that day.  When I walked in she said to the doctors and nurses.  “This is my angel I was telling you about.  She saved my life.”

Now I really felt small.  ” No, I said, I am flesh and blood and worse than Jonah and the whale. I did not want to go to town, but God even put the lights out to make me go and be at your side.”

We both smiled.  “You are my angel” she insisted.

Tragically she passed away four months after the incident.  However, she did spend wonderful quality time with her family who all flew in and spent Christmas with her.

I visited her a number of times in hospital where she underwent major heart surgery.  She was a truly beautiful soul and I will always think of her with love in my heart.

 

 

My dearest readers,

Isn’t this story something wonderful and beautiful? From my side, God gave me the privilege to be with my sister often during this time of illness, even though I live overseas. We always buy our tickets on sale and plan far ahead. I was with her through her surgery and again in January this year for three weeks before she died. I was less than 12 hours home, when I received the news of her passing.

Through all the tears, I felt the grace and the peace that surpasses all understanding. Our God reigns.

 

In that day sing to her,

A vineyard of red wine!

I, the Lord, keep it,
I water it every moment;
Lest any hurt it,
I keep it night and day.             (Isaiah 27:2,3)

 

 

 

 

 

105. The One and Only, the One in All.

The package deal, is what we want. We have so many things pre-packaged. Somebody else thought long and hard and put things together to serve a combination of needs. Some may call it a hamper, some may call it the full meal deal, some may call it a wrap up – whatever the goodies inside may be, it is an effort to meet more than one need in one container tied together.

Here in John 5 we start with one of the first longer discourses of the Fourth Gospel. John writes his interpretation of what Jesus meant in all the words spoken to His disciples over the many months of His three-year ministry. John wrote to establish Jesus as the true Messiah, the Promised One, the Lamb of God, the Light of the World and every other title that could have been expected by Jews as well as Gentiles. His writing comes with a half a century of Holy Spirit insight in the life of Jesus, which he witnessed in person.

The passage (5:19-47) is packed with good things, explaining the superior and excellent good news, which is the answer to every query about life all contained in one man, Jesus. He is the only ONE you will ever need.

SON OF MAN

To the Jews who heard this passage it meant that Jesus is the Messiah.

  • Son of Man is a title we hear in Daniel (7:1-14). THE Son of Man – not a son of man.

The visions of Daniel were all about the cruel and ruling empires:

the lion with eagle’s wings was Babylon, the bear with ribs, devouring the nations was the Medes, the leopard with four wings and four heads was the Persians, and the fiercest of beasts with the ten horns and iron teeth was the Macedonian Greeks under Alexander the Great. They will all will pass away. All this cruel and savage reign, that could only be described in terms of beasts, will be replaced with a gentle and peaceful human.

In the coming of Jesus humanity was brought back to its original created purpose.

Between the Testaments there arose a whole literature, which promised the golden age to come in which the Jews called the Messiah the son of man. Jesus called himself the Son of Man. It is a clear claim to be the Messiah.

  • Miracles of healing are associated with the Messiah. (Isaiah 35:6 and Jeremiah 31:8-9).
  • Raising the dead is something that God alone could do . Only God could kill and make alive. Death is in God’s hands. (Deuteronomy 32:39; 1:17, 1 Samuel 2:6, 2 Kings 5:6)
  • Final judgment was also ascribed to the Messiah.

For Jesus to speak like this was an act of the most extraordinary and unique courage. He must have known well that to make claims like this would sound like blasphemy to the orthodox Jewish leaders and the consequence was death. Any man who listened to words like this had only two alternatives – he must either accept Jesus as the Son of God or hate him as a blasphemer.

Jesus’ obedience to the Father is not based on equality or submission of power; it is based on love, as ours should be.

Jesus was confident in his identity – against all the forces of Jewish orthodoxy. He was completely fearless. He could be misunderstood; His words could inflame and endanger His life. He knew full well.

It is more important to fear God than men.

God through Jesus is the giver of life. Not possible to live fully without God. Jesus changes our lives on the deepest level possible, both in this world and the world to come. He is the ALL in one for ALL times.

JUDGMENT

He judges. Jesus’ life and words are judgment in itself. Through Him, judgment of personal sin is solved. To accept Him is life, the ultimate way to peace and happiness. True judgment, how Jesus judges, only happens in full harmony to the will of God. (5:30)

I used to fear judgment. I often wondered how I can relax in the Gospel message if it speaks of judgment. My own sinfulness, especially the realisation of my own unworthiness, made me worry about a judging God.

God comforted me in my fears and revealed to me how this world needs judgment. We cannot confront sin and evil without the clear direction of what is good and right. That is judgment. God’s judgment is the solution to our broken world. It makes it better, not worse.

For us it is difficult to judge fairly. We suffer pride, prejudice, jealousy, intolerance, contempt, ignorance and self-importance. Have you ever seen court procedures and the paperwork involved? It takes thousands upon thousands of pages to come to a conclusion.

God alone is perfect. He knows everything. He judges from perfect love, sitting on the mercy seat.

Mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2:13)

Unsupported evidence by only one person is unacceptable (Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15; 2 Corinthians 13:1). A man cannot state his own case. It is his word against another. We are so privileged to have our case stated by Jesus. He is the Son of Man and have received the authority to judge from the Father (5:26)

SPIRITUAL DEATH

When Jesus was persecuted, He received honour in His suffering and opened up the path of honour through suffering to all of us. It does not matter what life throws at us – Jesus was there and promises hope and salvation from the worst. It is an unquenchable hope and an unconquerable certainty. Amid all the persecution of the early church they never doubted Christ’s ultimate victory.

Jesus is life and He is life now. Without Him death has already in this life, become a reality. We can live with dead works and dead thoughts. This is the core of the Gospel – spiritual death.

Life is promised by a new relationship with

  • God: fear becomes love, distance becomes intimacy;
  • fellow man: hatred becomes love, selfishness becomes service, and bitterness becomes forgiveness;
  • self: weakness becomes strength, frustration becomes achievement and stress becomes peace.

To be spiritually dead means to stop trying to be good. This life is a constant forward push. We can either slip back or move on. To have no courage means slipping back. Spiritual death is to stop feeling, become insensitive, comfortable with evil, with no compassion and a mind shut to truth. Nothing new can change the thinking or learning of such a man and that leads to a blunt conscience. (The best description of the spiritually dead while in this life is found in Ephesians 4:17-19)

This life determines eternity. The hour is now. Our new life in Jesus is for NOW. (5:24,25)

Jesus talks about another witness – meaning God. (5:31-40)

He cites John the Baptist who bore witness to Him.

He talks about a lamp that burns and shines. A lamp is lit, it does not light itself. It is “borrowed” light. The light comes from another source – fire or electricity. The message of John is warm; it was a guide to repentance. A light is temporary; it burns out. John decreased while pointing the way. A true witness burns itself out for God.

Another witness besides John is the witness of Jesus’ works. When John enquired from prison if He is truly the Messiah, Jesus answered that His works will testify as to His authenticity. His works also points to God. God is the supreme witness.

Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. (1 John 5:10)

The Jews were adamant that God is invisible and that no man has seen God, not even Moses (Deuteronomy 4:12). They believed God was only in the conviction of the mind and Jesus expresses that in this passage. It is God’s witness in our hearts regarding Jesus.

SCRIPTURE

To the Jews the Scriptures were everything. Jesus was evident in the Old Testament. They were the best Bible students in the world and they rejected Him – how come?

Here the word for Scriptures is graphe which means autobiography. The Bible is a document written by a divine author by the hands of humans. It is regarded as the eternal voice of God to communicate His character.

How do we read the Bible? With a closed mind, not to find God, but to support an argument? God is revealed throughout history as speaking through the Scripture, but also acting! The Bible is a record of God in action. It is not the words that are holy, it is the story it tells which is holy.

There is only one way to read the Bible and that is with Christ revealed in every chapter. He is the supreme revelation. The Jews were worshipping God’s words alone and not His actions. The words cannot give life; it is the One who speaks them that gives life.

The purpose of the words of Jesus is so that you might be saved. It is all for us, not His own glory that He speaks. He says: I love you and I want to save you.

Before and after Jesus there was a stream of impostors claiming to be the Messiah. Why did they even consider these impostors? Usually a false prophet speaks according to man’s desires. They promise empires, government and material prosperity. Jesus came with a Cross. Jesus died and lives on. The impostors all died and disappeared.

The scribes and the Pharisees desired the praise of men. Everyone recognized them by the way they dressed and behaved; they prayed a certain way; they loved the respectful greetings on the street. They were fully devout, but did not hear the voice of God and did not recognize Jesus. Why?

If a person measures himself by his fellow men, he will not hear God speak.

Jesus points out that Moses writes about Him (5:46). If you read the Scriptures you will find Jesus revealed. Moses himself would have condemned them all. They attached all this value to Moses and did not recognize the One of whom he spoke.

The greatest privilege of the Jews became their greatest condemnation. They had knowledge to no avail. When we have the knowledge, we have the responsibility of acting on it.

 

Dear Pebble pals,

I am travelling for the next month and will be back just after the middle of February. I know that a break brings new inspiration and perspective.

May God bless you richly for seeking Him in His Word. Remember He is always active where we read with a heart focused on Him.

Malachi 3:16-18.

85. Word, Light, World, Darkness.

We have said it already. It is written in the volumes of history. His words stand firm and unchallenged.

Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying,

“I am the light of the world.

He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

Many people have come and gone, claiming to be God, to be the Messiah, to bring salvation, healing, meaning to life and other benefits. Just Google the list of Messiah-claimants in Judaism, Christianity and Islam – it is long and tiresome. None of those names have endured even a fraction of the time that the name of Jesus has.

No-one in the history of all mankind has ever said: I am the light of the world.

The word light occurs in the Fourth Gospel no fewer than twenty-one times. Jesus is the light of men. The calling of John the Baptist was to point men to that light which was in Christ. Twice Jesus calls himself the light of the world (John 8:12, John 9:5).

This light can be in men (John 11:10), so that they can become children of the light (John 12:36), “I have come,” said Jesus, “as light into the world” (John 12:46).

  • Jesus brings the light, which puts chaos to flight. He is the one person who can save life from becoming chaos.
  • Jesus brings light, which shows things as they are. It strips away the disguises and concealments. It shows people and circumstances in their true character and values. It is light that reveals truth.
  • Jesus brings guiding light – a light that brings certainty and confidence. Doubt and confusion flee when He is crowned the King of your life.

Darkness in the world is as real as the light (John 1:5).

The unconquerable light will in the end defeat the hostile dark. John is saying: “Choose your side in the eternal conflict and choose right.”

It is men whose deeds are evil who fear the light (John 3:19-20). The man who has something to hide loves darkness. Darkness is used symbolically. It also indicates blindness. Jesus says: “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness” (John 8:12).

Without Jesus Christ a man cannot find or see direction for his life.

“Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came, while it was still dark, John writes in John 20:1. He describes the atmosphere before the news of the resurrection as dark to contrast the magnificence of life.

He tells how Judas dipped his hand in the bowl with Jesus and then went out to do his dark work.  Having received the piece of bread, he then went out immediately. And it was night. (John 13:30).

Although men through all the ages did all they could to obscure and extinguish the light of God in Christ, they could not quench it. In every generation the light of Christ still shines in spite of the efforts of men to extinguish the flame.

Darkness will never win. Darkness might be symbolical, but you cannot hide from God. God is also in the darkness. Wherever you may find yourself and may feel it is too dark, too evil, too far away from light – God is there to hear you cry.

 So the people stood afar off, but Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was. (Exodus 20:21)

Within the first five verses of this Gospel we see a culmination of every philosophy, every concept of deity, every confusion of thought as well as logical thought plus all the Roman, Greek, Persian and Egyptian models of gods and their functioning. John states the boldest statement in all of history – Jesus is the One everything points to and the answer to every possible question and argument ever.

John the Baptist was witness to the Light, just as we are witnesses, not the light itself. (John 1:6-8)

For 400 years the prophetic voice was silent until John the Baptist. It seems that certain people were so fascinated by John that they gave him a higher place than he ought to have had.

John denies that he is first and declares that he must decrease while Jesus increased (John 3:25-30). Jesus was more successful in his appeal to men than John was (John 4:1). The people said that John was not able to do the things that Jesus did (John 10:41).

This Gospel warns greatly against the following of a mere man, instead of following the risen Christ. The true prophet will always point to Jesus. He emphasizes that John the Baptist was only a witness.

We know Jesus is the Christ by various witnesses. There is the:

  • witness of Jesus himself. “I bear witness,” he said, “to myself” (John 8:18). “My testimony is true” (John 8:14).What Jesus was in himself was the best witness that his claims were true.

 

  • witness of his works. He said: “The works which the Father has granted me to accomplish … bear me witness” (John 5:36).

“Believe me for the sake of the works themselves” (John 14:11). One of the condemnations of men is that they have seen his works, and have not believed (John 15:24). No man could have done the mighty works that Jesus did unless he was closer to God than any other man ever was.

 

  • witness which the Scriptures bear to him. Jesus said: “Search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me” (John 5:39). “If you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me” (John 5:46). It is Philip’s conviction that he has found him of whom Moses and the law and the prophets wrote (John 1:45).

 

  • witness of the last of the prophets, John the Baptist. “He came for testimony to bear witness to the light” (John 1:7-8).

 

  • witness of those with whom Jesus came into contact. The woman of Samaria bore witness to the insight and to the power of Jesus (John 4:39). The man born blind bore witness to his healing power (John 9:25;John 9:38). The people who witnessed his miracles told of their awe at the things he did (John 12:17).

 

  • witness of the disciples and especially of the writer of the gospel himself it was Jesus’ commission to his disciples: “You also are witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning” (John 15:27). And the Spirit is the witness, because the Spirit is the truth” (1 John 5:7). Spirit brought God’s truth to men, and the Spirit enabled men to recognize that truth when they saw it.

For us: God will always give us confirmation with a witness. Be aware of unconfirmed prophecy. God will show you. His path is not darkness and uncertainty.

“One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established. (Deuteronomy 19:15)

1:9 That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.

There are two Greek words for true: alethes and alethinos. The first one means true as opposed to false and the second one means real as opposed to unreal. He uses the second as it is explained: answering to the perfect ideal, and as opposed to all more or less imperfect representations. [Ellicott].

John states his case like a lawyer so that there is no doubt who Jesus is.

There are partial lights and there are false lights; and men follow them. Jesus is the only genuine light, the real light to guide men on their way. Jesus is the dawn in a dark world.

Knowledge of Him could drive away the shadows of doubt. By His coming the people could know God; a mystery no more. When Jesus came men saw what God is like. The guessing was over. The light had come.

A new power came into life. It was the answer to despair. Jesus showed the right way and how to walk in it. The way was made clear. He made the impossible possible.

The darkness and terror of death was engulfed in His promise of life eternal. The ancient world feared death; it was torture by whatever gods there were. Jesus showed that death was only the way to a larger life.

The ancient world was exclusive. The Jew hated the Gentile and held that Gentiles were created for no other purpose than to be fuel for the fires of hell. The ancient prophet, Isaiah, saw that Israel’s destiny was to be a light to the Gentiles (Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:6). The Romans feared Christianity because it robbed them of their exclusiveness.

Our world in confusion and strife has only one solution – to believe in Jesus and be united in love. Any other unity and peace are impossible.

Jesus as a man and His doctrine were unique and a welcome relief from the terrifying uncertainty of ancient gods and the search for knowledge of the mysteries of life.

Where is He today? He is the guiding light, the only source of peace and truth. He is real life. He is victory over the darkness.

By grace and the cross – He is mine! Have you made the step into life – true Life?

 

 

 

64. Where do you write a naught?

What is a lifetime these days? What is there in our lifetime that lasts throughout? Change comes so quickly. Looking back over just the last five years of any life, so many things have changed. It is hard to keep track of the transformation of many aspects of our circumstances, people in our life and the course of events.

What about a thousand years? Would anybody like to weary your thoughts with possible events over a time period of a thousand years? I think we are already struggling to figure out a hundred years, that only a few very strong humans reach.

So what is the mentioning of a millennium to us? A thousand years is well out of our reach as a life span, and really hard to imagine.

I remember so well, discussing figures and numbers with my mother. She was a businesswoman and worked in an era without computers and spreadsheets. She made her own spreadsheets, sometimes pasting sheets together to make bigger pages for an overview of the calculations. It was easy to put an extra naught in or leave one out. I think she realized a mistake in one of her many little sums, when she philosophized over naughts in general.

It matters where you put the naughts in your life, she said. Naughts before the one means nothing. Naughts after the one, multiplies quickly. Make sure to put your life’s naughts (own little efforts) after the One. When we “calculate” our life, it is only what comes after the One, written in the shape of the Cross of Jesus, that counts.

So we are again contemplating numbers in this 20th Chapter of Revelation. The whole idea of reigning for a thousand years finds its basis in Jewish beliefs. The “doctrine”, if one could call it that, was greatly varied and changed from scholar to scholar as they reached prominence in society and social status amongst the leaders.

The origin of this doctrine is not specifically Christian but is to be found in certain Jewish beliefs about the Messianic age, very common in the century before the birth of Christ.

Before Jesus was born, scholars felt that this world was so incurably evil that the Kingdom of God could never finally come in this realm. So there emerged the conception that the Messiah would have a limited reign and that after his reign the final consummation would come.

Some of the ancient scholars see history as a series of weeks. There are seven weeks of past history. The eighth is the week of the righteous, when a sword is given to the righteous, sinners are delivered into their hands, and the house of God is built. In the ninth week the evil is written down for destruction, and righteousness will flourish. In the tenth week comes judgment; and only then comes the eternal time of goodness and of God.

In Psalms 90:15: Make us glad as many days as You had afflicted us, and as many years as we have seen evil. It was, therefore, held that the period of bliss would correspond with the period of affliction.

Even more popular was the notion that the age of the world would correspond to the time taken for its creation and that the time of creation was 6,000 years.

A thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday. (Psalms 90:4)

One day with the Lord is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. (2 Peter 3:8)

The ancient Jewish scholars taught that each day of creation was a thousand years. It was, therefore, held that the Messiah would come in the sixth thousand of the years; and the seventh thousand, the equivalent of the Sabbath rest in the creation story, would be the reign of the Messiah.

On the basis of this passage of Revelation, Millenarianism was very widespread within the early Church, but never universal.

It was Augustine who dealt Millenarianism its deathblow. At one time he himself had been a Millenarian. He longed for spiritual blessings. A summary of Augustine’s position: “He had learned to see in the captivity of Satan nothing else than the binding of the strong man by the stronger than he which the Lord had foretold (Mark 3:27; Luke 11:22); in the thousand years, the whole interval between the first Advent (birth of Christ) and the last conflict; in the reign of the saints, the entire course of the kingdom of heaven; in the judgment given to them, the binding and loosing of sinners; in the first resurrection, the spiritual share in the Resurrection of Christ which belongs to the baptized” (Augustine: The City of God 20: 7). Augustine spiritualized the whole idea of the Millennium.

The everlasting dominion (great rock) that was prophesied in Daniel 2:44 and 7:14 and 27 is the kingdom that was confirmed by Jesus in His first words of ministry. Matthew 3:2 – “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”

One can safely accept the interpretation that we are living in the symbolic millennium, a time period ruled by Jesus, the expected Messiah, introduced by Him when He lived on earth. John wrote to include all the legends and teachings of the Jews that made them blind for what really happened. He collected all the beliefs and even superstitions about the Messiah, to submit them once and for all to the coming of Jesus.

Psalms 50:10 says that the cattle on a thousand hills belong to God; and Job 9:3 says that a man cannot answer God once in a thousand times. Thousand is simply used to describe a very large number.

The serpent is that ancient enemy of the human race, who, in the shape of a subtle snake, deceived the first parents of mankind, and brought sin and death into the world, with an incalculable train of evils attendant on them. The devil is the malicious and false accuser of God’s saints. Satan is the grand adversary both of God and man. All these names for demonic manifestations are mentioned in 20:2.

The abyss is a vast subterranean cavern beneath the earth, sometimes believed to be the place where all the dead went, sometimes seen as the place where special sinners were kept awaiting punishment. It was the abyss which the devils feared most of all. In the story of the Gerasene demoniac the request of the devils was that Jesus would not command them to leave the man and to go out into the deep, that is, the abyss (Luke 8:31).

A seal is set on the chasm to ensure the safekeeping of the prisoner, just as the seal was set on the tomb of Jesus to make sure that he would not escape (Matthew 27:66).

The loosing of the Devil meant a testing-time for Christians. There are times when a testing-time is essential, if the reality of the faith is to be preserved. Both he who dies for Christ and he who lives for Christ will receive his reward. Those who have been loyal to Christ are to receive the privilege of judgment.

 The thrones are those of the 24 elders, the church made up of the 12 tribes, our Jewish heritage and the 12 apostles. The elders are mentioned four times in Revelation. They are representative of the church in heaven and on earth. (Daniel 7:22,27, Matthew 19:28, Luke 22:30, Hebrews 12:1,2)

 Beheaded is a symbol of the martyrs or anybody suffering for the Gospel.

Judgment from a throne is an idea, which occurs more than once in the New Testament. Jesus is represented as saying that, when he returns to sit on the throne of His glory, his twelve apostles will sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:28). Paul reminds the litigious Corinthians that the destiny of the saints is to judge the world (1 Corinthians 6:2) Again we do not need to take this literally. The idea is that the world to come will redress the balance of this one. Even now, we know the truth, since we know Jesus, the Truth. We have to discern and judge daily in a world of deception and betrayal.

Death has no power over the saints. Physical death is the gateway to the everlasting. (20:6)

Priest means a bridge-builder according to the Latin, pontifex. The priest is the builder of a bridge between God and man. Those who have been loyal to Jesus Christ have the right of free entry into the presence of God and they have the privilege of introducing others to Jesus Christ.

The church will reign with Christ. In Christ the most ordinary man becomes a king and priest (1 Peter 2:9).

In the next verses a final rebellion is described (20:7-10). Satan wants to hasten the day of battle to limit the scope of salvation, but God controls the times. Four corners means worldwide.

A final attack on Jerusalem by hostile nations is one of the standard pictures of the last times in Jewish thought. We find it especially in Daniel 11:1-45 and in Zechariah 14:1-11.

The picture of Gog and Magog is found first in Ezekiel 38:1-23 and 39:1-29. The Gog of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and of Tubal, is to launch the great attack upon Israel. The enemy is to be utterly destroyed in the end. In Jewish thought it came to stand for everything that is against God. The rabbis taught that Gog and Magog would assemble themselves and their forces against Jerusalem, and would fall by the hand of the Messiah.

 It is not a physical military battle. The battle is spiritual. We live in the spiritual dispensation after Jesus’ ascension. The physical Jerusalem has been replaced by the new Jerusalem, the church of Jesus.

In the last verses of the chapter (20:11-15), the final judgment is described.

We shall all stand before the judgment seat of God. (Romans 14:10)

We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:10)

These scriptures confirm the unity of God and Christ. The concept of Trinity makes them one God. This notion is very important to the Jews. One of the core scriptures of old Hebrew teaching, central to Jewish religious principle, forever contrasting them to the many idols of the pagan nations around them, is Deuteronomy 6:4:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one!

 Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away (Revelation 20:11)

 Heaven and earth will pass away, was a phrase used by Jesus to illustrate the everlasting quality of His words in Mark 13:31. See also 2 Peter 3:10, Psalms 102:25-27.

There are two kinds of books that are mentioned in Revelation: the book that records and the Lamb’s Book of Life. In Daniel 7:10 the books were opened. Man writes his own destiny. Man’s choices itself are a judgment. We rejoice in the opening of the books. The names of the people who talk about the Lord are recorded to become the jewels, the precious possession of God. (Malachi 3:16-18)

 The books of God are mentioned often in Scripture. Moses is willing to be blotted out of the Book of Life, if it will save the people (Exodus 32:32). The prayer of the Psalmist is that the wicked will be blotted out of the Book of the Living and not written with the righteous (Psalms 69:28). Isaiah speaks of those who are written among the living (4:3). Paul speaks of his fellow-labourers whose names are in the Book of Life (Philippians 4:3). It is the promise of the Risen Christ to the Church at Sardis that the name of him who overcomes will not be blotted out of the Book of Life (Revelation 3:5). Those whose names are not written in the Book of Life are given over to destruction (Revelation 13:8). The idea behind this is that every ruler had a roll-book of living citizens under his control; and, of course, when a man died, his name was removed from the roll. Those whose names are in the Book of Life are those who are (spiritually) living, active citizens of the kingdom of God. Nothing, not even death, can remove our names from the Lamb’s Book of Life.

Although a saint (born-again child of God) is physically dead, he is still living and active in the invisible kingdom of God.

The sea gives up the dead is to be understood in the light of the ancient world’s view on burial. A proper burial was of the utmost importance, otherwise the soul wanders. Anybody who died at sea was not deemed buried. John comforts the people and states that it doesn’t matter how you died or had a burial or not, you are covered under God’s jurisdiction. Satan can claim no one, even if they were not properly buried.

Death and Hades were seen as the temporary abode of the dead till the final judgment. When Jesus was resurrected it has been emptied. All the dead in Christ are with Him.

According to one commentator: “these voracious monsters who have themselves devoured so many are in the end themselves destroyed.”

Praise God!

 

 

61. The woman rules the mountains

We hear a great deal about women in our society today. Rightly so. I look back in history and understand the obsession with equality. Since the earliest times and over many centuries women have been treated appallingly, oppressed and abused. Although Eve was made for Adam as a wife and the other half of mankind, things quickly deteriorated into the pattern of the pagans, including polygamy.

So God created man in His own image, in the image and likeness of God He created him; male and female He created them. (Genesis 1:27)

The promise of a great nation and many descendants came to Abraham and his wife Sarah. When they acted to “help” God’s plan along, the slave woman Hagar was humiliated and driven out of the household. God blessed Ishmael. He became a great nation and lived in hostility with his brother just as the prophecy over his life stated in Genesis 16:9-12. The son of the promise still came to Sarah, the recognized wife of Abraham, as God promised.

God always honoured his institution of marriage. In the geneology of Jesus Solomon is called the son of David by Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah.

Throughout the Old Testament, women were treated as inferior to men, having no rights at all. In spite of this, Biblical history is full of strong women, in political as well as spiritual leadership. It is a thrilling study to research the strong women of the ancient nations, like Deborah in the time of the judges and Hulda, the prophetess in the time of Josiah. Take a closer look at Proverbs 31 and see an accomplished career woman with a husband and children who support and encourage her.

Jesus came to change all this. He acted liberally regarding women in society around the first century. The mere fact that he talked to a woman at Jacob’s well in Samaria must have been quite a story and enough to condemn him by the church. Many Pharisees were called the bleeding Pharisees. They were not allowed to even look at a woman passing by in the street. They would then, very piously, close their eyes and bump into walls and pillars, picking up scratches and bruises in the process.

Women played an important role in the life of Jesus and the early church. Priscilla was one of the leading theologians in the church as seen in Acts 19. Many scholars are of the opinion that she might have been the author of Hebrews and withheld her name for fear of discrimination about the fact that she was a female in leadership.

Today we have the feminist movement active in the Western world. They rant and rave about every possible inequality. It is obvious that they work towards a society where women would take the lead as the stronger sex, refuting centuries of opinion to the opposite. In so many dramas and TV series, the women are the judges, advocates, doctors, government ministers and presidents, leading pathetic men who cannot make decisions without them. Why can’t the strong women become the humble, wise male heroes of whom history and society are full? They act like the men we all hate – rigid and loud, shouting down opposition and violently dealing with it.

Here in Revelation is the ultimate woman of our nightmares. She is sitting on a scarlet beast, the colour of brothels, suggesting she is a harlot herself, deceiving with her female wiles. The phrase: She sits upon many waters denotes the confusion and chaos of the nations of the earth (17:15). The harlot is clothed in royal colours, attractive and authoritative. She is bedecked in jewels, gold and pearls, suggesting money and luxury, symbolic of the allure of riches. She looked very attractive – even John was stricken with wonder (17:6).

Babylon was built on the Euphrates river and is the symbol of all evil and sin. The nations are drunk with her wine, suggesting they want more and more. Money, sex and power rule the world in its many manifestations on many levels of life. She rules in the desert with no possibility of a harvest or fruit, just hunger and thirst. Her name is a secret. She is worshipped by so many who do not even know they are bowing down to her rule. Sin can be a variety of things and even very unique and secretive – known to only those involved.

The people are bedazzled by evil (17:8). Evil should be identified and rejected. It is a beast that is not always easy to see clearly. We need the wisdom of Jesus and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to discern and resist. The angel had to tell John the secret meaning of the woman. Sin does not look like sin! You need insight and warning.

The golden cup is mentioned in Jeremiah 51:7 as a symbol of power.

Babylon was a golden cup in the Lord’s hand, that made all the earth drunk. The nations drank her wine; therefore the nations are deranged.

She had a name on her forehead (17:5)

MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, 
THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS
AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS
OF THE EARTH.

Rome’s prostitutes had a frontlet with their names. Today the pimps have their sign tattooed on sex slaves. Even the wife of Claudius, an emperor of Rome, Messalina, served in the brothels of Rome for money. Into this horror, Christianity was born and men converted to chastity as opposed to instant and always available sexual pleasure. Disciplined moral behaviour is a miracle of the Cross. Secular society has not changed much. Our community is permissive and evil and the church can only stay standing in the power of the Cross.

The word “mystery” is, perhaps, part of the name. It serves as a prefix which tells us that the name is not literal, but symbolical.

For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. (2 Thessalonians 2:7)

She is drunk with the blood of the saints – the cruel spirit of hounding and harassment marked pagan Rome. She is always set on destroying the church with merciless persecution throughout the centuries.

Woman sits on the beast of blasphemy and idolatry and it happens when her power and her allure are called salvation. So many seek redemption in the idols of money, power, sex and even sacrifice children to it.

The beast on which she sits has seven heads and ten horns depicting power. The angel describes the beast as the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.

In the victory of Christ the beast that was, in other words that had in successive ages been seen in the great world-powers, is slain, or, as the angel expresses it, is not. But though he is not, he will show signs of vitality. He will rise into temporary power. He shall come up out of the abyss. The march of his power, however, is only a march to perdition. He will be utterly destroyed (17:8)

The seven mountains mentioned in 17:9 are the “mountains” of society as a whole and has been identified by some scholars as Religion, Family, Education, Government, the Media, the Arts and Business. It suggests complete control of the beast over society.

For us, the mountains will dance – rejoice, Church of the living Christ!

“For you shall go out with joy, and be led out with peace;

The mountains and the hills shall break forth into singing before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. (Isaiah 55: 12)

Kings that have fallen could be Rome and subsequent empires. Seven kings depict a complete number of persecuting forces.

The one hour mentioned in 17:12 denote the time of the bloody struggle within Rome during the civil war of June 68AD – December 69AD.

Sin was often symbolized by cities like Nineveh in Nahum 3:4, Tyre in Isaiah 23:16-17 and even Jerusalem in Isaiah 1:21 and Ezekiel 16:15. Hosea’s life is a metaphor for the fornication of God’s people with a harlot and God’s unfailing love to win them back.

The desert is a place of visions for so many faith heroes like Moses, Elijah, John the Baptist and Jesus. It suggests distance from the city of confusion, with silence, focus and protection. When we find ourselves in the desert of the rule of the harlot, our God is there to make rivers and pathways in the wilderness. Our provision is at the table set before us and in the face of our enemies, in the valley of the shadow of death (Psalms 23).

The beast is on the way to destruction (17:11). He is on the losing side. We have hope for deliverance from the Creator and His creation.

 For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. (Romans 8:19)

The Lamb will conquer and those loyal to the Lamb with Him. The church will share His victory (17:14) Victory comes by the Cross and the Crown of Jesus.

The harlot will be devoured by fire. It is the same punishment prescribed for the daughter of the priest who has been found guilty of sexual immorality (Leviticus 21:9). Her own lovers will turn against her. There is no loyalty in evil; no honour amongst thieves.

The purposes of God are active and victorious even if it looks like the purposes of earthly kings and evil. God is always working for the good of mankind. (Romans 28:8 and Nehemiah 13:2.) These scriptures are pillars of encouragement to be remembered in all trials and tribulation.

The last verses of this chapter (17:14-18) are a summary of the message of Revelation.

For God has put it into their hearts to fulfill His purpose, to be of one mind, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled. (17:17)