Saturday, 26 March 2016

The Glow of Easter

“Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”  (Luke 24:32)

For three years Jesus had held the tiny band together, through  journeyings, storms and opposition.  And now – following a public trial and execution – He was gone.

Take away the dominant figure, and an organisation can quickly crumble.  Take Theudas, an earlier messianic claimant.  Once killed, his 400 devotees melted away.  Then there was ‘Judas the Galilean.’  When he, too, was removed, the movement scattered.  It was a respected Pharisee, Gamaliel, who used these incidents to discourage his fellow Jewish leaders from persecuting the new Christian church. “Don’t worry about this threatening new movement!” he was saying:

             Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or
               activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you 
               will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves
               fighting against God   (Acts 5:33-40)

Now, it was Easter Day evening. And here were two discouraged  disciples walking to Emmaus.  As far as they were concerned, their leader was dead.  The ‘scattering’ process had already begun.  It had started on that fateful Thursday evening of Christ’s arrest, when Jesus had quoted to his disciples from the prophet Zechariah: “It is written ‘I will strike the shepherd and the sheep of the flock will be scattered’” (Matthew 26.31.)

The dream was over.  “Let’s go home - back to Emmaus.”  Yet Luke 24 is the glowing account of the entire re-building of a world-view.  As an apparent Stranger joins the two, it was like the uncorking of a bottle; their story pours out. Surely - they argued - The future Redeemer of Israel  - and crucifixion - have nothing to do with each other!  

Then began a fascinating Bible study on the road.  Evidently in their studies, the two had skipped the passages that spoke of a suffering Messiah.  The Stranger says, “Let me fill in those bits for you.”  Now the figures of a Suffering Servant and a conquering King begin to coalesce into a single photo-fit!  Then, at supper with the two, comes the familiar action of the breaking of bread, and – Why…. it’s Jesus.   Hot-foot, the pair make the seven miles back to Jerusalem.  Ultimately, it was the Scriptures that did it for them.  Now they can’t keep the glowing news of the risen Christ to themselves!

If Jesus had not been bodily raised from the grave, the demoralized movement – like that of Theudas – would have folded within days.

 And you and I would never have heard of Him!


Sunday, 20 March 2016

‘Lifted up was He to die’

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him, should not perish but have eternal life    (John 3:14,15 KJV)

The evangelist John Wesley once spoke of grumblers as ‘tearing the flesh from my bones.’  Christ’s words here were a reference back to Numbers chapter 21, in which the ever-grumbling Israelites – on their way to the Promised Land – came under the divine judgment of venomous snakes.  Forgiveness and restoration were only provided by the Lord Himself, through the raising up by Moses of a copper serpent in the camp.  Those who in faith fixed their gaze upon the serpent would be saved from death.

This seemingly obscure episode, taking up only four verses of the Scriptures, might have been forgotten across posterity, but for Jesus’ application of the event to the ‘lifting up’ of Himself in saving power when He was to die upon the Cross.  

1. The Death principle is here.  Remember that it was the Serpent, Satan, that introduced death into our human story.  Jesus now draws the parallel between the death from serpent-bite that faced those Israelites of old and the eternal death that all humanity faces as a result of our common rebellion against God’s rule.

2. The Faith principle is here.  The remedy for the people’s sin was the uplifted bronze snake.  To fasten one’s gaze upon that snake was to be exercising obedient faith.  Now Jesus equates the ‘seeing’ of the snake to believing in Himself. “Lifted up was He to die’ runs the old hymn. There on the Cross, the Lord was suspended between earth and heaven – there to be rejected by both.  At that point – in the acceptance in Himself of our sins and their just penalty - He was the loneliest Person in the universe.

3. The Salvation principle. Just as life would be given to those who set their focused gaze upon the serpent of old, so today forgiveness and eternal life are freely given to ‘Whosoever’ will trust in Christ’s atoning sacrifice.

The famous seventeenth century Puritan leader Richard Baxter once commented, "I thank God for this word ‘Whosoever.’  If it read, “There is mercy for Richard Baxter,”  I am so vile, so sinful, that I would have thought it must have meant some other Richard Baxter; but this word ‘Whosoever’ includes the worst of all the Baxters that ever lived!" 


Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Denying the Truth

There will be terrible times in the last days.  People will be lovers of themselves…. having a form of godliness but denying its power.    (2 Timothy 3:1-5)

If society is equipped and touched with the Scriptures, a widespread elevation in living and behaviour can be expected.  But what if the truth is denied and neglected?  “Take away the alarmed conscience,” wrote Soren Kierkegaard, “and you may close the churches and turn them into dancing halls.”  A certain pattern seems to surface in this catalogue of evils, here in 2 Timothy chapter 3, verses 1-5:

1. The ‘Me First’ Society.  ‘Lovers of themselves…’
2. Unbridled materialism.  ‘Lovers of money…’
3. Grossness of outlook and of appetite.  ‘Unforgiving… slanderous… without self-control…. brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited…’
4. Disintegration of families.  ‘Boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love…’
5. Pleasure-mad living.  ‘Lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.’
6. Counterfeit religion.  ‘Having a form of godliness but denying its power….’

At certain times in history, the slide is arrested by the renewed preaching of the good news of Christ, and great spiritual revivals can result.  But no company of Christian believers can afford to live on the spiritual capital of past great days.  The same battles are going to have to be won all over again in each successive generation; we can take nothing for granted!

Ask yourself today, What can I personally do – more than I am doing at present – to win my friends and colleagues back from the denials of Truth so prevalent today?


Sunday, 6 March 2016

A Perfect Cube

(The angel) measured the city with the rod, and found it to be 12,000 stadia in length, and as wide and high as it is long   (Revelation 21:16)

Here is the Bible’s final, idealistic picture of the perfectly-proportioned City of God – measured by a multiple of twelve and ten; twelve being the number of ‘the Church’ (the twelve tribes of the Old Testament, the twelve apostles of the New); ten - the number of rounded-off completion.

Only in one other place does the Bible feature a cube – in the Tabernacle, the worship tent of Moses’ day.  The Tabernacle represented the universe – and the dwelling place of God.  At first (Exodus 26:1-30) it was a single undivided space, symbolic of an untroubled and united world order.  It is only as we reach verse 31 that the instruction is then given to give it a dividing curtain, with the intention of separating the sinful worshipper from the inner cube-sanctuary of God.

This ‘Most Holy Place’ could never be approached by anyone, except the High Priest, and then only once a year.  There was always that curtain, like a silent sentry saying, “Keep out!”

It was as Jesus died upon the Cross that the dividing curtain, in what was then Jerusalem’s Temple, was dramatically torn in two (Matthew 27: 51).  The message was obvious: “The way into God’s holy presence is open at last – to every believer!”  And Revelation 21-22 sets out the final picture.  It’s a return to Eden.  The tree’s back!  the curse has gone!  Babel is reversed!  And believers are united at last with God - with heaven and earth together in a perfect cube tabernacle.

Get ready now for the Day!