|Series Theme: Reaching into Redemption|
PART THREE: Redeeming Israel
Reaching into Redemption Meditations:
15. Redeeming Israel - Exodus
2 Sam 7:23,23 And who is like your people Israel—the one nation on earth that God went out to redeem as a people for himself, and to make a name for himself, and to perform great and awesome wonders by driving out nations and their gods from before your people, whom you redeemed from Egypt? You have established your people Israel as your very own forever, and you, Lord , have become their God
Redemption and the Exodus: We are going to step back from considering individuals for a moment – we will pick up on individuals in the New Testament again later – so that we can see the big view of redemption in the Old Testament, specifically in the life of the whole nation of Israel. The verses above, about the Exodus, were spoken by King David in prayer and they show us that this idea was well established in the history of Israel. After the Exodus, Moses and Israel sang a song of victory in which we find, “ In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed .” (Ex 15:13) in that they were following the terminology used by the Lord Himself before it all happened: “ Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the Lord , and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.” (Ex 6:6)
Wider Application: Now normally when preachers speak about redeeming they focus on a price to be paid, which is natural when we consider Jesus dying for us on the Cross, but the greatest strength of this word is to do with ‘delivering out of', so when the apostle Paul in the New Testament says, “ Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law ,” (Gal 3:13) he is using the word in the same way as it was used in the Exodus, to bring us out from living under the shadow of the curse that comes with failure to keep the Law. We have been delivered from that life. Using the Lord's language in Ex 6, we might say, “Christ freed us from a life of slavery to guilt and shame in trying to keep all the Law and failing.”
Deliverance and Process: Now one of the points I have been seeking to make again and again in these studies so far, is that redemption is not only about the initial act of delivering out of the old bad way but is also about the ongoing process whereby God is working in our lives to make sure we stay delivered. For us as Christians, once we have been redeemed by Christ's death applied to our lives at conversion, there is this ongoing work of the Lord to ensure the work continues.
The Lifeboat Illustration: Now I know I have used this illustration more than once over the years – and I don't know where it originated – but I think the lifeboat story is possibly the best illustration of this I have ever encountered. A ship is foundering out at sea. A lifeboat goes out to it and the passengers are transferred into the lifeboat. They are redeemed. Now the lifeboat turns away and makes the long journey back to the land. They are being redeemed. When they get to the shore they get off the lifeboat and are secure on the land. They are well and truly redeemed. Christ is the lifeboat. We are the passengers. The ship is our ‘old life'. When we get off it into the lifeboat we are now ‘in Christ' and the journey back to land is our present life. The shore is heaven. We were redeemed, we are being redeemed and we will be well and truly redeemed.
The Deliverance from Egypt: The Exodus should have had three elements. What we tend to focus on and call ‘The Exodus', the deliverance out of slavery, out of Egypt, was part one. Part two should have been of a few months duration, the travelling through the desert in the presence of the Lord, with Him providing for them as they travelled, culminating in them entering into the Promised Land (part three). Of course we know that part two was extended to forty years because Israel refused to enter the Land under the Lord's guiding and so stayed in the desert until everyone over the age of twenty at that time, eventually died off and only the younger generation and subsequent generations growing up under them, were then free to go in and take the Land under Joshua.
The Deliverance from the Desert: Now I think many of us are so familiar with this story that we fail to see that what I have just described was God's act of mercy in redeeming Israel. How we take for granted these events but consider an alternative scenario: when Israel rebelled and grumbled, as they did a number of times on the journey from Egypt to Mount Sinai, the Lord could have wiped out a portion of them as a short sharp shock to bring them round, but instead, in that period, we find He is most lenient with them. It is like He treats them as an immature child who has yet to learn.
Sinai to the Land: At Mount Sinai they have amazing revelations of Him and yet even while they are still there, they rebel over the matter of the golden calf, but only those who appear to have been involved with it die, a very small percentage of the population. On the journey from Sinai, the level of discipline is higher; they have had revelation should know better. When they get to the border of the Promised Land they have had opportunity after opportunity to learn and to trust the Lord and so when they rebel, God could have wiped them all out with the exception of one or two faithful families perhaps. After all that was what the Lord had offered Moses on Sinai: “ my anger shall blaze out against them and destroy them all; and I will make you, Moses, into a great nation instead of them,” (Ex 32:10) yet Moses had realised that that was not what was really on God's heart and spoke against that happening. But it could have if God were not a God of mercy and grace.
The Discipline of the Forty Years: So why did God allow forty years to pass, forty years in which only very slowly, by natural causes, the people over the age of twenty at the time of the Exodus died? The answer has got to be because the Lord works on the long-term redemption of Israel and that means preserving a remnant who will continue the name and continue the culture. That generation under twenty, and all those born in that forty-year period in the desert, would never forget the fundamentals of what is happening here, that the God with whom they are now related, is holy and requires obedience. The forty years is less for those who died and more for those who survived; they have to learn because they still have the taking of the Land in front of them.
Further Redemption: But can we see this, that the Lord's intent is to redeem Israel from themselves !!!!! They are in a learning process, they have to grow up and mature, they have to change. He has redeemed them from Egypt and now He has to get Egypt out of them. And here's the thing, that is exactly as it is with us. He redeems us from our old life but now He is redeeming us and getting our old life out of us. When we are born again – with a new identity, cleansed from the past and forgiven, and empowered by the Holy Spirit, the past should have gone but when you look at some of the teaching of the New Testament, you realise it is an ongoing process.
Examples: Consider some of the teaching from the apostles. Paul's teaching in Rom 6 is about the change we are to consider that has taken place in our life when we came to Christ, but he still instructs, “ Do not let sin control your puny body any longer; do not give in to its sinful desires.” (6:12) i.e. he recognizes that we still battle with sin, a hangover from the old life if you like. When he says, “do not” (twice) he is calling on us to make acts of the will to overcome the old tendency that lurks in the background. Similarly the apostle John in his first letter says, “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” (1 Jn 2:1) i.e. he too recognizes that we have a battle with sin and sometimes can fail. When the apostle Paul writes, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God, ” (Phil 4:6) by the very fact that he is writing this, he is acknowledging that sometimes life is tough, and we will give way to anxiety, and so he gives us the pathway to overcome it. Each of these three illustrations show us that life is an ongoing battle that we overcome with the grace of God, the help of Jesus at the Father's right hand, ruling in heaven, and the Holy Spirit indwelling us.
Jesus' Example: Now we have just said that this phase of our redemption is a process of change and so often we say that it is to change more into the likeness of Jesus. As the NLT says, “ the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.” (2 Cor 3:18) But perhaps we wonder, if Israel was being taught to trust the Lord more, and we are being taught to be transformed into Jesus' likeness, how does that work? Well, let's take three simple examples of things that go on in this process of change, where God seeks to ensure we are able to keep on and fully walk out our lives as His children, growing in grace. Remember, Jesus our example.
Learning to resist the enemy with God's word and God's presence: See Jesus being tempted. How does he overcome the enemy? With knowing God's will through God's word. What is the apostolic teaching: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (Jas 4:7) That's the order: draw near to the Lord and then you can resist the enemy in such measure that he will flee.
Learning to trust without seeing: Realise the basis of discipleship. Fairly recently I imagined a conversation between Jesus and one of his disciples when he first called him: Hi, I'm Jesus. Yes, I know, I've heard about you. OK, well now I want you to leave what you're doing and follow me. How long for? As long as I have to train you to carry on doing what I do. How long will that take? Come along and see. What will we be doing? I'll show you when you follow me. How will we do it? I'll show you when you follow me. Do you see the point? It is when we have once started following Jesus that he will then show us the way. As the apostle Paul said, “we live by faith, not by sight.” (2 Cor 5:7)
Learning to do what Jesus did: Jesus' teaching is scary: “ I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12) Now before you panic (“I don't know how to cast out demons or raise the dead!!!!”) remember that we said this is a process, learning takes time and God knows how fast you can learn and won't put you into circumstances beyond that which you can cope with, using His grace.
Redemption again: So there it is. Redemption is not only the original deliverance, it is also the ongoing process of change. The scary thing about the picture of Israel in the desert is that it shows us it is possible to resist God and you can stay there and fail to enter into the wonder of all the Lord has for you (the Promised Land = the kingdom of God?) which is why the writer to the Hebrews gave such a strong warning (Heb 3:7-19), warning against hardheartedness (v.8), holding on faithfully to the end (v.14), resisting disobedience (v.18) and unbelief (v.19). Challenging and encouraging.
Reaching into Redemption Meditations:
16. Redeeming Israel – Promised Land
Ex 6:6-8 ‘I am the Lord , and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians…. And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the Lord .'”
Redemption and the Covenant: In the previous study we considered the fact of the Exodus as an act of redemption. Now we focus more tightly on the wider act of the Exodus for, in the verses above, we see the Lord revealing a two-part plan: a) to deliver Israel out of the slavery of Egypt, and b) delivering them into the freedom of the Promised Land. He also reveals that this will come about by ‘mighty acts of judgment' – which we come to know as the ten plagues, and then the destruction of Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea – and then He will enter into a new relationship with them as a people: “ I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God.” (6:7) At mount Sinai He speaks about that as a “covenant”, a legal binding agreement.
Awareness and Cooperation: Now the question arises, why does this word ‘covenant' arise so many times in the Bible? For instance, it is first used with Noah (Gen 6:18 – basically you build an ark, I'll flood the world but will save you) then Gen 9:9-17 not to flood the world again. Next came the covenant with Abram (Gen 15:18 on) and with Isaac (Gen 17:21) and at various times God referred back to His promise to Abram. Now we have ‘covenant' arising again but this time it is with the newly constituted nation, Israel, at Mount Sinai, to be a ‘treasured possession'. Now here is my question. We know from seven New Testament references that God's plan of salvation through Jesus was formulated by the Godhead, before the foundation of the world. Now that plan was going to be operated, if I may put it like this, through the ‘environment' that was the nation of Israel. So if this plan was in the mind of God from the outset and all the things we are observing are a part of that big over-arching plan, why did the Lord bother to announce it; He was going to do it anyway? The answer has to be because He wanted them and us to be aware of it and in being aware, be an active part of it, cooperating with Him in it all the way along.
Land and People: It is clear from the Lord's original declaration in Ex 6:6-8 that His plan involves a) them as a people (Ex 6:6,7) and b) Canaan as the land He had promised to the Patriarchs (Ex 6:7,8). For us today that is expressed as a) the Church, the redeemed community of God's people, and b) the kingdom of God, wherever and whenever and however His will is expressed on the earth through us today. People and purpose. The Promised Land was to be the environment in which Israel existed and revealed their relationship with God. Today we do not have a physical land because the ‘kingdom of God' is revealed anywhere in the world where the people of God express the reign of God.
God's Purpose for the Taking of the Land: It is clear from the Lord's declarations that His intent in respect of the Promised Land also included bringing judgment on the inhabitants, the Canaanites. As the other aspect of it was to give Israel a home of their own, it meant that He wanted to use Israel to bring that judgment on the Canaanites.
Understanding the Judgment on Canaan: Now there is often so much mis-information, ignorance or even confusion about this, that we need to deal with it here. First of all, when we consider God's instructions to Israel and His statements about His own involvement, we find there are 31 references to the Canaanites being DRIVEN OUT, and only 4 references to them being DESTROYED and only 4 to them being WIPED OUT. God's overall purpose was that the Land be cleared of the Canaanites and their pagan practices, and that achieved by driving out those pagan inhabitants, so only if they resisted in battle would they need to be overcome and destroyed.
Possibilities: Now those pagan practices could be removed (and that is the objective of the judgment that is Israel on them) by a) the people leaving the Land (hence ‘driven out') or b) they submit to Israel and become part of Israel – and that we see happening in respect of Rahab (see Josh 2) and the Gibeonites (see Josh 9). When God said He would drive them out, it is clear He means a) using fear (e.g. Deut 2:25, 11:25, Josh 2:9,11, 5:1) and b) using Israel themselves.
Failure & Discipline! Now when you study what actually happened, you realise a) Israel failed to do what they were commanded to do, AND b) the Lord accommodated their failure into His overall plan! This becomes clear when we move on into the book of Judges. Their failure is first recorded in Jud 1:27-36 and He holds them to account over this (see 2:3 which echoes Num 33:55 and is seen in Josh 23:13.) The warning had been clearly given that if they failed to clear the land of its people then, “ those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live,” (Num 33:55) God had fulfilled His covenant with Abram etc. (see Ex 33:1, Numb 14:23, 32:11, Deut 1:35, 10:11, 31:20,21,23. 34:4, Josh 1:6) and Israel should have trusted Him but didn't. That was their failure which was now seen in their failure to completely clear the Land. Now He declares, “I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations Joshua left when he died. I will use them to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the Lord and walk in it as their ancestors did.” (Jud 2:21.22)
God's Persistence: We will see the outworking of this in the next study but what is amazing is that, as can be seen in the way the people grumble leaving Egypt, the way they grumble in the desert on the way to Sinai, the way they turn away so quickly at Sinai, the way they grumble on the way from Sinai to the Land, and their refusal to enter the Land, CONSTANTLY they fail to apprehend the wonder of the Lord's presence with them and trust Him, and CONSTANTLY they fail to be obedient to Him. Now in Ex 19:5, one of our starter verses above , “if you obey me fully,” is the crucial condition required of Israel but, as we've just seen, they fail to do that again and again. So what is amazing is God's determination in working this through with Israel. One way or another His is going to redeem them and bring them through to the place where they will indeed be a light to the nations.
Lessons for Us? We must, as we've said before, never be casual about sin and never settle for a path that leads us away from receiving all that the Lord has on His heart for us. It is important that we do not live our lives based on our emotions that will go up and down. Growing ‘in Christ' means we come to rely on the truths of the Gospel, the things we are considering here. However, there are in all this, two things that are really encouraging.
Redeemed from godlessness: The first is that the Lord will not give up on us just because we make a mess of life. In fact the truth is that many of us came to Christ because we realised what a mess we were making of life on our own, and we recognised our godlessness – yet on our own we were incapable of changing that. It was when we called out to Him that we found He was there for us and all of our mess didn't matter. He died to redeem us from our mess.
Redeemed from the failures: The second thing is that although we may continue to get it wrong, and we continue to ‘trip over our feet', the Lord is there constantly working to get us through to the end where we can come confidently face to face with Him in eternity. Yes, this account of Israel entering the Promised Land and yet not fully taking it, so often epitomizes our lives. We've entered the new life in the kingdom of the Son (Col 1:13) and yet how imperfectly we live it sometimes. But not only does the Lord not give up on us, He perseveres in His project which is to change us and see us through to the end, and that is where discipline comes. He will, like Israel in the imperfectly taken land, use the things we tolerate – against us – to help change us! Those things we think are OK, so we don't get to sort them out, He will use to discipline us until we see what is going on and take steps to completely remove them from our lives. This process is life-long, and it is what theologians call sanctification.
Reaching into Redemption Meditations:
17. Redeeming Israel – Time of the Judges
Jud 2:15,16 They were in great distress. Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders
Redemption and Israel: The thrust of these studies, I hope you will have seen, is that redemption is not only about the initial event but also the Lord's ongoing activity to ensure we run the full course. Nowhere is that clearer in the Bible than in the story of Israel. It is not a mere account of a special nation, it is a story of redemption – ongoing redemption, redemption at the hands of a God who is determined to help His faithful people survive, and therein was the problem – so often, so many of them were not faithful and in that they simply reflect the human race as a whole.
The Ongoing Story: Yesterday we finished in Judges 2. Let's examine verses 10-14: and there we see time moving on:
“ After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors , (v.10a) i.e. times moves on
another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel.” (v.10b) i.e. a sign of poor teaching, not passing on the faith
Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals .” (v.11) General statement
They forsook the Lord , the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them.” (v.12a) Detail of their folly
They aroused the Lord 's anger,” (v.12b) – the effect, “because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths.” (v.13) contrary to all Moses' teaching.
In his anger against Israel the Lord gave them into the hands of raiders who plundered them. He sold them into the hands of their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist.” (v.14) God's form of disciplinary judgment to bring them to their senses by lifting off His hand of protection so they were attacked by pagan neighbours.
The Cycle: Then comes what we see happening again and again in Judges: “ They were in great distress. Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders ” (v.15,16) Whenever the people came to their senses, the Lord sent deliverers. The summary verses that follow spell it out so clearly:
“ Yet they would not listen to their judges but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them. They quickly turned from the ways of their ancestors, who had been obedient to the Lord 's commands. ” (v.17)
“ Whenever the Lord raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the Lord relented because of their groaning under those who oppressed and afflicted them.( v.18)
But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their ancestors, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.” (v.19)
Overview of Judges: The book of Judges is essentially a record of how this happened again and again and each of the named judges was someone raised up by the Lord to deliver Israel when they cried out under the present disciplining following their yet again turning away from the Lord:
Shamgar (v.31 – no mention of the cycle).
Deborah & Barak (4:1-24 – a longer story + a song of triumph to follow)
Gideon (6:1 - 8:35 – note the stories get longer)
(a period of internal strife – Ch.9)
Jephthah (10:6 - 12:7)
Ibzan, Elon and Abdon (12:8-15 three judges in uneventful time)
Unsettled times (ch.17-21)
Key Points: Again and again throughout these accounts we see the cycle rolls out starting with, “ Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord.” For the expression ‘did evil' see 2:11, 3:7, 3:12, 4:1, 6:1, 10:6, 13:1 i.e. seven times this condemnation comes. Again and again, to bring discipline on Israel, the Lord lifted off His hand of protection and allowed the neighbours to attack Israel: Moab, Ammonites and Amalekites (3:12,13), Canaan (4:2), Midian (6:1), Philistines and the Ammonites (10:7), Philistines (13:1). The deliverers the Lord used we have listed above. What should also be noted of these deliverers is that they were not always the godliest of people, indeed far from it sometimes. The truth is that the Lord used whoever (presumably) He saw would respond and become a deliverer.
With some, the motivation was clearly to deliver Israel and yet that motivation was not always clear, for Gideon was certainly a reluctant deliverer and Samson was a carnal deliverer concerned more for his own pleasure, so deliverance was almost an accident! Yet clearly the Lord knew all these shortcomings but also knew the individual in question could achieve the deliverance that was required.
The closing chapters of the book show what a confusing and unsettled time this was in this embryonic nation. Although these judges were mostly warriors of some kind or another, with one exception (a woman) there was virtually no prophetic input at this time which suggests, what we have been considering so far, that their state of almost universal rebellion prevented such a thing, yet Deborah shows that it was not impossible.
Reflections on Redemption: We have observed in the previous studies how the Lord delivered Israel out of Egypt, how He persevered with them through their desert travels to Sinai, how He dealt with them at Sinai, how He persevered with them on their travels to the border of the Promised Land and how He dealt with them when they refused to enter that land. It was one long struggle to keep Israel on the right track and involved a number of disciplinary judgments along the way. We may wonder why the Lord tolerated this and didn't wipe them out. I suggest, because the story, which has continued on so clearly in Judges, shows two things: a) the sinfulness of mankind even when God is there to help, and revealing a need of a redeemer, and b) the incredible grace of God which persevere and perseveres, in the face of that ongoing sinfulness, to work to discipline, correct but preserve the nation. But it doesn't end there, the rest of the Old Testament follows with a similar picture which we'll see in the next two studies.
Lessons for Us? I find the book of Judges tends to have a depressing effect upon me because it is such a catalogue of failures, if not by the nation, by individuals. And yet, there must be this massive lesson that screams out from it: if Israel could go through this long period of continual failure despite all the Lord's efforts to get them back on track and then deliver them, and He keeps on with them and doesn't reject them, there is hope for you and me when we get it wrong. This must be the message that keeps coming through. God is there to redeem us – and go on redeeming us! Our failures will not put Him off. Having saved you, you can be assured that He will be there on your case, constantly working to deliver you. Rejoice in that – and purposefully join in with it!
Reaching into Redemption Meditations:
18. Redeeming Israel – The Divided Land
1 Kings 11:11-13 So the Lord said to Solomon, “Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates. Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it out of the hand of your son. Yet I will not tear the whole kingdom from him, but will give him one tribe for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen.”
Redemption despite failing people: I did originally consider making this a study about Solomon, but the truth is that this is about a significant event in the life of Israel and involves a number of people, none of whom come out of this very well. And that is the point that comes through again and again in these studies – and which we need to see for our own lives – that these are stories of people who fail, people who get it wrong and yet are also people who do not put God off from His goals. I suspect the truth must be that all these things the Lord sees, right there before the foundation of the world, when the Godhead decides on the plan of salvation for the world that will involve the coming to earth of the glorious Son of God.
Yes, the truth is that God knows all these things will happen, but that does not stop Him intervening and speaking into our affairs. This is both the one and the same God who sees it all from above and outside of time, so He knows what will come, but also involves Himself in the individual affairs of mankind in time-space history. This redemption involves Him not only acting into history to save individuals and a nation but perseveres with them to get them through to a good end, an end He is always working towards – and that applies as much to your life and mine as individuals, as it does to Israel as a nation and the world at large.
The Players (1): So, let's note each of the players in this particular episode in the life of Israel, first of all the main players and then the secondary but significant others. First we must mention the Lord who presides over all that takes place and speaks to the various individuals. Second , there is Solomon , a man who started out with wisdom, was given more wisdom and became the richest and most powerful man on the earth. Tragically he gradually drifted away from the Lord as he took on new foreign wife after new foreign wife, each one who came with their own pagan religion, which eventually permeated the royal household and Solomon himself so that, eventually, the Lord speaks the words of the verse above which decrees what will follow. Now it is always important to understand that the Lord does not MAKE people do sinful acts, but He does a) step back and lift off His hand of protection and b) allow Satan to provoke the hearts of sin that are always there.
The Players (2): The third ‘player' in this drama is Hadad the Edomite, a child refugee from an earlier time (see 1 Kings 11:14-18) who entered the Egyptian royal family (v.19,20) and who, when he hears David has died, returns to Israel and is counted as “an adversary” to Solomon, an instrument of disciplinary correction. The fourth player, another “adversary” is Rezin , another thorn in Solomon's side (v.23-25). These two are not major players but they help create an atmosphere of uncertainty and upheaval in the final years of Solomon. Fifth , a more significant player is Jeroboam (v.25 on) who receives a word from Ahijah the prophet, who spells out Israel's failure in becoming idol worshippers, and very clearly declares what will happen in line with our starter verses (see v.31-39). After Solomon's death, Jeroboam comes back from exile and challenges the heir to the throne, the sixth player, Rehoboam who is very unwise in his initial dealing with the challenge and causes the division (see 12:1-24) so that Jeroboam becomes king over the ten northern tribes.
But why? The obvious assessment of what took place in the dividing of the kingdom is simply judgment on Solomon and Israel at large, but why divide the kingdom in this way? There are two preliminary answers, but they are only preliminary. The first one is to remove the control of the land from the family of Solomon, Solomon having shown such disregard for the Lord, despite his earlier wisdom, because so often bad example is projected into the next generation. The second one is an act of grace – to leave Jerusalem and two tribes in the hands of the ongoing family of David. David had shown such an example that perhaps that would impact future kings. The truth is that of the kings of the north, none of them put right the matter of idolatry which Jeroboam instigated (see 1 Kings 12:25-33) and none of them could be considered a ‘good' king. On the other hand, the kings of the south turned out to be a mixed bunch. Both kingdoms were eventually overrun by invaders, so the kingdom ceased, Israel in the north in 722BC to the Assyrians, and Judah in the south in 586/7 to Nebuchadnezzar. Thus followed the Exile which we will consider in more detail in the next study.
Again, but why? Although the above two reasons are obvious, having been described in the words of the Lord in the earlier prophecies to Solomon (1 Kings 11:11-13) and to Jeroboam (1 Kings 11:29-39), they nevertheless still do not explain the Lord's reasoning. We can but speculate. First, what follows is the breaking up of what had been a great, prosperous and powerful kingdom. It is first of all a humbling experience and second , a bringing to an end of that experience. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away! Third , it separates off Jerusalem from the larger part of the ungodly and idol-worshipping nation, perhaps in an endeavour to keep it holy with its Temple. Fourth , the cutting down to size of this once great and powerful nation will be seen by the surrounding nations and they will hear that this is a disciplinary act of Almighty God. God is not to be trifled with. A light to the nations? Well in that they convey truth about holiness, righteousness and accountability, yes. Fifth , it is a way to ensure that the nation has a double chance of surviving and remaining in God's purposes for the earth. Sixth , it will be a lesson, conveyed down through the years to God's people that they are accountable to Him and that He will act against them if that becomes necessary. Seventh , it is a sign of God's grace that He does not completely disown them and start again with some other nation!
In the big picture: Looking at the whole history of Israel, we will see that despite all this, first the northern kingdom and then the southern kingdom simply fail to live up to being God's people and revert to idol worship. As we've already noted, both kingdoms will eventually be brought to an end because of their ongoing folly and intransigence. Yet, nevertheless, despite all this, there will still remain an identifiable people, descended from Abraham who will still be recognized on the earth as “God's people” and who will create a right environment into which the Son of God will eventually come. It is all part of the ongoing picture of redemption of Israel, a picture that reveals the ongoing sin of Israel and the ongoing grace of God. There are certain unwise crusading atheists who rant about what a terrible God we have. These accounts show how foolish that assessment is.
Reaching into Redemption Meditations:
19. Redeeming Israel – The Exile
2 Chron 36:15-17 The Lord , the God of their ancestors, sent word to them through his messengers again and again, because he had pity on his people and on his dwelling place. But they mocked God's messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the Lord was aroused against his people and there was no remedy. He brought up against them the king of the Babylonians
Recap: We have considered the redemption of Israel through the Exodus and then God's ongoing redemptive activity getting them to Sinai and then into the Promised Land, His activity seeing them through their early years as recorded in Judges and then Solomon's failure that resulted in the nation being divided into two. The next big milestone in Israel's history that we now come to is the Exile. When we did a study on Manasseh, we also considered the last six kings of Judah (Israel having gone long before) and perhaps we need to recap those kings here:
Josiah: A mostly good king (see 2 Chron 34 & 35) but was unnecessarily killed after a battle (35:20-27).
Jehoahaz : Only reigned a short period before Egypt came against him and so Jehoahaz ends up in Egypt and Jehoiakim is left to reign. See 2 Chron 36:2-4
Jehoiakim: (2 Chron 36:5-8) Did evil, was taken to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar after 11-year reign.
Jehoiachin: (2 Chron 9,10) A bad king who only reigned for three months before Nebuchadnezzar called him to Babylon.
Zedekiah: R efused the Lord (2 Chron 36:11-14), and after 11-year reign was taken into exile with Judah in Babylon (36:15-21)
And So? Now what this short summary does is show us the terrible state of the leadership of this special nation, a nation called to be God's special possession and a light to the rest of the world. Moreover, where the leadership of a nation goes, the nation tends to follow, and the prophetic words from both Jeremiah and Ezekiel confirm that this was so. It was like the spiritual tide of Israel had gone out – and was staying out! Now, at the risk of being tedious, can I remind you what this series is all about: it is about our God who, confronted by our continual failures, perseveres and works to bring us through to a good place. Our problem with the Bible tends to be twofold. First it is so big we tend to be ignorant of big bits of it (ask any church group to recount the main points of Israel's history as seen in the Old Testament and see how much we don't know). Second, some bits of it that we do focus on (having missed the ‘hard' bits), become so familiar that we give little thought to them. It is for this reason that I emphasise our purpose here.
The Exile? If some of the bad sides of some of the people we considered shocked us, and if the continual history of grumbling and turning away from the Lord in Israel's history have depressed us, that should all pale into insignificance in comparison to what take place in the run up to the destruction of Jerusalem in 587BC, the carrying away of virtually all the people to Babylon. Samaria being destroyed, and the northern kingdom being taken off was one thing, but the destruction of Jerusalem AND the Temple is something else! It is clearly the end of Israel! – or it would be if Jeremiah hadn't already prophesied that God would bring the nation back and restore them after seventy years! Now seventy years is a long time, an average person's lifetime. It turns out that that seventy years would be measured from the destruction of the Temple to the completion of the rebuilding of the new Temple. God's house. God's presence is the measuring stick. The means of the people being returned – pagan king Cyrus being told by God to let them go – is incredible. Up until that point, if you were a survivor, you might have been sitting there in misery in Babylon wondering how anything could possibly change your circumstances. And then suddenly a royal proclamation comes from the palace to your people – get yourselves ready, you're to go home, yes back to Canaan!!!!!
Incredible! The story is so enormous, so incredible and takes up so many pages of prophecy and history in your Bible that I am not attempting to quote any of it. Read Jeremiah, read Ezekiel, for the historical references within prophecies, read the end of 2 Chronicles for the way it is summed up, read Ezra and Nehemiah to see how the return was worked out. It is all there, pages and pages of it. In many ways it is more low-key than the Exodus but in other ways far more dramatic in the sense of the many warnings that came through the prophets, the devastating events that brought an end to Jerusalem, the years of silence that must have followed, and then the edict of a pagan king to start all over again. It is staggering, it is incredible, it is amazing. If you've never caught it before, catch it now. This is God changing history just by gently speaking into the heart of a pagan king. Mind blowing! This is redemption!
The Lessons? The lessons in all this are very obvious but that doesn't make them less significant. First , see the persistence of God who through His prophets tries to hedge off this catastrophe. The sheer number, content and completeness of the many prophecies that came through Jeremiah and Ezekiel has always amazed me. Again and again the words kept coming to each of these last kings, trying to bring them to their senses. Yes, the first thing has to be the love and persistence of God that sought to prevent it all happening. Second , there has to be the folly of mankind for, let's be honest, Israel were no greater or no worse than the rest of the world; they just came as a demonstration example under the microscope to show us folly at its best (or worst), even in the face of God's continual love, with God talking to them all the time. Third , there has to be seen the wisdom of God seen through what takes place. Yes, it is horrific when Jerusalem is besieged, people die, and others are taken off into captivity, but at the end of it, lo and behold, here are a holy people, a purified people who are seeking God, seeking to ensure their lives are right with God and who are free of idol worship. Jerusalem, the land, Israel, are all in a new place with God.
And to come? Yes, there is going to be silence from heaven for a number of centuries while God waits for human history to change to be ready for His Son to come and the good news to be spread around the world, but in the meantime, Israel are still there, ready to be the environment for all of those amazing events we find in the New Testament, and it will be to those we will turn in the next study, as we pursue God's redemption of Israel.
Gal 4:4,5 when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.
Mt 1:21 you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
A Waiting People: We move on a little over four hundred years in the life of Israel and, as I have pondered many times before, it is quite possible that many in Israel had given up any expectation that God would come and speak as in the centuries before through prophets. One Christian scholar has suggested that there were then, at least six characteristics of the world that had come about, in what we tend to call the Middle East, that made that time one of the best times, if not the best time, to enable the Gospel to be carried around the world. Was this what was behind Paul's “when the set time had fully come” ?
Voices to the Nation: And then came John the Baptist and crowds flocked to him to hear an ‘in your face' message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Mt 3:2) Then, a little while later, Jesus came with the same message but accompanied it with amazing healings and miracles. It was indeed a new day. Some, when they saw his miracles, aware that their prophetic history spoke of a coming Messiah, a deliverer, wanted to make him their king (see Jn 6:15), and when he entered Jerusalem on what we call Palm Sunday, that must have surely been in the minds of many. Of course as our Matthew verse above shows, Joseph had been told that Jesus would “save his people from their sins” but perhaps only the “save his people” bit stayed in people's memories. And yet it had been a word from God.
Redeeming Israel? How would Jesus save his people from their sins? By dying on the Cross for them. No more and no less. The same way as any other people. The Cross is there for every sinner, whatever background, whatever nationality, whatever colour. Because there is often so much romanticism attached to Israel today, we need to emphasise this. Don't confuse individual salvation with the fact of God using Israel, as a people, as a light to the nations – and we'll see more of this later. If there is one thing these latter studies have shown is that Israel were not and are not a demonstration of a wonderful, righteous and holy people; in fact, exactly the opposite. But this is not meant to be character assassination of Israel for I have said more than once, that they simply demonstrate what the whole world is like – sinners in need of a redeemer.
People or a Nation? This distinction between individuals and a people becomes even more clear in their response to Jesus and, subsequently, to the Christian faith. All Jesus' initial followers were Jews. The vast majority of the early church were Jews, and yet when you observe Paul's travels, it was the Jews who persecuted him, and it was only in AD70 when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans, that the church fully relocated, and Israel ceased to be the central hub for the new faith and the Gentile emphasis came to the fore. History tells the story: individuals, Jews and Gentiles around the world, accepted the new faith but ‘as a people' there was still what the apostle Paul called a blindness over his people, ‘as a people' (Rom 11:25)
But yet more: Judaism failed to accept their Messiah and the consequence is graphically told in John's prophetic picture in Revelation 12:5,6 “ She gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.” And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.” The woman can be none other than the nation of Israel and the child is obviously Jesus. Note what happens to the nation – it flees into the wilderness, into the world, to a role or place designed for them by God. But note how long – 1260 days or three and a half years. Seven is the number of perfection, a perfect length of time in God's economy, and so half of that says, a period of time set by God, but which is only PART of His time for this part of His economy, i.e. there is more to come! And thus for nearly two thousand years, ‘Israel' were ‘hidden' by God in the world. Near the end of that time designed by God, the enemy sought to thwart the purposes of God through what we now call the Holocaust and millions of Jews died, but that very action provoked a rising up to give Israel their land again, and in the middle of the twentieth century ‘Israel' became visible again.
Observe the elect: And here we move into prophetic mystery again. Let's recap some of the things the apostle Paul taught in Romans. Are they rejected by God because of failing to receive their Messiah? “ By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don't you know what Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he appealed to God against Israel: “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me”? And what was God's answer to him? “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.” (Rom 11:1-5) i.e. the nation may have rejected Jesus but there are many individual believers, part of ‘the elect'.
Observe the Hardening: “Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved. As it is written: “The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.” (Rom 11:25-27) i.e. although they hardened themselves against Jesus and his ministry, nevertheless it was through them that he came, and he came to save them from their sins, as we saw above, as individually, one by one, they believe. Many have not of course, but is that the end of Israel? Clearly not.
All Saved? In the verses above we have this phrase: “in this way all Israel will be saved” and many who I have referred to as having romanticized views of all this, see this as meaning that every single Jew in existence will be saved. Now think about this rationally and you see that this cannot possibly be, unless God moves in sovereign reviving power and makes every Jews believe by the power of His incredible presence being made manifest in their midst at some time – which could be. There IS a special place for them on God's heart as Paul said: “ they are loved on account of the patriarchs,” i.e. Abram etc. were chosen by God to reveal Him to the world. Nothing has changed in that respect. In their struggles with their embryonic faith, learning to believe, they earned the Lord's special love. It is that love that allows them to continue as a visible people, but unless God does move in that sovereign revival power (and past ‘revivals' where that has been seen, never meant that every single person in an area became a believer) then there will always be (as revelation shows later in the book) some who will reject Jesus, and thus to talk about them receiving salvation would be a mockery.
How can we resolve this conundrum? May I suggest the following: the Lord's redeeming work that we have been observing through all these studies, never forces people to believe but it does mean that He is working there all the time to encourage good response, even sometimes using disciplinary judgments. Allowing – and indeed enabling – Israel to continue to exist as a nation, simply means that in His love, grace and mercy, the Lord allows this ‘God-society' to exist so that His name at least is constantly there in the background, acting as a catalyst-reminder to all people in that community that they are potentially at least, the genuine ‘people of God'.
The value of the ‘God-Society': This brings us back to why Israel were preserved after the Exile. As we considered briefly above, it was into this society that John the Baptist came and then Jesus came and ministered. I have called it a ‘God-society' because everything about their history and then present culture had a God element about it. They were what they were because they had history with God. They were a people in the midst of which existed a Temple where God was supposed to reside. They still had the Law of Moses which showed them what they were to do with that Temple, and that also involved a number of special periods of celebrating and it was all God-directional, i.e. pointing towards Him. Now we have seen how that became institutional or unreal, a mere formality without reality so much of the time, yet there were times and there were individuals where the light did shine out to the rest of the world. The existence of this ‘God-society' then and today, keeps the thought of God in the forefront and by that means, the Lord can draw people to Himself. Paul seems to suggest that there will yet come a time where the reality that we have been talking about will grow in many, by a combination of world events and the working of the Holy Spirit, and salvation will come to many more Jews than ever seen before. God's plan of redemption for Israel has not finished.
Reaching into Redemption Meditations:
Luke 5:8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus' knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”
Focusing on Peter: As we move into the New Testament we pick up again on specific people and there is no better starting place than to consider Peter. Now to put this in context, let's remember what we are doing: we are considering the whole subject of redemption and seeing how God perseveres with individuals (as well as with Israel as a nation) to bring them through into a good place from a not-so-good-place. Peter's is a ‘bigger than life' type of story, and yet one with which I suspect many of us could identify.
Early Encounters: Peter, the brother of Andrew, first encounters Jesus in Judah, presumably because he has taken time off from fishing (his occupation) to go to see John the Baptist (see Jn 1:40-42) and has his name prophetically changed by Jesus. We don't know how Andrew and Peter got there, but it suggests a heart willingness to see what God was doing through this newly appeared prophet, and in so doing, they meet Jesus for the first time. When they return to Galilee they find Jesus has also relocated there and he calls them to give up their fishing to follow him (see Mt 4:18-20 and Lk 5). It is Luke who gives us the fuller account. Peter, in what took place, recognizes that in Jesus, there is something about Jesus that makes him feel very inadequate, a sinner. It is a moment of real self-revelation and revelation about Jesus. So far we see a seeker and a responder. Good stuff, the sort of people we like in church – but he is a fisherman so that might suggest more of a rough and ready character who braved the uncertain weather of the Sea of Galilee for a living.
A leading light: And so Peter goes with Jesus and the others. As I have studied Peter in the past, I have been struck by the number of times he is an ‘out-front' sort of guy, so often opening his mouth and putting both feet in it, and yet there are other times when he is the one who steps out in faith. Here are some of the key times:
In the boat in the storm he steps out in faith (Mt 14:28)
He asks questions about Jesus' teaching (Mt 15:15)
He makes a bold declaration about who Jesus is (Mt 16:16)
He even rebukes Jesus (Mt 16:22)
He speaks out on the mount of Transfiguration (Mt 17:4)
He gets involved in the question that arose over paying temple tax (Mt 17:24-27)
He questions over forgiveness (Mt 18:21)
He questions about what's in it for them in the future (Mt 19:27)
He initially refuses to let Jesus wash his feet, but then all-in capitulates (Jn 13:6-9)
He declares his over confidence in his own loyalty to Jesus (Mt 26:33)
A Summary of Peter? He appears bold, brash, impetuous and yet all for Jesus, having brilliant flashes of faith and revelation every now and then. He appears a real mixed bag of instability. He's a live wire who is out front and going for it with a strong measure of self-confidence. He seems to revel in the wonder of the life with Jesus that impacts people and communities.
And then the Fall: Peter's three-times denial of Jesus (Mt 26:69-75, Mk 14:66-72, Lk 22:54-62, Jn 18:15-18, 25-27) is well documented in all four Gospels. There are relatively few things that come up in all four Gospels, but this is one of them. It is the classic example of betrayal of friendship. Peter had denied that such a thing would happen: “ he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death,” (Lk 22:33) when Jesus had prophesied, “ Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers,” (Lk 22:31,32) and then, “ Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.” (v.34)
Spiritual Dynamics: There is something here we so often miss: “Satan has asked to sift all of you.” Job 1 & 2 gives us insight of Satan's access to the throne room of God and the biblical teaching would appear to be that Satan is allowed access to our lives where we tolerate less than godly characteristics. The Lord allows this that we might be chastised and humbled and brought to a place of repentance and cleansing and change. It is the same thing that we have seen again and again in these studies, that God, in His work of redemption, often has to bring discipline into our lives to help bring change to them so we can more fully become the people He has designed us to be.
Now in this situation Jesus reveals that the enemy has claimed opportunity to ‘sift' all the disciples in what is about to happen. The Message version puts it, “ Simon, stay on your toes. Satan has tried his best to separate all of you from me, like chaff from wheat. Simon, I've prayed for you in particular that you not give in or give out. When you have come through the time of testing, turn to your companions and give them a fresh start.” Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen and although he prayed for them, he wasn't going to shield them from it; Peter is going to find himself facing a particular temptation and he's going to find that he's not yet up to it, despite all of his ‘out-front' leadership type words. God is looking for more than words; He's looking for life transformation.
Peter's Life Transformation: So Peter falls and he is devastated. In some ways, in the studies we have considered, I think he's rather like David, and certainly would like to think that he's a man after God's own heart, but in experience he becomes more like Moses whose self-esteem was utterly demolished by forty years looking after sheep after having been a Prince of Egypt. For Peter it is a crash course. His failure matches that of Moses, but in his case, he kills a friendship and steps back to let his master be killed. But then Jesus comes back from the dead and meets them all in the locked room but says relatively little. They are told to go to Galilee where he will meet them. When I considered this at Easter it struck me what a turmoil Peter must have been in. He knew Jesus knows what had happened and he knows there is going to come some sort of accounting.
Personal Testimony: I have been through something a number of years ago with vague similarity to what happened here. In my case, to cut a long story short, I felt an absolute failure but had an opportunity at a conference to be prayed over by a top-flight group of prophets. I reasoned if God was going to have to chop me to pieces, it might as well be done properly. I found myself before this group and expected the worst. Instead, from the first word to the last, and it went on for over fifteen minutes, I received total and absolute acceptance from the Lord that reduced me to a blubbering wreck of gratitude.
And Peter: You find it in the last chapter of John's Gospel where, to put it as simply as possible, Jesus makes Peter face his real and genuine love for Jesus three times (which makes the denial even worse in some ways) and then, instead of Jesus casting him away and saying (as we might expect), “Well, Pete, they were three good years but you didn't pass the test so I release you to go back to your fishing,” we find Jesus basically saying, “OK, Pete, we've been through some pretty terrible days together haven't we. I've got to be on my way back to heaven soon, so I place my church in your hands. OK!” And if I was Peter I think I would sit there flabbergasted, but that is what the love of God does. It devastates us!
And us? Now this isn't just a nice story, this is God speaking His heart into us. You have failed in a big way? No worse than Peter. You feel bad about it? No worse than Peter. Yes, there has to be a facing up to it and maybe some days, weeks, months or even years of corrective therapy by heaven, but the last thing the Lord wants is for us failures to sit around in little heaps of guilt, shame and hopelessness. This is all about redemption – the ongoing sort from God, and that for me AND you. Amen? Amen!
Phil 3:4-6 If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.
Meeting Saul: Our biggest danger as people is that sometimes we think we are ‘all right', doing well in life, appearing successful and ‘becoming someone'. Saul, or Paul as he became known to us, was such a person. In his eyes, and no doubt the eyes of his fellow Pharisees, he was doing well. He is first mentioned in Acts as an observer as Stephen is stoned to death, thus becoming the first Christian martyr: “ Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.” (Acts 7:58) But life in the early church carried on, sometimes with their new-found faith referred to as ‘The Way', until we read, “ Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.” (Acts 9:1,2). He is, as our starter verses say, a zealot, all out to preserve Judaism from this new ‘faith' that was stealing away Jews from their ‘real' faith.
Not Enough: Saul is, in the eyes of many, a really good, religious man. He is a proper Jew and also happens to be a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37,38). He keeps the Law of Moses and he is a Pharisee, a good conservative upholder of the Law and of Judaism. So we could look at the lives of people we know: good men or women, involved in society, maybe they do good works, works of charity, they are successful in their families and in business, and they have a good reputation. What more could they want, they have arrived. Well, perhaps God? Successful people tend to be self-sufficient, seeing little need for a religious crutch. Why would God want to disturb such lives?
Saul Stopped: Well Saul sets out on his way to Damascus and along the way is apprehended by the Son of God: “ As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied .” (Acts 9:3-5) This wasn't just the brightness of the sun, this was a focused flashing light from above and it was accompanied by a voice that causes him to ask who he was hearing. A strange question but perhaps he instinctively knew the answer and just needed it confirming. He gets his confirmation.
Apparent Confidence: Did this otherwise godly man have a deep-down wondering about what he was doing? Had he seen or heard things about these Christians that somehow resonated with him? It is a common experience, so sure and yet not so sure. People around us so often look so sure of themselves and yet it only needs some small event to reveal inner questions. Remember Solomon's writing about how God has made us: “ He has also set eternity in the human heart.” (Eccles 3:11) We are made to have God-awareness, eternity awareness and even though sin seeks to cover it up, it is still there.
Apparent Success: This is the truth about human life, until we have had a God-encounter, we are not what we were made to be. He may have allowed us to have ‘success' and we may think it was from our own cleverness (did we make our high IQ?), our own wisdom and certainly our extensive efforts, long working hours and so on, but there is still something missing. We may be highly respected member of the community – but still godless. Just a minute, they protest, I go to church at Christmas and Easter, and sometimes even more. Maybe they even become sides-men or members of whatever religious oversight body their local church has, but there is still something missing – and it is God.
Goodness? And so this is the thing about redemption. So far we have been focusing on bad people being worked on by God to become good people, but that is only part of the story, because He also works on good people to become holy people. “ A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.” (Lk 18:18,19) Goodness can be an illusion. A ‘good' person may give that appearance because they are motivated by guilt from the past to do good now, or their goodness may be purely self-serving. Philosophers have argued through the centuries about whether anyone can truly be altruistic (selfless) and usually concluded it is not possible. In that they echo the Bible's diagnosis, we are sinners and we are that because we are contaminated by Sin.
Deliverance from Good???? So when God redeems us, one of the ‘bad' things He has to deliver us from is the deception that we are good people. William Golding in his famous book, ‘Lord of the Flies', seeks to portray this, that taken out of the trappings of civilization, we soon reveal the sinner within. Many of us are ‘nice' because we have a good family background, and quite possibly we have an affluent lifestyle, we have good education, a good job, good investments, property and so on. It is a comfy, cozy and secure environment and although there is nothing inherently bad about any of that, and God would want it for all of us, it does carry the danger of making us think we are the masters of our destiny.
A Modern Illustration: I understand the philosophy, if not therapeutically-based thinking, behind the Invictus Games that have come into being in recent years, in which, to quote Wikipedia, “ wounded, injured or sick armed services personnel and their associated veterans take part in sports,” I nvictus being Latin for “unconquered.” It is a worthy if not excellent humanitarian enterprise, yet I am saddened by their motto, “I am” which is a shortened reminder of a popular poem from the late nineteenth century by the English author William Ernest Henley. The speaker in the poem proclaims his strength in the face of adversity: ”My head is bloody, but unbowed....I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.” As I say, it is understandable and even commendable except it falls short of the truth, for I may struggle with great effort to overcome the anguishes of modern life (and war and fighting is not modern) but if that becomes a substitute for a reliance upon God, it is a deception.
The Warning to Israel: When Moses instructed Israel on the Plains of Moab before they entered the Promised Land, he warned them, “ When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the Lord , who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” (Deut 6:10-12) i.e. once you get into the land and settle there and receive all of God's goodness and are affluent, be careful in that affluence not to forget the Lord.
The Bigger Redemption Picture: Thus the picture of redemption isn't just about delivering out of a bad place into a good place, it is also (and this is vital) about being delivered out of godlessness into being godly. A real and genuine relationship with the Lord is the end goal of the Lord's redemptive work – always. So don't just yearn for the Lord to deliver you out of bad circumstances, yearn also for Him to lead you into a deeper relationship with Him. That is His goal, so let's make sure it is ours as well.
Reaching into Redemption Meditations:
23. The Apostle Paul (2)
2 Cor 1:8-11 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers.
Doing Paul Justice: When we came to the end of yesterday's study about Paul, I felt very much that we had sold Paul short, if I may put it like that. We covered the idea of ‘good people' needing redeeming and we noted something of Paul's background as a good religious, even zealous Jew, and yet one who was obviously pointing in the wrong direction. He must have been of good reputation to be able to have gone to the high priest to get authority to go to Damascus in the name of Judaism to arrest heretics who had abandoned their background for the new thing referred to as ‘The Way'. But much of the New Testament is filled with his writings and his activities and they reveal a man who has been so transformed from the religious zealot that he had once been.
Refocusing Redemption: Now perhaps before we continue here with Paul we need to remind ourselves of our theme and what is at the heart of it. We have said a number of times that it is not only about the initial act of redemption but also the ongoing life of redemption, a life where God is working to reshape us (like Jeremiah's Potter's clay pot – see Jer 18) into the likeness of Jesus (2 Cor 3:18). Now what many of us fail to remember is that this ‘reshaping' isn't only in character reformation, it is all about the overall purpose, direction and drive of our lives, i.e. how we in our unique way come to express something of the kingdom of God, the will of God, and the purpose of God, in our lives and to the world.
Understand Individual Calling: Now the reassuring thing, for some of us, is that we are not being called into the likeness of Paul, or even of Jesus as we see him in the Gospels. The thing is that God has a unique plan for each of our lives (see Eph 2:10). Jesus, for instance, never ministered outside the general area of Israel, while Paul travelled far and wide. Jesus performed many, many healings and miracles, while few are recorded of Paul. Jesus' primary purpose was twofold: to reveal the love of the Father in his ministry and then to die on the Cross for our salvation. Paul's ministry similarly appears twofold: first to take the Gospel to both Jew and Gentile and then, second, and he would never realise this, to provide a written body of teaching and revelation for us the church down through the ages, that opened up and explained the meaning and purpose of the coming and outworking of Jesus' ministry, in a way that goes way beyond the Gospels.
And Us? So when it comes to us, when we look at a ministry such as that of Paul, we can be stirred and challenged but must realise that God has a unique calling for each of us that may completely mess with our previous perceptions of spiritual versus material aspects of life. The main thrust of a life might be in business, let's say housebuilding, but a secondary kingdom issue that may emerge for that housebuilder, is to provide housing for the homeless out of profits made. It is always a challenge, a) to see all activities within the ambit of calling, and then b) to see if there is something additional the Lord is calling us to do as an extension of our main activity in life.
Back to Paul: So here is this good Pharisee, jealous for the name of Judaism, reaching out to bring a halt to this new ‘Way' and he gets stopped by Jesus. As a result of his encounter on the road to Damascus, “ when he opened his eyes he could see nothing.” (Acts 9:8a) so that “they led him by the hand into Damascus,” (v.9b) and “for three days he was blind and did not eat or drink anything.” (v.9) He has been completely immobilized and can do nothing. It is then that the Lord sends a Christian by the name of Ananias to speak to him and give him his marching orders: “ This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” (v.15,16). When Ananias prays over him he is filled with the Spirit and regains his sight. Immediately he starts preaching in synagogues (where his fellow-Jews would meet for worship and teaching), “ that Jesus is the Son of God.” (v.20)
Redemption is about Jesus: In the Old Testament this obviously did not feature but once we move into the present day we have to say that, first and foremost, redemption – God delivering us out of our old bad life into a new life of freedom – is about a relationship with God that only comes about by means of the work of Jesus Christ on the Cross. This may sound obvious but there may be those who would want a new life but one that comes by self-effort, or New Age techniques perhaps, or other self-help approaches enabled by ‘experts' or even ‘counsellors'. Redemption is not about all this; it is only possible via the work of the Son of God, and the requirement is twofold: 1. That you believe he is the unique Son of God who came to the earth to reveal God the Father and 2. That he came to take the punishment for your sins which, once acknowledged and repented of, are dealt with once and for all and removed and a new life given by God and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Redemption is a free gift: When we come to the teaching of the apostle Paul we find he is most emphatic, it is not by our efforts that we are saved: “ it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves , it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast,” ( Eph 2:8,9), it is a gift from God through Christ's death on the Cross and now enabled by the Spirit: “does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?” (Gal 3:5) Now again this might sound something fairly obvious, but the truth is that so often we drift from our original faith foundations and find ourselves like the Galatians reverting back to relying on appearance or effort or even ritual. Paul was a ‘doer', an activist, he was always out there doing the stuff. Before he came to Christ it was dealing with this heresy as he saw it. After he was saved he just had to share the gospel. The danger is that when we are very active we start to rely on that activity as the means or basis for our relationship with the Lord. It isn't. It is only the work of Christ, received by simple faith, and then the work of the Holy Spirit in and through us, and all of that cannot be earned, but just received as a free gift from God.
Redemption is about imperfect people: So God's work would continue on in Paul and we might expect that with a spiritual giant like this, all we would see is a picture of gloriously sanctified holiness. However, and it is difficult to tell when these various things applied, there are indicators that if we were looking for perfection, there are things that would detract from that. Without doubt Paul was a great teacher and yet sometimes his teaching was sufficiently complex that the apostle Peter commented, “ His letters contain some things that are hard to understand ,” (2 Pet 3:16) The positive take on that is that revelation sometimes needs some thinking about; the less positive take is that Paul could have made an effort to be more simple for the less able of his readers!
It is difficult to know if Paul was wise and submitting to the rest of the body around him. When Luke records what happened at Tyre, he says of the believers there, “ Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem,” (Acts 21:4) but Paul clearly disregarded that. Shortly afterwards a prophet declared of Paul, “The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.'” (Acts 21:11) What follows does seem messy and, yes, Paul; testifies to kings and ends up testifying in Rome, but it seems a very tortuous route and one wonders if the Lord had had a better path for Paul that would have continued his ministry more widely.
Then of course, earlier, there had been the falling out with Barnabas: “They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company.” (Acts 15:39) The more gentle hearted Barnabas wanted to still include John-Mark despite his past failings. Paul clearly did not suffer fools gladly, we might say today, and so wrote off John-Mark; there was a somewhat hard-nosed attitude about the ministry in him (but what do you expect from a man who endured such things as he had done – see 2 Cor 6:4,5, 11:24-27). Paul, like us, was a ‘work in progress.' An amazing man who turned many to Christ and brought revelation and understanding to us, and yet still a man, a man who still had the potential for pride, so much so that the Lord had to allow him a ‘thorn in the flesh'. (2 Cor 12:7-9)
The Apostle of Revelation: A Pharisee persecuting Christians. That could have been all that Paul ended up being, but instead Jesus apprehended him on that road to Damascus and we are all the richer as a result. Paul referred to the revelation he received in 2 Cor 12 that we've just referred to, and it is difficult to sum up the amazing riches of revelation we find at Paul's hand in the New Testament, but this perhaps more than anything else shows us the wonder of the work of God in redemption in this man.
There is his justification by faith in Romans 3-5, his understanding about sin in Romans 6 & 7 and the work of Christ and the Spirit in Romans 8, and so much more in Romans. There is the challenge in Galatians to a life of faith not works. In Ephesians the wonder of the church, of our redemption, forgiveness, predestination, especially in those incredibly truth-packed verses of chapter 1. And so it could go on, his diagnosis of the problems of church life in 1 Corinthians that leads into the amazing revelation of gifts and ministry of the Spirit in the body of Christ in chapters 12-14, his humility and anguish in 2 Corinthians, his pleading with an old friend for the sake of a Christian slave in Philemon, so much more of such variety.
And us? Some might legalistically want to challenge us to be Gospel-bringers, church planters, like Paul and so on, but I suggest in the light of what we have just been considering the biggest challenge is to get to grips with all this teaching from Paul that we find in the New Testament and ask the Lord to help us become people who can likewise, through the intimacy of their walk with the Lord, be people of revelation, people of the Spirit, freedom-bringers, peace-bringers, comforters, all the things that Paul talks about and, yes, Gospel-bringers and church-planters if that is what He calls us to. This redeemed life challenges us in all these the things. May we rise to them.
Reaching into Redemption Meditations:
Mark 3:16,17 These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter), James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”)
John? And so we come to the last of the three we will consider in the New Testament, John the apostle. Now from the outset I recognise there are often different views as to who wrote the fourth Gospel, but I am going to stick with many top scholars today and the Early Church Fathers who all declare the apostle John of the Synoptics to be the writer of the fourth Gospel and the one who that Gospel speaks of as, “ the disciple whom Jesus loved ,” (Jn 13:23, 19:26, 20:2, 21:7,20).
Early day basics: Let's start with what the Synoptic Gospels tell us about John. What is interesting is that he always plays ‘second fiddle' to his brother James when described which may indicate he was the younger brother, e.g. “ Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John . They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them.” (Mt 4:21). Or, “After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves .” (Mt 17:1) Also, “As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew.” (Mk 1:29)
The Inner Group: Even from Mt 17:1 above we see John is included by Jesus in the ‘inner trio'. We also see it in the healing of Jairus's daughter: “ people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?” Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don't be afraid; just believe.” He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James.” (Mk 5:35-37) Also, “ They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. (Mk 14:32,33) This meant that sometimes it gave them greater access, it seems, to Jesus: “As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?” (Mk 13:3,4) Now this is strange in the light of what we next need to consider.
Character blemishes: Now remember, this is all information from the Synoptic Gospels which were probably written within 20 years of the events but anywhere between 30 to 40 years before the fourth Gospel was written, so these are descriptions of ‘early days' John – but they are there! Jesus recognised something in James and John from the outset when he named them, ‘sons of thunder'. Now however you may interpret that, it doesn't sound good. We find in these brothers a certain arrogance and pride : “ Then James and John , the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask,” (Mk 10:35) and even an elitist judgmentalism : “ Teacher,” said John , “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us,” (Mk 9:38) which verges on callous harshness : “he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” (Lk 9:52-54) Do we expect too much of them? After all they were ‘just fishermen'.
Redemption again: But this series is all about redemption, about how God changes people, so now see the sort of man we find thirty or forty years later according to tradition and the early Church Fathers. John is now 90 and a senior elder in the church in Ephesus. The changes that have taken place in him are clearly very dramatic but we see them, not so much in lots of activity but in his writings: his Gospel, his three letters and the book of Revelation.
John's Later Activity: The order of events is not absolutely clear but sometime about now he is sent into exile on the prison island of Patmos for probably a couple of years, where he receives that incredible revelation found in the last book of the Bible. It is probable that before that, as he taught his young disciples, he would have recounted the stories of those three most incredible years of his life as he travelled as a disciple of Jesus. One thing I have observed is that the older people get, the sharper their long-term memory gets (while short term memory deteriorates) and so it was quite natural that, as John recounted those years, he remembers various things that Jesus said and did that the other three Gospel writers hadn't picked up on in their very basic descriptions of the events of those three years. But John has had many years reflecting on those years and remembering the deeper, more significant things Jesus had taught about himself. He realises these things could all be lost and so has them written down in his Gospel.
Revelatory Understanding: John now sees that the One who he followed around for three years was far more than just a good human miracle worker or teacher. He sees Jesus in the context of the Greek world in which he lives and writes for that world in their terms: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it,” (Jn 1:1-5) and then, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (Jn 1:14) This was God in their midst, there is no question about it. He remembers Jesus saying, “ I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.” (Jn 6:38) He is quite explicit about the understanding that he has: “ Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah , the Son of God , and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (Jn 20:30,31) His Gospel is the Gospel of significance and understanding in ways that are completely absent in the first three.
The Spirit: In his Gospel we have this unique teaching about the Holy Spirit: that He is the means of us being ‘born again' (see Jn 3:3-8), that He is like rivers of living water, springing up within (see Jn 7:38,39 and perhaps Jn 4:10-14), who comes to live in us (Jn 14:17) to be our helper (14:16) and teach us (14:26) and testify about Jesus (15:26) revealing sin and righteousness and judgment (16:8), guiding us into truth (16:13). He is the apostle of the Spirit.
Testimony: When he writes his first letter, he is most specific, and it comes with that same terminology and approach that we find at the beginning of his Gospel: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard , which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us . We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard , so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make your joy complete.” (1 Jn 1:1-4) Again and again, with immense clarity, he pounds home this truth: THIS IS TRUE because I was there, I saw him, I heard him, and he is God!!!! He is the apostle of testimony.
Love: Of John's inheritance perhaps one thing stands out most strongly, of being loved by Jesus. We've already referred to the five times he calls himself ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved.' Now some people get stressed with this and say surely the apostle wouldn't mark himself out as special like this, but that shallow thinking misses two things. First, it is not exclusive, it doesn't say Jesus didn't love the others but simply that he, John, had become so aware how much the Lord had loved them. Second, in old age, he's past scoring points, he's just declaring a most marvellous truth that so many of us struggle with. Check out a concordance and you find the word ‘love' appears 39 nine times in his Gospel (nearly three times as many as the others) and in that short first letter, 27 times. He is the apostle of love, and why? Because as he has reflected on these things for well over fifty years, and ministered as a church leader, and prayed, he knows this truth – we are loved. No wonder he could write that unique summary, “ For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16) Perhaps it is significant that he is the one who records the reinstatement of Peter up in Galilee that we have considered before. John understands something of God's love and God's redemption for he himself is a most remarkable example of it. Hallelujah!
And Us? These things must never stay as just head knowledge. In John we see life transformation. May that also be us. In old age we see faithfulness, wisdom, grace, love, revelation, understanding and testimony. May that be true of each of us as we age. Love transforms. Read through John's first letter and see all the things he says the work of Christ achieves in us. “ See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God ! And that is what we are!” (1 Jn 3:1) And, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” (1 Jn 3:16) And, “God is love . This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” (1 Jn 4:8,9) And, “There is no fear in love . But perfect love drives out.” (1 Jn 4:18) This is what redemption is all about!
Reaching into Redemption Meditations:
25. Redeemed From (1)
Eph 2:1-3 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts.
Big Brush Strokes: We move in to what I anticipate will be the penultimate Part of this series, before we reach the most difficult and potentially contentious final Part, that may possibly be a minefield as I want to look honestly and openly and look for fresh wisdom and insight in respect of some of the things that seem to blight modern church life or perhaps act as challenges or possible hot-spots of contention with the world. However, before we move into that, so as not to create too much of a culture shock against where we have been so far in the series, I think we need to look more broadly at creating a foundation for these things by recapping some of the key things we've seen in big brush strokes to remind ourselves of what the picture of redemption is all about, and then in the following studies consider some of the detail outworking of redemption, the nuts and bolts of it, if you like, how it really works. We have said in passing that redemption is about being delivered from our old lives into new lives. So let's think some more about this matter of being delivered FROM.
From Godlessness: This is so simple, straight-forward and obvious that it should hardly need restating, but it is just because it is so obvious that we need to face it and consider it. Now some people dislike the use of the word ‘godless' because they think it is associated with being a pagan unbeliever – and it is – but it is also a characteristic of so many lives, of ‘believers' as well as unbelievers. Let me demonstrate. In our starter verses above, the apostle Paul opens up with, “you were dead”. Put aside, for the moment, how and why you were dead (in the way you lived) previously, and remember the warning that God gave Adam and Eve originally: “ you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” (Gen 2:17)
Now it is clear after the Fall that they continued to live for many years, but without that previous relationship with God. Yes, physical death did eventually come but spiritual death – the absence of God in their lives – became the new way of life. So, when Paul said “you were dead” he meant, as he referred to their old lives before knowing Christ, that they had been spiritually dead with no relationship or awareness of God. Yes, as we'll see, this was worked out in the way we lived and the things we did, but those things all followed the approach to life that we had – being without God (godless) – and that all starts in the mind. In the active sense it is open hostility to God and rejection of God, but in a passive sense it is expressed as simply not thinking about God, and it is this latter approach that Christians so often live with.
Reliance upon me: The other side of the coin to godlessness is self-centredness. Now there is a difficulty here in that we are all made with ‘self-consciousness', and that is not a result of the Fall but simply something that all sentient beings have. Indeed that is part of the definition of us human beings. So there is nothing wrong with being self-aware, but that is very different from self-centredness which refers to the exclusion of others and, in this case, the exclusion of God.
Biblical Examples: Consider some of the people we have examined earlier in this series. When Abram told his wife to pretend to be his sister, he was acting to protect himself. When Jacob schemed and plotted and connived, it was all to advance himself through his own cleverness. When Joseph received prophetic dreams, all he could think of was how great that was going to make him, not why God might do that and what He might do to make that happen. When Moses killed the Egyptian he was taking action in a way he thought was good, not pausing to think of the consequences. When David took Bathsheba he never paused to think of the consequences, he was simply taken up with desire, and that set in motion a series of consequences (she became pregnant) that led him to have her husband killed. Again and again and again, we have here examples of how people think only of themselves (at the moment) and give no thought to God or His wishes or, even worse, His demand for accountability.
Applied to the Christian Life: Now Paul, in our verses above, was making the point that this is how our lives were run, prior to knowing Christ. When we come to Christ, the theory is that we will cease to be god-less and (implied) become God-focused, but the truth is that it is so easy to continue like that. It is what is natural, it is what the old life did, and the enemy seeks to fill our minds with so many distractions that we forget the way it needs to be now. Paul was later to write, “ be transformed by the renewing of your mind .” (Rom 12:2) We have commented more than once that God's desire is to change us into the likeness of Jesus (see 2 Cor 3:18) and I said just now in a way that might sound slightly legalistic, ‘we forget the way it needs to be now' but the reality is that when we permit our approach to life to remain self-centred and god-less, we are left, like Jacob, having to scheme and plot how to triumph in life, not realizing that God does want us to triumph in life, but with His wisdom and His revelation and His activity in our circumstances. How easy it is not to pray, not to seek God, not to ask for His wisdom, not to ask for His intervention, how easy it is to think, to reason, to work and struggle to achieve ends that we think will be good.
Sub-standard Goals: The trouble is that, yes, God does want us to think and to reason and to work but so often our goals are less than His and our ways are more arduous than His so that we exhaust ourselves in the process. Did God want Abram to succeed in life? Oh most definitely, just look at the things He said He wanted to do for him. Did He want Jacob to succeed? Oh, most definitely. Again look at the prophecies and the end results. And Joseph? Oh most definitely. The dreams said it all, it was just that Joseph didn't understand there could be a way of humility, so that instead God had to use his pride and arrogance to set in motion the events that followed, events in which God intervened as He gave favour to Joseph. Did God want Moses to deliver his people? Yes, but not by killing them one by one (the logical outworking of what he started to do!) Now God has great goals for us but either we can't believe they could be that good, or we don't see how they could come about, so we struggle and beaver away at being successes (i.e. we are being godless) when all the time the Lord is longing to show us a better way.
The First Goal of Redemption: Division between us and God came about at the Fall and was formalized, if we may put it like that, by God's judgments on humanity. Nevertheless that never meant that He stood back, never to have any more dealings with mankind, for we soon see (as we saw in the second study) that He was having contact with Cain and Abel, with Enoch, with Noah and with Abram. God's desire has never changed, to have a relationship with those He had created. The Fall was not the end. Throughout our studies we have seen this desire of God's, to redeem people from the mess they have been making with their godless efforts and bring them into a real relationship that is good, with Him. Whatever else you might have considered or picked up in these studies, a real and ongoing relationship with the Lord is the first and foremost goal of God's work of redemption. He redeems us from being far away, to come close to Him. The fruit of that is peace, a sense of security, wisdom, revelation, grace, strength, power, all things that He can provide for us. Even more than this, as we have already hinted, He longs to be involved in our circumstances so that, where we let Him, He will intervene to bring about changes in them.
Practicalities: We've just given a broad sweep of the things He wants to do for us, but let's pick up on three of the most obvious ones the scriptures speak so clearly about. Consider: “ Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6,7)
1. Anxiety: Anxiety has to be one of the most common emotions that we Christians experience – worries, concerns, fears, doubts – a mixed bag under this one heading. Why? Because life is often difficult, and people are often difficult, and the circumstances become difficult, and we struggle in our minds with what to do, can we do, is there anything to do? And so we worry. Remaining in a state of worry (sorry if this sounds hard) is godless and self-centred. The means of dealing with it is there in those two verses – not to reason, rationalize, scheme, plot, plan – it is to take it to God, to commit it to Him. As the psalmist put it, “ Take delight in the Lord , and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord ; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.” (Psa 37:4-7) Giving over your circumstances (commit your way) to the Lord means we will trust Him to be there for us, and that will be seen in practical outworkings. The Living Bible puts it well, “Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him to help you do it , and he will .” (v.5)
2. Wisdom: We find we are confronted by people or circumstances who challenge our ability to cope; we don't know how to handle them. We feel all at sea, lost. (and then, so often, we worry). “ you don't know what you're doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You'll get his help and won't be condescended to when you ask for it. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought.” (Jas 1:5,6 Message version.) Perhaps we are more familiar with, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt.” (NIV) But there it is, when we run out of ideas, ask Him. This is the God we sometimes describe as all-knowing and all-wise.
3. Grace: Perhaps the umbrella that all these things come under is grace which, in this context, can be defined simply as ‘God's resources that are available to us to enable us to cope', and we might add, ‘to cope with everything that comes our way in life.' As the Lord said to Paul, “ My grace is enough; it's all you need.” (2 Cor 12:9 Message version) Believe that.
With God: So, to conclude, these things are all there available to us, plus lots more, and they become available when we stop being self-centred and godless and turn to God. To conclude with Jesus's words: “ Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Lk 11:11-13) OK? Ask!
Reaching into Redemption Meditations:
26. Redeemed From (2)
Eph 2:1-3 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts.
Recap: In the previous study, in our first look at these three verses, we focused on the concept of our having been dead to God and thus living godless lives before we came to Christ. This meant our reliance was upon ourselves and we saw how this worked out in some of the examples from the Bible that we have considered previously. We noted, as we applied these things to ourselves, that so often we thus settle for substandard goals in the Christian life, while all the time the Lord is working on the first and primary goal for us – ongoing redemption. As we sought to apply this practically we considered overcoming one of the biggest burdens of life today – anxiety – and we saw God's resources available for us, wisdom and grace that are available whenever we turn to Him.
A Follower? We often talk about being followers of Jesus and tend to forget that before we came to him we were, to use Paul's words, followers of “the ways of the world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air” (Eph 2:2 i.e. Satan). Now the thrust of this series and particularly of these more recent studies, is that it is so easy to allow ways of the past to resurface or remain in the new life. It is said of some converts of the East in past centuries that, for example, where they had been animists before they came to Christ, when they did convert they simply added Christian values to their previous ideas and values of animism. Similarly modern Christians in the West today can take on board the main facts of salvation but nevertheless continue with ways of the past. When the apostles speak of ‘the world' in their writings they are not referring to the planet but the unbelieving human population and their godless ways of thinking. The apostle John described this expression of ‘the world' as “ wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important.” (1 Jn 2:16 Message version), i.e. a life of ‘self'. Thus the teaching of ‘the world' reinforced by Satan's whisperings is, ‘Live for yourself, put yourself first, focus on you, on what makes you feel good'. That is how we lived before we came to Christ and that is how the enemy seeks to persuade us to continue to live. But it is not the Christ-way.
Why? Rather than think about expressions of this, I would prefer to consider why we are like this, why do we fall for this propaganda? The first answer has to be because it sounds so good and appeals to the old sin-nature (godless, self-centred). Now listen to how Satan conned Eve: “ God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3:5) This is very subtle for he is implying, ‘You are inferior to God because God is keeping things from you. Open your eyes, see the big picture, realise who you are.' And he's been saying that to every person ever since.
Inferiority: Stop and think about this. What is it that drives us to promotion at work? What is it that wants to get a new car, a bigger house, a better sound system? It is the desire to have more, yes, but behind that is this desire to be something – and be seen – to be something more than we are at the moment. Most of the time we don't realise this and don't think about it, but it is true: so much of our behaviour (and behaviour flows from thinking) seeks to make us appear something more than we are at the moment. We have this sense of inferiority that Satan seeks to impose on us.
Now I must interpose with the reminder that we are made in the image of God (Gen 1:27) and are called to rule over the earth (Gen 1:28) and so there is naturally a desire to develop and progress but since the Fall that has been to the exclusion of God. Redemption is about bringing God back into the equation. Without Him we feel small and lonely and spend much time and energy rejecting and seeking to overcome that reality. We do it by seeking to build ‘self'.
You see it subtly in advertising whether it is for perfume or a new car – here is a promise of a better me. This perfume will make me more attractive, this car will elevate me in the eyes of my neighbours. All the time, this outlook says, I will be proved to be someone – to my partner, to my neighbours, to my family, to my friends, and to me! It is all about what others think about us and then what I think about me.
Of course this is reinforced by the knocks of the world. Living in this Fallen World means there are two things that demean us and make us feel less than who God says we are. First there are our own failures , the times when we got it wrong, and so we have to work at covering up our sense of failure and even of guilt. The second thing is the things people say to us . Parenting is a tricky and almost impossible task to get perfectly right and so, whether it is parents, teachers or others, somewhere along the line it has been said or implied, we are less than is expected of us. Perfectionism – our parents always wanting more of us or criticizing us – leaves us damaged and deceived – you are not good enough, you must try harder! And as for your failures…..!
The Pleasure Base: Again see what happened when Eve listened to Satan: “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.” (Gen 3:6) There are two things to note in this verse. First of all she had never thought about these things before but now she had it pointed out to her, yes, this path of going her own way would be pleasurable – forget the warning about death! It looked good . So often we assess paths ahead of us by what appears to be good at the moment (and forget the long-term!) Second , this path was going to make her wise , clever, bright, call it what you will, better and brighter than she is at this moment, a success. At the bottom of the food chain there are those who just give up and accept they are poor, accept they are losers, accept that they are never going to make it (Well that's what they hear the enemy say to them). Ghetto people. How they need Jesus' people to come and bring loving acceptance and a new way of thinking and living.
Competition: But above them are those who are not at rock bottom and so have aspirations and those aspirations make them look around and compare themselves with others at the same level. That's when the shocks start rolling in. The people next door have got a new car. They are sending their child to a school where they pay for privileged teaching in small classes. They are going on an expensive holiday, he is getting a bigger bonus this year, she has been elected president of some local club. And this is where such words as ‘jealousy' and ‘envy' pop their heads up over the parapet and contentment flies out the window. These are the things the Lord has come to redeem us from. If you thought they died when you became a Christian, watch out for you are in for a shock if you dare ask the Holy Spirit to show you what you really feel about people round about you. Those inferiority feelings we spoke about early are there working away under the surface to undermine your peace and sense of security and keep you working on the “ways of the world” that are fruitless and frustrating.
Stop the world I want to get off : a popular singer of several decades ago coined this phrase for a musical to highlight a feeling that many people had near the end of the last century, a feeling espoused by the hippy movement but, in the new world of the twenty first century, two decades in, the desire for new experiences and affluence rule again in many hearts. Nothing wrong with that except where it is godless, and very often people do feel like jumping off the merry-go-round of modern sensual life or the treadmill of achievement just because they are godless and haven't realised it. With sorrow I look around my local Christian world and see so many struggling and the reason they struggle is because they haven't realised it, but they are operating on values and approaches to life that should have been left behind when they came to the Cross. The good news is that God doesn't give up on us when we are doing this. Redemption, in His heart, if a lifelong exercise – the whole of your life.
Reaching into Redemption Meditations:
27. Redeemed From (3)
Eph 2:1-3 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts.
Following ‘Passion'? I'm never quite comfortable with our interpretation of Paul's words in verse 3 above even with, “ We all lived like that in the past, and followed the impulses and imaginations of our evil nature,” (JBP version) and even less with, “You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing , when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat,” (Message version), or “All of us used to be just as they are, our lives expressing the evil within us, doing every wicked thing that our passions or our evil thoughts might lead us into.” (Living Bible). What these various paraphrase versions show us is that we struggle with the idea that Paul is seeking to convey here. Now when you look up synonyms for ‘passion' you do come across such words as craving, desire, or appetite. The various paraphrases above also use such words as ‘impulses' and ‘felt', both implying responses to feelings.
Going on feelings? Christian preachers or teachers often say ‘don't go on your feelings' and that is what this is all about, but when Paul says in the NIV “gratifying the cravings of the flesh” he is implying something more than just feelings; he is directing us towards thinking about desires that stem from physical or bodily expressions so, for example, we get hungry because we haven't eaten for a while. Sexual drive can also be linked to physical state. Now psychologists often distinguish ‘desire' from ‘emotions' for ‘emotions', they say, arise from a person's emotional state.
So we have two ideas here which come out of Paul's writings: motivation by physical gratification and motivation by mental state, and both of these, implies Paul, are things that should be consigned to past history. However our studies in redemption have suggested that so often God's work in us has to be an ongoing process because, although our identity has changed, and we now also have a new power source, it is so easy to allow these things of the past to still ‘echo' in the present and hence Paul had to instruct us to “ Put to death , therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature.” (Col 3:5) i.e. you make an effort, an act of will to do this. The teaching is clearly that the old is still there waiting to rear up and we have to positively put it down. Now when we moved into the fifth Part, I thought of our sub-heading as ‘Practicalities' but changed it to ‘Nuts & Bolts of Redemption'. These things, the nuts and bolts of our lives, have very practical outworkings in our lives.
Physical Desires: We shy away from such words as ‘greed' or ‘gluttony' but they are words that fit when it comes to physical appetites. However, as Christians, perhaps we should call a spade a spade and call these things ‘lack of self-control'. Food: Obesity is the Western pandemic and is clearly (in the vast majority of cases) a consequence of lack of self-control. But that lack of self-control may have two origins. First, it may just be giving way to greed: I like this and I want more and more and more. Second, it may be what we call ‘comfort eating', it is a way we deal with mental anguishes (I feel rubbish about me) and seek to bring physical pleasure to compensate for the loss of mental peace. The first needs simple self-control, the second needs a reality check about identity, realizing afresh the truth about ourselves, loved by God and special to Him, people with purpose in life. All of these things need working through and really taking on board.
Drink: So far we have been considering desires that focus on food, but they can equally apply (if not more so) to alcohol. Now I don't have a problem with drinking alcohol within limits (though I rarely drink) but I am sure there is a common assumption (and it appears in Christian circles) that alcohol creates a social environment that promotes sociability. There may be an element of truth in that but there are at least two difficulties with it. First, it is false that you cannot be sociable without alcohol and if for you it is true, then you have a personal identity problem again. Second, regular drinking (‘to be sociable') becomes a pattern and a pattern often develops into a bondage and that brings about what we call alcoholism and all the health and social problems that go with that. In passing, may I note that in all these sorts of things there is so often deception here, for the individual strongly denies that there is a problem, and nowhere is this more true than in the case of sex.
Sex: All of these things we consider here, that God is seeking to lead us away from, are excesses of things that He gave us as a gift to be used within confines. Sex, the Bible reveals, is for within a lifetime committed relationship. Now I am aware that when we say that in the Western world it is like calling for light in darkness, it is so alien, but merely because the world casts off God's design criteria, that should not be true of us Christians. It is almost impossible to watch TV without being bombarded by the philosophy that sex is all right with whoever you like, whenever you like, and however you like, and becomes no more significant than eating a cheese sandwich. The result is to debase sex and create whole rafts of relationship problems and where to speak of love is banned except after the relationship based on sex has existed for a long time (watch long running historical ‘soaps' such as ‘Friends' or ‘Big Bang Theory' to see the truth of this.) Deception reigns! Fortunately voices are gradually (if only occasionally) being raised by newspaper or magazine columnists that this approach is having disastrous effects, and we will have to face some of these things as we progress down the path of redemption. For some, sex comes by computer screen and is called pornography but all that does is stimulate mind and body in ways that are less than God had in mind with His design for couples.
Wandering in the Desert: My feeling about all these things that are rising up in the Western world, is that they are expressions of life in the wilderness or the desert, life that is arid and where people are resorting to things outside the parameters of God's design for human beings, to try to make sense of this crazy godless world, and try to find pleasure in it, yet trying by eating more and more, or drinking more and more, or having more and more sex, simply works on what economists call ‘the law of diminishing returns'. As any junkie would tell you, you need more and more to get the same pleasure. But we're not meant to live in deserts; the truth is that at the edge of every desert is a wonderful world that is lush and green and full of good things. This ‘desert living' is what God seeks to deliver us from and so perhaps we should move on in the next study and move away from the depressing area (when you have eyes to see it) of the desperate scrabbling for pleasure and meaning that is so prevalent in modern Western society. So let's move out of the desert and see the world that the Lord seeks to deliver us in to.
And So? But before we do that, let's go right back to the beginning and remind ourselves what Paul has been saying: don't base your life on desires or emotions, there is a better way. It is a way that is first and foremost founded on a relationship with the Lord and out of that relationship we live according to His design parameters and know His blessing in all aspect of our lives. His word, His will, His way, His wonder, and all these bring light and life and blessing and goodness, and that is what He is working to lead us towards in this path of redemption. He HAS redeemed us from that old life of self-orientation, of self-pleasures, self-concerns, self-desires, self-based-emotions, and He is now in the process of redeeming us on a daily basis into a new world. We'll see more on to that in the next study.
Reaching into Redemption Meditations:
28. Redeemed To (1)
Eph 2:6,7 God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
Moving On: Having, for the last three studies, been focusing on the things the Lord seeks to redeem us from , we now move on to what He wants to redeem us to . You remember the picture of the Exodus? God wanted to deliver Israel out of the land of slavery, Egypt, into the Promised Land, a land of new identity, freedom and resources. The first 3 verses of Ephesians 2 were about our old life that God had delivered us from, a life of spiritual death (v.1), a life of being led by the deception of the world's godless ways of thinking (v.2), a life that was focused on responding to personal whims, personal desires, personal emotions (v.3). Those are the things we have been considering in the last three studies.
Balancing Verses: But from verse 4 he balances out those things with the things God had made us to be and is making us to be: alive to Him (v.5), joined with Christ (v.6), recipients of His incredible blessings (v.7). From being spiritually dead, He has made us spiritually alive; from being led by the world, He has made us one with Christ to be led by him; from having to struggle to satisfy ‘self' by getting, He has brought us into a place of wonderful provision. Now because I suspect we so often succumb to taking these things for granted and becoming so familiar with the teaching that we just don't rejoice in it any longer, we also succumb to relying on the old ways and fail to enter into the wonder of the reality of these things. For this reason we will, in these next three studies, major on these things.
Alive? For those of us who have had a dramatic salvation experience, this is more of an observable reality. For those of us who made childhood professions of faith or professions of faith spread over a period, this often fails to be so clear. I am in the former category and I can remember to this day (even though it is now over fifty years ago) praying on my own, late in the evening, going to bed and waking up a new person. I was alive in a way I had never known before. There was much I would take time to appreciate, but I went off to visit a cousin and spent the day seeking to convert him. I bought a Bible and started reading avidly. I got involved in Bible studies and very soon was leading a number each week. I became involved with a youth evangelism team and found myself sharing my testimony. I had found Christ and was changed. Without being particularly conscious of it, it was happening. His life in me was a reality, prayer became part of my life. I knew the reality of Paul's words, “ if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Cor 5:17)
Familiarity dulls: Now let's be honest. For those of us who have known the Lord for many years, it is quite possible (probable?) that that early feeling has abated. The trouble is that we get sucked into daily life and life of ‘church', and regularity and familiarity take the edge off. When you have prayed every prayer you can think of, when you have read your Bible inside out, when you have heard thousands of sermons and attended thousands of ‘church services' there does become a feeling of ‘been there, done it three times, got the tee-shirt' and faith on a daily basis seems to become a struggle, and you know it shouldn't. What had happened? ‘Life' was replaced by routine; faith was replaced by ritual. Church becomes a ritual, prayer becomes a ritual, Bible reading becomes a ritual.
Think about ‘life': ‘Life' is something spontaneous, new, fresh every moment. Watch a new born baby. Every new move, every new experience is avidly watched by its parents. We observe it beginning to focus and watch a mobile hanging above its crib, we watch it develop so that it can roll over, then sit up, then stand and then take its first step. Excitement! We note its first word which creates competition: “Say Momma,” “No, say Dadda.” Sometimes we cause laughter trying to make it learn new words. A nephew of mine had been given a brightly coloured plastic duck and so someone said (without hope), “Say fluorescent duck.” He didn't, but other words soon did come as he grew and developed at his own pace. This is the thing about ‘life', it is natural, it changes and grows and develops at its own pace, and some parents worry about the fact that their child isn't saying or doing the same things as the new child next door, and they have to learn that their baby is unique. Each ‘life' is unique and here's another thing you watch as your children grow: they have ‘growth spurts'.
‘Life' for Jesus' disciples: I've written this at least twice previously in this past year, but it bears repeating. Imagine Levi the tax collector at his collection booth when Jesus walks up. “Hullo,” says Jesus. “I'm Jesus.” “Yes, I know,” comes the response from Levi, “I've heard about you.” “Great but I don't want you to just hear about me, I want you to follow me.” “But I've got a job here, I'm a tax collector.” “Yes, I know but I want you to come and follow me.” “Where to?” “Wherever I go. Follow me and see.” “What to do?” “Whatever I do. Follow me and see.” “When do I have to start?” “Right now.” “For how long?” “For as long as it takes. Follow me and see.” “What will happen to me?” “Follow me and see.” That was life; it was following Jesus as he was led by the Holy Spirit.
Ah, there is the crux of life for the Christian, it is the life of the Holy Spirit, and being led by Him. Sometimes that is a conscious thing, sometimes it is a natural flow, sometimes we seek Him, wait upon Him, and sometimes He comes without warning. But Jesus said it would be like that: “ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit .” (Jn 3:8) Now to come back to what we've said a number of times about redemption, this may apply to the initial ‘new birth' but it also applies to the nature of the ongoing new life. We can put ourselves in the way of the Lord as we wait on Him in prayer or reading the Bible and all we can do is pray, “Holy Spirit, please come,” and then just be open to Him. Life flows, life is spontaneous, life comes from Him.
Regaining Life: How can we get back on course so that our daily and weekly experience is one of ‘life'? One of the ‘rules' I have adopted in the last few years is ‘God first'. Now what I mean by that is when we are ‘doing' anything we consider spiritual, we pause and seek Him and ask, “Lord, what do you want here?” That can apply if we are church leaders and worship leaders in respect of weekly services. Some of us will be part of denominations that use prayer books or other means of established, regular ritual. This is not for you; you will feel frustrated by this. But for those of us from so-called ‘free churches', dare we put aside our routines and try this new approach? My congregation used to laugh when so often I would say, “This morning we're going to do something different.” But why shouldn't each Sunday morning be different? We follow a Creator God and we do Him a disservice by using preplanned, premade repetition instead of the life He wants to bring. No wonder the people in synagogues (where ritual prevailed) were delighted and surprised when Jesus came in, brought authoritative teaching and healed and delivered people.
Let the Spirit flow: Where the Spirit is allowed to flow, He brings life. Ezekiel's picture is so graphic and powerful (Ezek 47) that wherever the river was allowed to flow, life followed it (see v.8-10), but not in the ‘swamps (v.11). A swamp is a stagnant quagmire where there is no movement and life dies. I will refrain from saying the obvious here about much modern church life. But the call is to let the Holy Spirit come, let Him lead, let Him bring fresh life. It is all there in the New Testament.
And me? Will I remember every morning to turn to Him when I pray and be aware of His presence and not just utter words? Before I open His word, before I study, before I write, will I pause and seek Him and look to Him for His life flow in what I read? And on Sunday mornings, will I come to Him and make myself available – if not able to break loose in the structure others are responsible for – at least to bless Him in the reality of my worship, and my availability in looking to bless and encourage others before I come home? In my daily life when I am confronted with problems, difficulties, ways of doing things, will I turn to Him for wisdom and grace to carry me through? This is what the Lord is redeeming us to, and away from arid formalism and meaningless ritual that stifles the Spirit. No where do I find this more challenging than in preaching. When I get up and speak, will I seek for and allow His life to flow in my words, bringing alive His word so that people are thrilled, lifted, challenged, encouraged, blessed and sent out full of faith? To do this every week is one of the biggest challenges of church leadership and so team ministry allows time to think, reflect and, most importantly, overcome routine and familiarity.
Reality: In truth, there is no easy ABC (despite the books!) of retaining a fresh flow because, although I can do the things above, life is a spontaneous thing and it seems the flow is more like the ebb and flow of the tide rather than the regular flow of a river. Sometimes He is very evident, other times not so – perhaps to prove the reality of it. On the good days, rejoice in the wonder of the life; on the quiet days, remain faithful and continue to wait on Him and seek Him. “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” (Jas 4:8) This is not for spiritual-super-giants, this is the potential for each and every one of us, this is what He is redeeming us to.
Reaching into Redemption Meditations:
29. Redeemed To (2)
Eph 2:6,7 God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
Recap: We are looking at the verses in Eph 2 that follow on from those where Paul describes our ‘old life' and we said that from verse 4 he balances out those things with the things God had made us to be and is making us to be: alive to Him (v.5), joined with Christ (v.6), recipients of His incredible blessings (v.7). In the previous study we considered something of what it means to be ‘alive' spiritually. We move on now to the second aspect.
Seated with Christ: Now I did cover this area in some detail in Part 3 of a previous series, ‘Lessons in Growth', and so I will simply take some snippets from there to produce a more concise summary for this aspect of the Christian life to which I believe many give little thought. It is, of course, a matter of perspective; it about us seeing ourselves. Yes, it is very much about our daily human lives living out human existence here on earth, and yet it is about seeing ourselves as linked to Christ and therefore, in the realm of the Spirit, being seated with him in heaven where he is seated at his Father's right hand. Because we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, He is the link between us and Christ who is reigning at his Father's right hand in heaven.
An Aside: Having just referred to heaven, I am aware that there are schools of Christian thought today that are pushing away the idea of heaven as our ultimate goal and are focusing on a new heaven and a new earth and especially about the reality of our living out the God-life here on earth which becomes the main focus. Now I believe there did need to be that readjusting balance but if we reject thoughts of heaven – even now or in our future – we fail to pick up on the bigger picture that the New Testament brings to us – that Christ IS reigning in the midst of his enemies from his Father's right hand in heaven , expressing his rule through his Spirit, until one day all his enemies will be destroyed. I would love to think that it will be a gradual process whereby the world will get better and better, but the New Testament picture does not convey that. The primary resource that God has given us for understanding this period has to be the book of Revelation, and there we see that despite God's ongoing redeeming activity on the earth, the folly of sinful mankind means that that destruction of enemies will come in stages and Jesus' Second Coming will be one of those biggest stages.
Yes, in the meantime we are to remain faithful and respond to all Jesus is showing us – and that will bring blessing – but it is a naïve believer who ignores the lessons of the Old Testament seen through Israel, that even with God's presence and God's help we stumble and mess up. We are going through a period of time where in different parts of the Church there are positive changes that have been taking place for a number of years (while many others just carry on oblivious of these things). Yet again and again, as the years pass, we see new ideas or ideologies coming, lasting and falling and, tragically, that is also true of leaders as well. Even with the indwelling Spirit, we are prone to getting it wrong (as we have sought to show in previous studies).
Us with Christ: So what can we learn that hopefully will help us in our struggles as we see Paul describing us as being seated with Christ in the heavenly realms? Well let me take the things I identified in the previous series:
First of all, that it is a position in the presence of God. In heaven everything focuses on God. Your life and mine must first of all be a life that is God-conscious .
Second , because it is heaven, there is also a sense of being ‘above' the earth and therefore everything of the earth is visible to heaven and therefore God sees everything and knows everything. This position therefore, as we share it with Christ, is a position of revelation. Although I suspect that is a strange concept for many modern Christians, our present life, the life He is redeeming us to, is intended to be a life of revelation , where Jesus shares with us knowledge and insights and wisdom to help us through.
Third , because this is all about God, it is also all about power and authority . We might take that as read when we start by saying we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, but this takes on a new emphasis now because it is a direct link to the Godhead and so there is this enormous sense of power and authority wherever God is concerned.
Fourth , because we are now talking about a more intimate or closer link to Jesus by his Spirit, and this to the Godhead in its entirety, we must remember a crucial word that occurs in the Bible over five hundred times - holy . It means to be utterly different and it reminds us that God is perfect, and that means He cannot be improved upon, He is complete, lacking nothing. There is also a moral or ethical dimension to it, that He is morally perfect. How can we have contact with such a God and still live? Only by the completed work of the Son of God on the Cross. Never have any silly idea that this concept, that we are touching on in this Part, allows us to become super-beings, super-Christians who can do what they like. We are what we are because of Christ's work and we do what we do because of Christ – nothing more and nothing less.
Fifth , what we are now looking at is another phase in the strategy of the Godhead formulated before the creation of the world, that is working towards a clear goal , and it opens up a vista or panorama of new understanding for the child of God who is open to the Lord in His word and by His Spirit, a vista that has an end goal The apostle Paul caught something of this panorama when he spoke of when Christ returns again at some future time and he says, “ Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet .” (1 Cor 15:24,25) You and I need to understand that, and recognise that, ‘seated with Christ' and ‘empowered by his Spirit' we are part of God's means to overcoming his enemies – anything that is contrary to the design, the will and the purposes of God, and we will only be able to do that by revelation that we referred to earlier.
And So for us? How does this affect who we are today? Well let me summarise in one sentence these five things: we are to be a God-conscious people, sharing in His insights, knowledge and understanding, receiving and using as He imparts it, His power and authority, maintaining that ‘utter differentness' (holiness) that is constantly reminded that we are what we are by Christ's work on the Cross and by his indwelling Holy Spirit, and that we are working towards a goal, the restoration of God's design in our lives and bringing righteousness and goodness wherever He directs and enables us.
The first of those three things in verses 4 to 6 of Eph 2 – us coming alive – enabled us to enter into a new life with a new identity and new power source. The second one, that we have just been looking at, puts focus and goals before us. So far it has been ‘being' and ‘doing' but there is yet a third, even more wonderful, aspect yet to come and that we will consider in the next study.
Eph 2:6,7 God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
Recap Again: We are looking at the verses in Eph 2 that follow on from those where Paul describes our ‘old life' and we said that from verse 4 he balances out those things with the things God had made us to be and is making us to be: alive to Him (v.5), joined with Christ (v.6), recipients of His incredible blessings (v.7). In the previous two studies we considered something of what it means to be ‘alive' spiritually, and what it means to be joined with Christ, seated with him in the heavenly realms. We move on now to the third aspect.
Incomparable: The idea of ‘the riches of his grace' sounds manageable until we note the word ‘incomparable' which simply means cannot be compared to anything else, unmatched, unique, unparalleled, i.e. there is NOTHING else like it! Whatever this means it is mind blowing and because it is that enormous, that incredible, it is probably challenged by our intellect that says, ‘Surely that can't be!” And of course you know who from Gen 3 is there in the background encouraging us to think like that. Our great danger as Christians, is that we get caught up in family life, caught up in our work, caught up in the bizarre goings-on of the world today, and we lose perspective, we forget who we are, who God is and what he has done for us, and so we live mundane lives of struggle instead of gloriously equipped lives of blessing. Let's change that! Let's think about what these things mean!
Familiar acts of God's Grace: There are certain aspects of God's grace, His working out the effects of Christ's work on the Cross when He finds a responding repentant heart in us, that I refer to quite often in these studies and because they become familiar they tend to lose their wonder.
First , there is the fact of our justification when we turn to Christ, the fact that God puts us legally right with Him and with justice, ‘just as if' we'd never sinned. That involves forgiveness and the removal of our guilt so that we can be at ease with God and no longer fearful of any punishment.
Second , there is the fact of our being adopted as God's children (Jn 1:12,14, Rom 8:14-17, Gal 3:26, 1 Jn 3:1) and we receive a new identity, ‘sons of God' (Rom 8:15, Gal 4:6, Eph 1:5) which implies the possibility of an intimate relationship with Almighty God, a sharing of His heart, and an entering into His ‘business' (that's the significance of ‘sons' in the OT).
Then, third , to enable those things to be worked out practically on a day to day basis, He imparted His own Holy Spirit to indwell us, to both empower us and be a conduit of revelation from Him to us. Now I just said that these things become familiar and familiarity takes away the wonder of the reality, so let's try and expand on those things and try and capture something of the wonder that is there.
Our Justification: Many see this as some theoretical, theological aspect with little practical outworking but exactly the opposite is true. The fact that we have been justified by God means that we don't have to work to try to impress God, get Him on our side or even to forgive us – because He has already done that. How many Christians subtly still try to DO things to make themselves right with God? You can't He's already done it. Reading the Bible, praying, witnessing, going to church, are all good things in themselves but they are not what makes you a child of God, they are, as is often glibly said, ‘the icing on the cake'. You and I are guilt free, forgiven, and children of God.
All over the world there are millions of people who do not know that about themselves, and it has crippling effects. Only yesterday I sat in a (non-Christian) forum about homelessness and listened to a number of those from the local authority and other agencies who work with the homeless, and as they rolled out the causes, again and again they mentioned relationship breakdowns and even mental health issues, and both causes, they said (these non-Christians) were increasing daily and are often interlinked. This in a nation that is one of the most affluent in the world, that has so much and yet so little because the vast majority (possibly between 93 to 95%) are self-centred and godless. Most show little interest in God or spiritual matters, so caught up are they in materialism. On the outside, so much seems good in the nation, but look into individual lives and you find people who feel guilty but don't know why, people who struggle with themselves and with the people around them for self-accreditation, self-approval, but constantly fail to get it. Why? Because it only comes with God's forgiveness because of Christ.
Our adoption: Then, we said, there is this matter if our being adopted as children of God, even ‘sons' of God. The world derides us and says how dare you make such claims, but our answer has to be that it is not OUR claim but that of the Bible and of God. This is our anchor point in life, everything hinges on this, my goals, my desires, my aims and objectives, my endeavours. Yes, I may have a job, yes I may have various roles in life – husband, father, worker etc. etc. – but actually the meaning that underpins my life NOW is that I am a child of God. I will do something I have never done here before, quote from a relatively modern song, because it is so good, so beautiful, and says it all. Here is part of it by Bethel Music and Jonathan David Helser & Melissa Helser:
unravel me, with a melody
Father: Some of us struggle with the concept of God as Father, because of our earthly experiences, but dare you see Him as loving, gentle, caring, compassionate, understanding, forgiving (all things the Bible says of Him) and see yourself in a picture, as a little child snuggled up on His lap, totally secure, utterly bathed in love and peace, because that is what this idea of adoption enables us to have.
Empowered: This is what He is redeeming us to, to realise the reality of this, that His Holy Spirit really and truly does indwell us, a concept that is unbelievable by the world, that God could put a part of Himself in us, to link us to Him, and to act as a power source and channel of revelation. While the world struggles with self-help courses and so often wakes each day with a sense of dread at the day to come, you and I wake with the knowledge that we are children of God and have within us a spring of living water, just waiting to spring up afresh for today, to refresh us, wash us, to satisfy our thirst and be a life source for the day. But it is not just an impersonal power source, like adrenalin, it is HIM. But here is the challenge; if you are like me, it is a struggle to believe that reality, it is something we have to declare again and again. The Bible says it, so I must believe it. It is a reality and yet it is a reality that clashes with my old self-centred focus that so often is there. I have to purposefully pause and be still to know that He is God – here, now this moment, and He indwells me, and He's here for me.
The Reality: Be honest, the things of the day call, the concerns of the day distract, I wake up after a poor night and feel weak, the burdens of life call to me, the lacks of church life cause me anguish – but He is here and I need reminding of that, I need to declare it afresh and then experience it, and when sometimes it is not so clear and obvious, just trust. But the truth is still here in this; on a bad day when I feel weak, suddenly, almost inexplicably, strength seems to come from somewhere, and I sense His provision to enable me to get on being the person He's called me to be and do the things He's called me to do. On a bad day when I feel confused and the way of the world seems even more chaotic and the church doesn't seem to be living up to its potential, suddenly, almost inexplicably, a peace descends, and I know He is still in charge, and together we can face it. On a bad day when I am confronted with perplexing problems and paralyzing situations and antagonistic people, suddenly, almost inexplicably, a sense of what needs to be done settles in my mind and that sense of peace returns and He conveys His wisdom to see us through the maze of life.
Perhaps more than any other study I have ever written, I am left with a sense of having fallen short as we have started to ponder what these words – incomparable riches – mean, a sense that rather like the iceberg, still nine-tenths of it is still hidden. Maybe I'll have to try to continue it tomorrow, maybe not, we'll see. But this is what He calls us to, this is what He is redeeming us to. I am a child of God.
2 Sam 12:5 “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die
2 Sam 12:7 “You are the man!
Significance: It may be that if you have been following this series, or you've just come to it and scanned the number of studies that are here, you might ask the question, why are you continuing this, why are you going over the same ground again? The answer to that is that ‘Redemption', first of all, is something that so often we consign to ‘spiritual facts' about what happened back when I became a Christian but, second , because the whole emphasis that I have felt from the outset of this series is that it is also a description of the ongoing work of God to keep us on track, being changed into the likeness of Christ and a being an active citizen of the kingdom of God and, third , all of that despite the fact that we are failures and get it wrong.
It is the combination of these last two things, that God is continually working on us sinners to bring about change, that is so significant, and it is significant because of its part in enabling us to triumph in spiritual warfare. It is when Satan whispers to us, “You are rubbish, no one loves you, you are insignificant, you are achieving nothing meaningful in life, give up,” that these things come into play as we respond, “Yes, all you say is right, but God still loves me and is still working on my life to change me so that in Christ I am somebody and in Christ I do have a purpose and in Christ I am going somewhere – so go away!!”
Why Sin? But why, you may ask, do we need to go back and eyeball ‘sin' again, why do we need to focus on sin and guilt as our heading says? Well, again there are at least two reasons. The first is the reality of sin and the second is that when we face that reality it makes us more aware of the wonder of this whole thing about God's redemption. Yes, we have seen some of these things previously, and we have certainly seen them in the lives of individuals and in the life of Israel, but now we need to bring this aspect right out into the open and shine the spotlight on it in order to a) understand its reality and then b) appreciate even more the wonder of God's redemption.
Sin's Reality: We don't like talking about ‘sin' because it is depressing, and it raises the spectre of judgmentalist condemnation, which the Pharisees of Jesus day were good at. It can be depressing because it is always there, lurking in the background. As God said to Cain, that we saw in an earlier study, “ if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (Gen 4:7) What that implies is that we have to be constantly alert and make positive acts of will to overcome the temptation to give way to self-centred, godlessness that leads to unrighteous acts or words. There have often been arguments in theological circles whether it is an inherent predisposition within each of us that we have inherited, or whether it is simply the moral choice we are so often confronted with when faced with people or circumstances who provoke us or present us with moral options.
The option to do our own thing, contrary almost certainly to God's design for us and the world, is ‘sin'. It is as the Bible says, ‘lawlessness' (1 Jn 3:4) Lawless simply means operating outside or contrary to the Law and ‘the law' in this general context simply means the way God has designed this world to work properly. The Bible uses the word ‘folly' a number of times, a noun that means foolishness, and any act of sin is ‘folly' or foolish because it always has a detrimental effect, a negative outworking in our lives. David lusting after Bathsheba was folly in itself AND because it led on to other sins – trying to cover up what had happened by having her husband killed. In the New Testament Paul made that all- encompassing statement, “The wages of sin is death,” (Rom 6:23) i.e. the outworking of sin always results in spiritual death or the separation from the life that is God.
Call a spade a spade: We have this phrase or expression, meaning to call a thing what it is, and so we must from the outset eyeball our stupid acts of self-centred godlessness what they are – sin and, yes they are, stupid! David, when Nathan told his little parable, rightly responded with anger, as our first verse above shows. It was right to be angry at the injustice in the parable and the perpetrator deserved to die. It was then Nathan spoke those terrible words, “You are the man,” and instantly, David, the man after God's own heart, was convicted: “I have sinned against the Lord.” (2 Sam 12:13). It was the same language Jesus inserted in his parable of the prodigal son: “ Father, I have sinned against heaven and you, and am not worthy of being called your son.” (Lk 15:21) Wrongs against people are also wrongs against God.
If you steal from another person, vandalize their property, speak wrongly against them, entice their partner away, all of these things are offences against that person AND against God. They are against God because they run contrary to His design for us that we live in peace and harmony with one another, and it is like we say, “God, I don't care about your will, your ways in the world, your design, I'll do my own thing,” and the trouble is all such things bring repercussions, there always will be negative outworkings, the ultimate one being the accountability that God demands at the end of our lives, “Why did you act as less than the child I designed you to be, why did you act as a godless, self-centred sinner?”
God's Remedy: The death of His Son on the Cross outside Jerusalem, two thousand years ago in time-space history, was deemed by heaven to satisfy justice, was deemed to be sufficient to act as the judgment on every individual sin ever committed. The only thing is that it needed to be appropriated by us and we do that when we a) acknowledge, confess and repent of our sin(s) and b) accept the truth that Jesus died in our place to redeem us. It can't work unless these two things are there in place. When we are convicted of our sin, the recognition that we are helpless and hopeless and need God's help, God's forgiveness, God's transformation, it is both devastating and dynamic. It is devastating to be truly honest about yourself – I am lost! It is dynamic in that it opens the floodgates of God's love, mercy and grace that is poured out to us and which we are then able to receive.
Individual Sins: When we blow it – and yes, we are still a Christian who loves the Lord – the short way back is as we have described above, acknowledge, confess and repent, but the lessons we have observed through the studies earlier in this series, tell us that so often there are repercussions or consequences that have to be faced. So often, life doesn't just go on, and so to see that in detail, we'll need to wait until the next study. You have sinned? It is not the end, but you are required to follow the Biblical pattern – acknowledge, confess and repent – and then receive forgiveness and cleansing and a fresh start – but it must begin with honesty, I've blown it! That is the beginning of the next step.
Gen 4:11,12 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”
Big Picture: I think if I just started in with my conclusions on this subject, some might shout, “Oh, come on, that's not fair, surely God wouldn't be that unkind,” but in so doing I am afraid we would be showing our lack of understanding of the greater purposes of God and, indeed, what this whole thing of redemption is about. Remember, I said our focus is on the ongoing work of God, not just the initial act of redemption that preachers normally focus on? I finished the previous study by commenting on the truth that not only is redemption this ongoing thing, but it is also about the consequences that follow from our failures.
Two opposite wrong understandings: Christians often fall into one of two extremes here. First, there is the extreme that simply believes that once we have said sorry to God after our sin, that is the end of it. As far as our eternal salvation is concerned, that is absolutely right; as far as our sanctification is concerned it is quite wrong. The second extreme is the belief that once I have blown it, that's me done for; I can never be used of God again and I will be vulnerable to enemy attack from now on. Not necessarily so; there are a number of imponderables and we'll consider this problem later. When you look at the various people that we have examined earlier in this series (and this is why we covered them) we see two things: first, God corrects and disciplines but, second, that is not the end of that person. For the sake of time and space we'll only deal with the corrective circumstances here and leave the way God used them until the next study.
God's Disciplining/Changing Individuals: So let's remind ourselves what we saw in these earlier studies about individuals.
First, there was Cain and we've reminded ourselves what God said to him in our starter verse above, and that looks pretty bad but, having said that, notice he still has his life and the Lord goes on to say, “ Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him.” (Gen 4:15) We'll see what follows tomorrow. So first there appears a curse but that is followed by what is tantamount to a blessing. (A ‘curse' is a divine decree for bad to happen, and a ‘blessing' is a divine decree for good to happen). The thing to note here is that the curse is not all-embracing, it limits Cain's activity and, as we said in the study earlier, it would have given him opportunity to reflect on the good fact that he was still alive, while at the same time having to face the cause of his present situation, the fact of having killed his brother – and not having got away with it Scot free, as we say today. God has made him face these two things.
Second, there was Abram , but the ‘keeping him on track' part of his story was mostly the Lord coming again and again and reiterating His purposes to give his descendants the land and give him numerous descendants. For him the correction was fairly minor. And yet he had to wait and learn to be faithful and patient. As an embryonic believer, the Lord is very gentle with him!
Third, there was Jacob . The consequences of his two sins against his brother meant that he had to flee the family home and go and live miles away with his uncle, during which time his cunning uncle almost competes with him for which of the two of them are the most devious. So often the Lord disciplines by giving us a dose of the same medicine we hand out! His half-hearted turning in God's direction was brought to a crunch when he had to wrestle with God and had his hip put out of joint, so he limped for the rest of his life. That limp would forever remind him that had dared wrestle with God, and although God rewarded him with a new name, he also ‘rewarded' him with this permanent reminder.
Joseph was the fourth one who we considered and although the outworking of his life came about through the sinfulness of men (and a woman), nevertheless that outworking meant both changes in Joseph and a redirecting of his life to eventually bring him to be the second most powerful man in Egypt. Those things, stretched out over a number of years, meant he was a changed man.
The fifth one of these took us into the second book of the Bible, Exodus, and to the life of Moses . Now although Moses killed the Egyptian taskmaster, there is no indication that the Lord directed him into forty years of solitude in the desert, although you cannot help wondering about it. The job of shepherding Israel was possibly one of the most thankless tasks on the earth at that time, and no doubt that had further effect in changing Moses. The fact that he spent so much time in the Lord's presence must have been the third and almost certainly greatest factor for change in his life.
Then we came, sixthly, to David where the stakes were upped. This man, described as having a heart after God, blows it as badly as can be – adultery and murder. But no, his life is not forfeited. His heart is broken at the loss of his son by Bathsheba, his heart is broken by the rebellion of Absalom, and his heart is broken at being partly the cause of the death of so many when he numbered Israel. God's discipline uniquely matches the person we are.
So what do these six men show us? Cain , life limited, but granted, given time to repent and change. Abram , just needing constant (well regular) encouragement to keep on track. Jacob , the only way sometimes to get sorted with God is through opposition by the failures we have, and eventually a major crisis, that leaves marks on you for the rest of your life. Joseph , it's just going to take the knocks that come with living in a fallen world, the knocks that come from other sinful people, to mould you like clay in the hands of a Potter. Moses , special means special from birth and mistakes and life can mean you get kicked into the rough and forgotten for a long time, but God never forgets and pursues His original plan. David , when you have a heart after God and then subsequently blow it, God will choose the discipline that moulds the heart and allows the ways of the world to do it.
And you and me? I can look back on discipline by limitation, constant or rather regular encouragement, a major encounter with God's convicting power, the knocks of this fallen world and of ungodly people, being kicked into the rough, and having my heart broken by God's love and… oh, my goodness…. each one of those same ways? Or at least things very similar. “ the Lord disciplines the one he loves.” (Heb 12:6) Wow, how He must love me. OK, it's vaguely humourous to put it like that but the truth is that discipline is painful: “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.” (Heb 12:11) But why do we have to go through this? ‘Cos we're still sinners in need of changing and He loves us so much that He has something better for us than what we are at the present. Ah! We really do need to have another go at looking at this matter of the end product of God's working in us, so stick with me and we'll look at that tomorrow.
Reaching into Redemption Meditations:
33. Essentials (3): God's End Goals?
Gen 4: 16-18 So Cain went out from the Lord 's presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden. Cain made love to his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch. Cain was then building a city, and he named it after his son Enoch. To Enoch was born Irad, and Irad was the father of Mehujael, and Mehujael was the father of Methushael, and Methushael was the father of Lamech.
Continuing the thread: We've said that the marvel about this whole subject of redemption isn't just the initial fact of us being delivered out of our old lives, but is about how God takes sinful, messed up, confused, self-centred human beings and transforms them into people after His own image, godly, gracious, insightful, wise and so on, despite the fact that it is a slow process. We've considered in these last three studies the fact of our sin, and then some of the ways God goes about changing us, and now we want to focus on the end product of God's activities as seen in the lives of the men we studied in the earlier Part.
That end product: Back in studies 28-30 we considered something of the goal of God as seen in Ephesians 2, often spoken of as the inheritance of Christians. Now to see again something of God's purposes, we are going to get a glimpse of the changes that He brought about in each of the men we saw earlier.
Cain: Right back in study no.3 when we considered Cain, we noted there the ‘end product' that is seen in our header verses above. Cain settled, had a wife and children and built a community (a city). He clearly had the opportunity to change and he took it. Now that, you might have thought, was an unwarranted conclusion on our part, but think about the wonder of what had happened. He was a murderer and instead of forfeiting his life God sent him away to live the life of a wanderer. Yes, he would be protected by God, but no longer could he be a farmer (the basic role of early man) but a wanderer. We've asked the question before about redemption, does his failure means the rest of his life is a write-off? Clearly not. He is married, has a family and settles down in one place to build a city. What is a city? A place where people come to settle down and carry out business. It is not a place for farming, it is a place of community and commerce, and Cain settles down to be the first city builder – not merely a dweller, but a builder! There is new purpose in his life and it is focused on family and community which, when you consider his background, his failure in respect of his relationship with his brother, is a most amazing change. Cain, I suggest, has been redeemed.
Abram : Perhaps something of Abraham's greatness is seen in four things. First , and this is relatively early on in his experience of the Lord, was his faith which became a model for our salvation today (see Gen 15:6, Rom 4). Second there was his obedience which was willing to give up his son Isaac because, we are told he believed God could raise him from the dead (see Gen 22, Heb 11:17-19). Third , there was the way he acted when Sarah died (see Gen 23) showing the depth of his love for his wife of many years who had born the son of the promise, in which the honour and respect in which he is held by the locals is revealed (esp. v.6). He has become a great man. Fourth , there was the way he made provision for a wife for his son (see Gen 24) and understood now something of the importance of the God-family, and so refused to allow a woman from Canaan. He understood legacy and the significance of being God's chosen family, a holy people.
Jacob : Jacob the crook became Jacob the man who blesses kings (see Gen 47:7-10) and is honoured by kings (Gen 50:1-9), Jacob the man who prophesies with discernment (see Gen 48:8-20), prophesies about Israel's future (Gen 48:21,22), and prophesies over the whole family (see Gen 49). He is a prince among men and a prince in the kingdom of God. What an amazing transformation.
Joseph: Joseph the spoilt brat becomes Joseph the advisor to kings (see Gen 41) and Joseph the man of grace and understanding. See his incredible statement to his brothers in Gen 50:20. Again an amazing transformation!
Moses : It is difficult to know where to start with Moses. The rich and affluent (as he would have been), self-concerned Prince of Egypt with confused ideas about ‘his people' Israel, who throws it all away by a foolish act of murder, became a nobody shepherd whose only company most of the time for forty years in the desert were sheep. This ‘nobody' thought God had got His guidance wrong when He called him to deliver Israel out of their slavery at the hand of the most powerful, occult driven man of the region. This ‘nobody' is subsequently described as the meekest (AV) or most humble man (NIV) in the whole earth (Num 12:3). Humility before God should never be seen as a sign of weakness but instead of great strength. It is the ability that knows its limitations and knows that God is unlimited, and so acts accordingly. It is this ability that enables him to face Pharaoh and then lead his people through the grumbling months of their desert journey to Sinai, then cope with the events at Sinai, then cope with their grumbling journey to Canaan, their refusal to enter Canaan and then minding them in the desert for another forty years while that generation died off.
As I commented before, Moses had what turned out to be the most thankless task in all history. He reveals the stresses and difficulties of it when on just one occasion he allows his own personal feelings to come to the surface as he chided Israel (see Num 20:10). He is known in Israel's history for being the great Law-giver but, in reality, that was simply passing on what God gave him. But consider the biggest changes that had taken place in Moses. As a Prince of Egypt he had been hasty and impulsive in action; as a man of God he always paused up, took it to God and waited. The change of rule over his life was dramatic. It had to be to cope with the trials he faced living with capricious Israel who never seemed to get the message that God was for them and would provide in every way for them, and thus moaned and groaned, criticized and blamed; how like modern man!
One of the things that struck me about Moses is that having travelled around the desert of Sinai for forty years with sheep, he knew his way around and with every continuing grumble that came from his people, the temptation must have been there to just quietly slip away in the night and leave them to it! But he didn't; he remained faithful to the Lord and to his calling to lead this people and in so doing became an instrument of redemption in the hands of the Lord, to make sure they eventually got where they were supposed to be going and thus remain within the long-term plan of God. Amazing!
David: Here we face complexity personified. In many ways he started out a hero – a shepherd boy who fought lions and bears for a living, who then killed a giant who was scaring Israel, and then became a might warrior and leader. Perhaps in all that he came to a place of thinking that he could do the stuff on his own, but none of his psalms suggest that. When he has to flee from Saul, he remains the good guy who picks up waifs and strays at Adullam (see 1 Sam 22) and generally beats up the enemies of Israel until he is made king. His downfall comes while he is king and by wrongly using his royal power to steal another man's wife. Yet even in that we see a good response, as we have noted before, “I have sinned against the Lord,” (2 Sam 12:13) a man who can face his personal failures. After numbering the people, we see the same thing: “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. Now, Lord , I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing,” (2 Sam 24:10)
When you look at David's psalms you wonder about the changes within him. There is such a mixture of heart cry. Sometimes it is in anguish, at other times it is in triumph, sometimes it almost feels arrogant in his sureness of his own righteousness, and then other times there are cries of guilt and failure. David has run the full gamut of feelings in his experiences of the Lord, who clearly feels sometimes near but sometimes afar off. It is impossible to tell the order of his writings and therefore reach any conclusions about what went on in his heart. The most memorable thing about David though, is his testimony that we considered in detail in Study no.8, where he almost becomes a benchmark or plumb line for all future kings. He dies in old age which, in some ways, is quite remarkable. He was a warrior who survived. He was a man of God – who got it wrong – but survived the discipline of the Lord. He became a lasting testimony in Israel Amazing!
And Us? How can we summarise these outworkings in the lives of these men, outworkings which surely must apply to us today?
Our lives will be given many opportunities to improve (Cain); will we take them?
God will encourage us again and again to be people of faith and obedience who completely trust the Lord and, receiving His blessing, become people of respect and honour in the community, while holding firmly to our legacy as Christians (Abraham). Will we rise to that?
He will be guiding us out of the life where we rely on our own cleverness and come to be those who trust Him and receive His revelation (Jacob). Can we accept that change?
Can we see His sovereign working in the ways of the fallen world around us, understanding our calling and part in it all? (Joseph) Can we cooperate with Him in all that?
Can we remain faithful even when the tasks He gives us appear full of problems and difficulties and people around us seem so unhelpful? (Moses)
Can we take correction without complaining, learning how to face up to our failings and foibles quickly and honestly, and receive His grace to persevere? (David)
There is within that list above a combination of, first of all, learning to understand ourselves, God, and the ways of the world, and then, second, changing in the light of that understanding to become faithful, wise, steadfast members of the body of Christ today, that he can use to more fully bring in the kingdom of God around us. Can we run with that?