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.

 

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115. Born blind – yes, me too!

It’s true. Really. If you cannot see, you are blind. So what can you see? Yes, I know the song.

I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself what a wonderful world

I also see those things, hearing the “instantly recognizable gravelly voice” of Louis Armstrong who wrote these words… but the words go on.

I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself what a wonderful world

Do you see that? Do you see the blessing and the sacred? That is the true test.

To truly see you have to see the invisible.

How is that possible? There is only one way. Another song points it out.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus

look full in His wonderful face

and the things of the earth will go strangely dim

in the light of His glory and grace

That is perspective; the right perspective for this life – dim earthly things and shining glory and grace.

In John 9 it is stated that this man was afflicted with blindness since birth. Affliction since birth is mentioned twice in Acts: the lame man at the Beautiful Gate (Acts 3:2) and the cripple in Lystra (Acts14:8). The blind man here in John was well known. The disciples knew him.

Not everybody with illness could sit in prominent places to beg. The city authorities issued a special garment to “official” beggars only after the validity and true nature of their affliction have been established.

The Jews connected suffering and sin. His blindness could be due to parents’ sin or his own. Many reformed doctrines today still teach that a baby is born into sin. It is cited as one of the reasons for infant baptism. I could never understand how involuntary sin could bring sickness over some and not others. If this is true, all babies should be sick with something or another, otherwise – how is it explained?

The Jews had a strange concept of prenatal sin. They interpreted the words of Genesis 4:7 that talk about “sin crouching at the door” as the door of the womb. They also believed in the pre-existence of the soul. It was a Greek philosophical superstition that all souls were in existence at creation and waited in a heavenly chamber to be born, therefore contaminated by sin as soon as they entered the womb and come into a sinful universe.

Alternatively, his parents’ sin could bring affliction about. God Himself said He would visit the iniquity of the fathers onto their children (Exodus 20:5,34:7, Numbers 14:18). The Psalmist curses with that notion (109:14). It is also mentioned in Isaiah 65:6-7. In Isaiah 65:23 the generational blessing of the Lord is emphasized.

What about today? What do you think? There is DNA testing that presents you with the details of hereditary illness at the core of your physical compilation.

Jesus does not explain the correctness or not of the argument. The illness, whatever the source, is an opportunity for God’s glory. The history of affliction is not important.

The future of affliction is being dealt with decisively.

Miracles are always the sign of God’s glory and power. Other Gospel writers showed Jesus’ compassion in His healing ministry. In all the Gospels combined, Jesus’ power is illustrated by His pity on mankind.

Afflictions, sorrow, pain, disappointment and loss are always opportunities for displaying God’s grace. It shows God in action.

When trouble and disaster fall upon a man who does not know God, that man may well collapse, but when they fall on a man who walks with God, they bring out the strength and the beauty, the endurance and the nobility, which are within a man’s heart when God is there.

By helping those who are in trouble or in pain, we demonstrate to others the glory of God.

 God’s highway runs straight through us. Frank Laubach.

This is one of two miracles in which Jesus uses spittle to cure. [Also the deaf stammerer in Mark 7:33] Spittle as an ointment was quite common in the ancient world. The spittle of some distinguished person was believed to have curative qualities.

Jesus was wise and gained the confidence of his “patient”. To this day there is so much confidence in drugs to heal. Prescribed medication is one of the most important methods of healing.

The Pool of Siloam was a landmark in ancient Jerusalem and an engineering feat of the time. The water supply in Jerusalem was always a problem. The water came from the Spring of Gihon in the Kidron Valley. A staircase of 33 steps led down to it for people to draw water. The spring was completely exposed. In the event of a siege it was easy to cut off the water supply for the entire city.

When Hezekiah realized that Sennacherib was about to invade Palestine he determined to cut a tunnel or conduit through the solid rock from the spring into the city (2 Chronicles 32:2-8; 2 Chronicles 32:30; Isaiah 22:9-11; 2 Kings 20:20). If the engineers had cut straight it would have been a distance of 366 yards; but because they cut in a zigzag, either because they were following a fissure in the rock, or to avoid sacred sites, the conduit is actually 583 yards. The tunnel is at places only about two feet wide, but its average height is about six feet. The engineers began their cutting from both ends and met in the middle – a truly amazing feat for the equipment of the time.

The Pool of Siloam was the place where the conduit from the Virgin’s Fountain issued into the city. It was an open-air basin called Siloam, which, meant sent, because the water in it had been sent through the conduit into the city.

Jesus sent this man to wash in this pool. The man washed and was healed. He obeyed the command of Jesus. His healing could have taken place right there and then in front of Jesus and all the onlookers. He was sent away from his familiar places where he was able to cope with his blindness. He had to step out of his comfort zone and find his way – still blind – to the pool in order to obey the command of Jesus.

In this act, he was given privacy to experience sight all by himself and face the world on his own terms and in the time of his choosing. He accepted Jesus’ way of doing things. He did not question the method.

Jesus’ words must have carried heavenly authority. He did not promise healing. He commanded the man to wash in the Pool of Siloam. Why would the blind man obey this man? He could have looked like a fool if he went to the Pool and nothing happened.

His obedience defeated doubt.

 The words of Jesus; the voice of God commanding action was enough to change his whole life!

Jesus gave instructions for the next step without informing the blind man of the consequence of the washing.

What do you do when your miracle does not come the way you expect or desire? Do you still blindly obey? Are you willing to take the next step in full obedience without knowing the outcome?

We often hear the term – blind obedience. We do not often talk about obedience. Obedience has lost its power when evil-inspired institutions and persons of authority abused their subjects to obey. Church leaders and parents who overstep and hurt in their respective roles of authority over people and children have drained the life-changing muscle of obedience.

The Greek word for obedience is hupakouo, which means to listen attentively, to obey as a subject, to listen and respond and submit without reservation.

To listen and respond – action for your miracle.

Are you willing to take the long route? Can you acknowledge and submit to Jesus’ word whatever it takes WITHOUT knowing the outcome?

Phew! Tall order indeed.

 

Answer me speedily, O Lord;
My spirit fails!
Do not hide Your face from me,
Lest I be like those who go down into the pit.
Cause me to hear Your lovingkindness in the morning,
For in You do I trust;
Cause me to know the way in which I should walk,
For I lift up my soul to You.

(Psalms 143:7,8)

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surely goodness and mercy

Shall follow me

All the days, all the days of my life

And I shall dwell in the house of my Lord forever

And I shall sit at the table prepared for me

Surely goodness and mercy…

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

I know why.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

72. Words of blood for my future.

Oh, the uncertainty, the dread, the misty outlook, the hesitant gaze upon a path covered in the fog of the time span called the future. To us it is not revealed; to God it is known. Like death, the future is a mystery belonging to God.

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

Here we are encouraged to do the words of the law. God’s word is revealed to us and is our refuge regarding the future. He is perfect in His planning. He will never hold back what we need. Our guarantee for provision and protection in the future is the promises of God in the Word of God.

Just like Noah. God invited Noah into the Ark. (Genesis 7) He was called righteous, just like us. We are the righteous of God in Christ. It is not our own goodness, sinlessness or effort towards worthiness that make us righteous. It is the Cross of Jesus and His blood cleansing us from our sin that make us righteous. Any thought of unworthiness to approach God, is a thought planted from the pit of hell. I cannot say it enough and will continue proclaiming it as a core value of salvation.

 God was on the inside. In His Presence there is everything you need – safety, provision, care and protection for as long as you need it until you are safely directed to your next step in life. You have to make the decision to step inside. The ark speaks of a radical life change. The decision to step inside is a complete break with ordinary living and doing. It is kingdom living, in the presence of our loving Dad, settling down in His plan for our lives.

I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back from your captivity;  (Jeremiah 29:14)

God is present and present. We distinguish between manifest presence and omni-presence. Omni-presence is a fact. It is what the Bible tells us. Our Creator-God is everywhere.

Manifest presence is what we experience when we seek His face in prayer and recognize the change deep within us and in the atmosphere around us.

When I came to Canada the realtor told me the walls of the house were all wood. To me it looked like the walls I know – brick and mortar walls. They are plastered and painted. The wood is concealed behind the facade of paint.

I immediately walked to a wall and knocked. I heard something. My knocking experience was very different from anything I know of knocking on walls. I HEARD the wood. Nobody needed to tell me it is wood.

I was very close to the wall, so close that I could reach out and touch the wall. That is how I knew.

Do you hear the song of the Universe? Just listen to the song of creation, when you walk in nature?

My youngest song loved the old Imperials song by the Gaither Vocal Band. Some of the lyrics go like this:

I listen to the trumpet of Jesus, while the others hear a different sound,

I listen to the drumbeat of God Almighty, while the others just wonder around,

I hear the voice of a supernatural singer that only those who know Him can.

Practice your hearing skills, listen to your inner convictions and submit your mind and thinking to the Holy Spirit in prayer. Read your Bible prayerfully to experience the promise that leaps from the page.

 But reject profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise yourself toward godliness. (1 Timothy 4:7)

When I pray, when I seek His face – I experience His manifest Presence. I do not need somebody to tell me He is present. I am clearly and keenly aware of Him and my mind and senses respond to the obvious fullness of the atmosphere. In that atmosphere spontaneous tears flow and the Hoy Spirit ministers amazing restoration and exhortation.

The dove, symbol of the Holy Spirit, will show you life and how to make a living. He will bring you the branch of provision.

 Then the dove came to him in the evening, and behold, a freshly plucked olive leaf was in her mouth. (Genesis 8:11)

In the conversation with Him – prayer – you submit your next step to His guidance and plan. He has a plan for you, to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11) In His presence His provision is clear.

MOMENT of prayer: Lord, I submit my future to you. I confess all my dread and alarm about the future. I know you are Jehovah Jirah – my provider. Your Word promises that You will never fail me. I now raise my expectation towards to the Holy Spirit and expect a future, exceedingly and abundantly above and beyond I can ever think of or ask in my wildest dreams. (Ephesians 3)

PRINCIPLE for a life of excellence: The content of my future is the promises of God – not world politics, my own circumstances, horoscope predictions or fear.

The way we conceive the future sculpts the present. It gives contour and tone to nearly every action and thought through the day. If our sense of future is weak we live listlessly.

Hope is a response to the future, which has its foundations in the promises of God. It looks at the future as time for the completion of God’s promise. It refuses to extrapolate either desire or anxiety into the future, but instead believes that God’s promise gives the proper content to it.

But hope is not a doctrine about the future: it is a grace cultivated in the present; it is a stance in the present, which deals with the future. As such it is misunderstood if it is valued only for the comfort it brings; as if it should say, everything is going to be all right in the future because God is in control of it, therefore relax and be comforted.

Hope operates differently. Christian hope alerts us to the possibilities of the future as a field of action, and as a consequence fills the present with energy.

 Eugene Peterson: Living the Message.

51. More wind and storm… and angels.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Power can be described by 4 words in Greek:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deliverance is not escape, but conquest.

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

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

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

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

 

They will neither hunger nor thirst,

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

He who has compassion on them will guide them

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

 

 The divine shepherd.

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

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

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

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

 

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