Know your thirst!

Know your thirst resizedBy Rosie Moore.

(New Series: Spirit-filled)

It’s like clockwork.

Every evening around 6pm, I have the same blank when I look at the raw food I took out the freezer for dinner. It’s not just that my four kids hover around the kitchen, sniffing nervously at the empty pots. Nor is it a lack of ingredients or equipment. And it’s not that I want to starve my family! No, my problem is lack of inspiration. I don’t have a clue what to do with the pieces of raw chicken staring at me from the chopping board!

But I know that the solution to this daily vacuum is to put on my apron, turn on the oven and take out a colourful cookbook. Within minutes, my mind is ticking with a plan and chewing on delicious ideas. It doesn’t matter that I’ve been cooking every evening for the last 28 years! My mind must still be rebooted and reminded of how much I love good food. My senses must be re-calibrated to see, taste and smell the rich potential in that ordinary chicken carcass…if I just add a little onion, garlic, olive oil to the pan. It’s just as Nigella Lawson says, “I don’t believe you can ever really cook unless you love eating.”

I don’t believe you can really be filled with the Spirit unless you love Jesus!

That’s because, being Spirit-filled is never a mystical experience divorced from the person, work and word of the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s nothing like the self-absorbed, mind-body flow of ‘new age’ meditation. The Holy Spirit is an unpretentious member of the trinity who doesn’t seek centre stage. He is more like a spotlight that magnifies Christ as the star actor. Like a director who coaches Christ’s understudies. Or like an optician who sharpens our vision to see Jesus more clearly (John 15:2616:14). Sinclair Ferguson says we should think of the Holy spirit as the “closest companion of the Lord Jesus.”

And so, the more we meditate on what Jesus has done for us, the more his Spirit fills us. And the more we are filled with his Spirit, the more we treasure God and love our neighbour. The fruit results from the filling.

Not a once-off wonder

If the truth be told, who of us can naturally produce the Spirit’s harvest table of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control? Especially in the everyday kitchen of life, where people drive us crazy; where the media fills us with fear; where people die, lose their jobs and go hungry? Unless we are filled by the Holy Spirit, we cannot produce his fruit.

John Stott describes our ongoing need to be filled by the Spirit as an “invigorating, refreshing, thirst-quenching fullness.” Being Spirit-filled is a continuous, repeated, persistent filling up and flowing out.

To be clear, everyone who belongs to Jesus has been baptized in the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38-39Rom 8:9). The Holy Spirit leads us to see our sin and to repent. He gives life, re-orders our desires, liberates, shepherds and transforms forgiven sinners into the image of Christ. He is a gift to all God’s children (Rom 8:15-16). But he is also not a once-off wonder.

The Corinthian Christians show us this. Even spine-tingling experiences and spectacular gifts are no evidence of being Spirit-filled. In fact, these gifted Christians, with a form of ‘spirituality’, were actually sin-tolerant, loveless and proud. Since they had no fruit, Paul calls them unspiritual babies in Christ (1 Cor 3:1-3). To borrow my husband’s description of some cyclists, it is possible for us to have all the gear, but no idea!

Jesus himself illustrates how the Holy Spirit fills believers.

The Living Water

In John 7, Jesus invites anyone who is thirsty to come to himself and trust in him as their Saviour and Lord. It is not a polite suggestion, nor an invitation to walk along the peaceful riverbank of religion. It is an urgent plea to sinners to recognise their dire need, to bend down and ‘drink’ his water of salvation. Then Christ describes how the Holy Spirit will fill believers, like ‘rivers of living water’:

Rivers of living water

“On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified” (John 7:37-39).

So, what’s the water metaphor about?

Jesus’s announcement happened on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:237). Every morning, a priest carrying a golden jar would fetch water from the pool of Siloam and pour it out on the west side of the altar. The jar reminded the Jews that God had faithfully provided water for them in the wilderness. It also pointed to God’s promise that he would one day pour out his Spirit on his people, giving them new hearts and cleansing them of their sins, once and for all (Joel 2:28-29Ezekiel 36:25-27). Water was a powerful symbol of this outpouring of forgiveness and the Spirit.

The promised outpouring

Now, we know that this was spectacularly fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. The long-awaited Holy Spirit was released like a flood on his disciples. Like a river, that broke its banks and spawned many tributaries, the gospel flowed to Israel, Asia, Europe, and the ends of the earth. Salvation was carried by the riptide of the Holy Spirit.

Keep drinking

But, just as God did not provide once-off water to his people in the wilderness, Jesus doesn’t give Christians a once-off outpouring of His Spirit. A drink of water cannot quench our thirst for long. And so, we keep drinking because we keep thirsting.

‘Thirst’, ‘come’, ‘drink’ and ‘believe’ are all present tense verbs. So, being filled with the Spirit is a present continuous process that is never finished. We have never arrived! We can’t live off yesterday’s wonder. We will remain spiritually needy until we finally stand in Christ’s presence, and have no hunger or thirst again. Only then will the sun cease to beat down and scorch us (Rev 7:16).

Know our thirst!

For ordinary Christians, Christ’s picture is quite down-to-earth and practical:

First, we need to know that we are hot, thirsty travellers walking through a desert. We are dehydrated, in urgent need of water that only Christ can give. We need to get up each morning awake to the fact that we will be separated from Jesus, unless we sip continuously from his water supply.

Second, we need to see that our world, with all its internet, TV, pleasures and experts, is an arid desert with no irrigation system. No real solutions can sprout from its hard, hot sand. Our world is thirsty, barren and dead without Christ. If we spend hours under the world’s shower spouts, we needn’t wonder why we soon feel dry and despondent.

But in contrast, Jesus’s ongoing ministry in our lives fulfils God’s wonderful promise to “pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your descendants, and my blessing on your offspring” (Isa 44:3).

Only Christ can slake our soul’s thirst for communion with God! He is our hydration pack on the ultra marathon of life. And we need his water to fill every cell of our body, every day we spend on this earth.

The Holy Spirit is not a JoJo tank!

But, Christ’s Spirit is also not a JoJo tank that stores stagnant water! He is a vibrant river that keeps filling and spawning smaller rivers. When the Spirit fills us, we cannot only quench our own thirst, as it is impossible to store Christ’s living Spirit. He must spontaneously flow out of us to refresh others. That is how we respond to his filling.

An unremarkable Spirit-filled life

Jesus’s invitation is for the average Christian. What a relief that we don’t have to chase esoteric experiences, or find an anointed man to release the supernatural! Or cajole God into unleashing his Spirit. Indeed, God’s powerful Spirit has been unleashed and is currently moving in thirsty believers in quiet and mysterious ways. We just need to keep coming, drinking and trusting in Jesus.

Today, let’s remember the vital experience of the Holy Spirit we had from the beginning of our Christian life. It all began with an invisible, miraculous new birth of the Spirit, of which we were totally oblivious (John 3:3-8). That miracle should still amaze us.

Let’s also remember that “the Holy Spirit is God the Lord. He is the divine Spirit, the mighty Spirit, the free and sovereign Spirit” (Stott). We cannot limit or control him. And our experiences of him are as diverse as the people he fills. The Holy Spirit cannot be manufactured or contained.

And so, as you go about your day, the Spirit refreshes your sense of God as your ‘Abba’ Father. While listening to a sermon or reading a book, the words grip you so personally, that you look around for a hidden camera in your room! Quite unexpectedly, the Spirit digs up a buried sin that you’ve never owned, flooding you with such sorrow that you instantly get on your knees and turn to Christ for forgiveness.

Or, as you open your Bible, the Spirit spotlights Christ’s kindness in a way you’d never seen before. You find yourself sighing with relief that his love doesn’t hinge on your loveliness. Suddenly, a detail of creation or a song sparks praise for your Creator.

The Holy Spirit may give us words that aren’t our own to share the gospel. He may nudge us to urgently pray, give, or initiate a conversation. Silently, he may enfold us in peace in a terrible situation. Or give us a longing for a country where there is only good news. Or maybe, he is strengthening you right now to press on through another day of a great struggle.

These are not spectacular experiences that can be posted on YouTube or shared in a group chat. Nevertheless, God’s living Spirit is filling and flowing through thirsty, responsive Christians. Tomorrow, these Christians will not be quite the same as today.

In reality, most of us are not spiritual giants, just ordinary Christians living unremarkable lives. But, we can all come to Jesus by faith; open up our Bibles and respond to his Spirit. We can all allow the Holy Spirit to carry us in the currents of Christ’s grace and truth. Like living rivers welling up within us.

Now, please excuse me, it’s time to attend to that chicken!

Prayer

Lord, most days I don’t even know how thirsty my soul is. I long for the day when the sun will stop beating down on us and our thirst will be permanently satisfied. Please forgive the many ways I quench your Spirit when I don’t respond and don’t trust you. Lord, cleanse me from all my sins and idols. Move in me, like a strong current, to follow your ways. Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me. Spirit of the living God, fall afresh of me. Melt me, mould me, fill me, use me. Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.

Further reading:

John RW Stott, Baptism And Fullness: The Work of the Holy Spirit Today.

 

Why Christ’s ascension into heaven matters to us on earth

Ascension resizedDoes Christ’s ascension into heaven make any difference to us on earth? It’s a good question to ask this week as the church remembers the ascension of Christ on 21 May.

Luke describes Christ’s ascension in Acts and his gospel (Luke 24:50-53):

You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:8-11)

Here’s the backdrop to the ascension: After Jesus rose from the dead, He spent 40 days speaking to his disciples about the kingdom of God, showing them the Old Testament signposts to his death, resurrection and ascension (Luke 24:25-2732Acts 1:3). We’ve been mimicking that in a tiny way in our “Burning hearts” devotions since Easter.

But now, before their very eyes, Jesus literally, bodily ascends into heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father. The seated Christ has finished his work of atonement and is taking His place as ruler of the church and the cosmic king, “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come” (Eph 1:21-22). We affirm the ascension every time we say the apostles’ creed, “…he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.”

“Why”, you may ask, “did Jesus not just vanish like he did many other times? Why this spectacular departure?”

The ascension is a linchpin

A linchpin is a locking pin that holds a wheel in position and stops it sliding off the axle on which it is riding. In many ways, Christ’s ascension does the same thing for the Christian faith. If you think about it, it is the climax of everything Jesus announced about God’s Kingdom coming to earth (Luke 4:17-21438:1). It is Christ’s coronation and this is a big deal if we’re his subjects! As Tim Keller writes, “It is a new enthronement for Jesus, ushering in a new relationship with us and with the whole world… Jesus was tracing out physically what was happening cosmically and spiritually.”

Notice, for example, the impact this final miracle of Jesus had on the disciples who witnessed it. Instantly they worshipped Jesus, not as a man or a friend, but as their King, praising God as they waited for the promised Holy Spirit (Luke 24:52-53). The ascension convinced these disciples to align themselves with the objective, true King of the universe. It gave them the confidence to be Christ’s witnesses to the ends of the earth, even though it cost them their lives. Clearly, this was no personal preference or private faith for the witnesses of the ascension. The disciples based their entire lives on the fact that the risen Christ was also the cosmic king who would one day return to rule and reign on earth.

A few days later, we see Peter proclaiming the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ as inseparable elements in the gospel story (Acts 2:22-36). Listen to Peter’s bold conclusion:

“For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
35     until I make your enemies your footstool.”’

36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:34-36).

 

Peter’s testimony was held together by the linchpin of the ascension! If it weren’t for the ascension of Christ, the wheels of Christianity would have surely fallen off shortly after 33AD.

The ascension launches a great mission.

Here’s what I love most in Luke’s account: “Why do you stand here looking up into the sky?!” (Acts 1:11). It’s such a businesslike question for such a surreal setting! Wouldn’t you also be mesmerized by this spectacle? But the two angels order them to get their heads out the clouds and back to earth, “Now’s no time for standing around and staring into space. It’s time to get on with your king’s mission!”

Luke’s account makes it clear that as soon as Christ is launched into his heavenly throne, the gospel is also launched into all of Israel and all the earth by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus’s departure ushers in the age of the Spirit (Acts 1:8). And when the Holy Spirit is unleashed, Jesus is no longer limited by time and place as He was in his earthly body.

That’s exactly what we see happening at Pentecost a few days later, and through the book of Acts. It’s what we still see today, and to the end of the age. Because of the Holy Spirit, Jesus will be with every generation of the church until the harvest is gathered in and the great commission is complete (Matt 28:20).

Actually, without the ascension, Christians would have no purpose beyond ourselves in this world. We would just be living for our little comforts and plans, gripes and groans like everyone else. Building our own little ladders to heaven. Securing our paper kingdoms. Dreaming up our own ideas of the afterlife. But because Jesus has descended to earth as our sacrifice and saviour, and ascended to heaven as our real, objective King, we are part of something much bigger than ourselves (Acts 1:8): His Kingdom, in heaven and on earth.

What’s more, those heavenly messengers remind us that history is not cyclical or arbitrary (Acts 1:11). The world is moving purposefully to a certain point in the future. That fixed point is the physical, visible return of Jesus to rule over the earth, the day when every knee will bow to Him as Judge and King. Once and for all, God will make His enemies a footstool for his Son (1 Thess 5:2Ps 110:1Rev 20:14). So, Christ’s ascension is a warning to those who have not bowed the knee to Him as King. And a reminder to Christians not to just to wander about aimlessly on this earth. We are allies of the cosmic King who has great purposes for his Church on the earth. “To preach repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name to all nations”, in the power of the Holy Spirit, until our King returns (Luke 24:47-48). What a blessing to have a mission beyond ourselves! A mission whose outcome is assured by the King himself!

The ascension is our great assurance

But until our King returns, the ascension secures us a heavenly high priest who always has the ear of God, an advocate who is at God’s right hand.

For me, right now, this is why the ascension is such a precious doctrine. Christ is not a remote monarch or wily politician like our world’s leaders. He is the caring, passionate King we glimpse when Stephen is stoned in Acts 7. For this is what Stephen saw as he faced his executioners:

“But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:55-56).”

Yes, Stephen saw Jesus standing, not sitting at God’s right hand! Not distant or disinterested, but active and engaged in the lives of those who love him. He is standing in heaven as our great advocate to plead our case before God. To pray for us as we face troubles in this world (John 17:202426). To defend us against Satan’s accusations when we sin (1 John 2:1). To reassure us of His love even when we feel foolish and insecure (Rom 8:34). It’s this vision of Jesus as his heavenly advocate that gave Stephen the serenity to entrust his spirit to the Lord Jesus and forgive his enemies (Acts 7:59-60). It’s this same view of the exalted Jesus that is enabling Ravi Zacharius to face terminal cancer in peace, with the gospel mission still burning in his heart. And it’s why the writer of Hebrews concludes, “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to intercede for them (Heb 7:25).

Because Christ paid for our sins with his life and has ascended into heaven as King, those who have bowed the knee to Him can know that we have a High Priest in heaven. So, we can boldly draw near to God in prayer and always find grace to help us when we need it most (Heb 4:167:1927).

What a difference the objective reality of the ascension makes at this time of crisis and loss! Through this pandemic, let’s not dwell on the gloom of our planet. Let’s lift our eyes to heaven and see Christ the king orchestrating his great redemption mission to the ends of the earth. Let’s see Him building up his church one human heart at a time, guiding all events towards a new heavens and a new earth (Isa 65:17-25). As his subjects, let’s not be so self-absorbed that we miss our part in that grand plan!

Amazingly, two thousand years after Christ’s ascension, we can still know Christ’s intimate presence in Africa, hear his voice powerfully in his word and feel the continuous outpouring of his love in our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:5Rom 8:9-102 Cor 3:17). As Peter wrote to the churches in Asia Minor who had also never met Jesus, “Though you have not seen him, you love him” (1 Peter 1:8). Do we love Him too, and do we really grasp the meaning of his ascension?

Prayer

Lord, we sometimes feel afraid and a little lost at this time of crisis. Help us to truly take to heart all that you said about the Holy Spirit as our counselor, who lives in us, and helps us, and stays with us forever (John 14:16171826). Lord, make your ascension real for us, so we may see you as our active, caring Sovereign and Advocate in heaven, and may be assured of your power, love and presence in our lives, come what may. Come, Lord Jesus.

Further reading:

Timothy Keller, Encounters with Jesus, (chapter 9 titled The Right Hand of the Father).

John Stott, Focus on Christ, (chapter 1 titled Through Christ our mediator.)

John 14-17.

 

The woman who hid beneath God’s wings

Beneath his wings

By Rosie Moore.

I’m fascinated by the names on my mom’s massive family tree* dating back to King John of England (1119-1296). But the name that intrigues me most is Lady Jane Grey –born 1537, beheaded 1554, “Nine-days Queen” of England. This 17-year old heroine of the Reformation was sent to the gallows at the order of her cousin, Mary (aka. Bloody Mary). Her crime? Being a pawn in a family power struggle. No father or relative came to rescue her in the Tower of London. Neither could her noble title or family name save her. But this is what Jane wrote for her younger sister, Katherine, in the flyleaf of her Greek Bible:

“This is the book, dear sister, of the Law of the Lord. It is his testament and last will, which he bequeathed unto us wretches, which shall lead you to the path of eternal joy. . . . And as touching my death, rejoice as I do, good sister, that I shall be delivered of this corruption, and put on incorruption. For I am assured that I shall for losing of a mortal life, win an immortal life.”**

Although my distant ancestor died young, leaving no descendants, Lady Jane now lives in ‘eternal joy’. She chose to hide herself beneath the wings of Christ and her inheritance remains safe with her Redeemer. But Jane Grey reminds me of another young woman called Ruth. She lived, not in 1550AD but in 1550BC. Not in England but in Israel. Bethlehem was no safe place for a widowed refugee during the time of the judges, a time when almost every man decided for himself what was right, with no regard for God (Judges 2:11-12Judges 17:6). Like Lady Jane Grey, Ruth’s life was hard and dangerous. Both women had little influence over their own destiny. But their legacy led straight to Christ, their ultimate Kinsman-Redeemer (Matt 1:16).

This is the first in a two-part devotion on the book of Ruth. Please read this amazing little book and see for yourself the embryos of the gospel on every page.

Ruth’s risky choice

Ruth replied (to Naomi), “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me” (Ruth 1:16-17).

Here is a Moabite widow who chooses to follow her mother-in-law to Bethlehem– hardly a welcome home for a penniless, landless, family-less widow from Moab. Add to that Ruth’s responsibility to care for her despondent mother-in-law, battered by famine, immigration and the loss of a husband and two sons. The Elimilech family was hardly a safe bet.

I can hardly imagine what it was like for Ruth to leave behind her identity, security, community, marriage prospects and childhood gods to become a covenant daughter of Israel. Orpah, her sister-in-law, made the easy choice, but Ruth chose Yahweh’s protection over everything else (Ruth 1:14). “My people, my God…there I will be buried.” There’s nothing abstract about her fierce, action-backed pledge to the God of Israel and His covenant promises. And it cost Ruth everything to take refuge under His wings. It meant becoming a refugee.

Ruth’s refuge and rich reward

11 But Boaz answered her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before.12 May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge” (Ruth 2:12).

Isn’t it just like God to use Boaz as the answer to his own blessing over Ruth in verse 12? Boaz himself becomes God’s instrument of protection. A chapter later it’s Ruth who asks Boaz to cover her with his wings as her kinsman-redeemer: “Boaz said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings (garment) over your servant, for you are a redeemer” (Ruth 3:9).

Wings! What an extraordinary picture of refuge and protection. Listen to what Moses and David wrote about God’s wings in relation to his people:

‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself” (Ex 19:4). “Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by….Let me dwell in your tent forever! Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings!” (Ps 61:4)

And listen to what Malachi says of the coming Messiah that God would send:

But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings” (Mal 4:2).

Doesn’t it sound a lot like Jesus calling to the Israelites of his day, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem… how often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing” (Luke 13:34)?

And doesn’t Ruth sound a lot like believers who would leave their houses, families and lands for the sake of Christ’s name, but would receive a hundredfold in return and inherit an eternal home? (Matt 19:29)

Surely Ruth’s risky choice is the same choice each of us faces if we’re to take hold of God’s promises and make them our own? Rich or poor, Jew or Gentile, noble or nobody, none of us can save our own lives. And there’s only one way to take refuge under God’s wings: It’s to admit our sin and ask to be covered by Christ’s righteousness. It’s to die to self and trust only in Christ as our Redeemer (Matt 16:14). And it’s to live the rest of our lives for Him, tucked securely beneath His wings of mercy (Matt 16:25). Like Ruth, we’ve got to realise that we’re pilgrims, strangers, exiles in a strange land (1 Peter 2:11-12). For sure, it’s not a safe bet. But if you asked Ruth, she would tell you that it’s worth the risk! For without God’s wings of mercy, we will have no covering for our sin and no protection on God’s day of judgment. We desperately need a Kinsman-redeemer to remain safe on that day.

Although Ruth didn’t know much about Yahweh, and lived 1500 years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem, she seemed to understand that the God of Israel gives grace to anyone who turns to him and embraces Him by faith. The little she knew about Yahweh gave her enough confidence to abandon every other source of identity and safety, and to cling to Him. Next week we will look at how Ruth’s faith is richly rewarded: From famine to fullness, from rags to royalty, from widowhood to a wedding. The story of Boaz and Ruth is the gospel in seed form. Know for sure that whatever your human heritage or family name, being part of God’s family tree is all that counts in the end.

Footnotes:

*A great-uncle spent the better part of his life researching the family genealogy, which features me and my siblings as a mere scribble in the bottom corner. The irony is that a rat has been nibbling at the edges of the massive paper scroll, as if to demonstrate that a human lineage doesn’t ultimately matter!

*You can read about Lady Jane Grey here.

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“If only we had meat to eat!” Seeing Jesus in the wilderness

Wilderness resizedBy Rosie Moore.

“The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” The manna was like coriander seed and looked like resin. The people went around gathering it, and then ground it in a hand mill or crushed it in a mortar. They cooked it in a pot or made it into loaves. And it tasted like something made with olive oil. When the dew settled on the camp at night, the manna also came down. 10 Moses heard the people of every family wailing at the entrance to their tents. The Lord became exceedingly angry, and Moses was troubled. (Numbers 11:4-10).

Selective memory

No one needs an online course on how to complain, as grumbling is second nature to us! The Israelites were no exception in their wilderness journey to the land God promised them—a land flowing with milk and honey.

It’s amazing how quickly God’s people forgot 400 years of misery, only recalling the free food in Egypt. Talk about selective memory! During their forty years in the desert, they grumbled against God, Moses, and even the blanket of manna that God miraculously provided each morning, except the Sabbath (Numbers 21:4-5). Their desire turned to craving for ‘other’ food–food that God hadn’t provided. Even Moses blamed God for giving him the heavy burden of leadership (Num 11:11).

You’d expect the Israelites to remember God’s surprising acts of kindness, like the clear water gushing from the rock and springs (Ex 15:2717:6); the pillars of His presence that led them by day and night (Ex 13:21) and God’s tender mercy in preserving their clothes and shoes for four decades, even shielding their feet from swelling and blistering (Deut 8:4Deut 29:5). Or the Lord’s powerful protection over them during the plagues and crossing the Red Sea. All they had to do in the face of their enemies was to be silent and trust in Him (Ex 14:2117:15-16Ex 14:14).

But instead of depending on God’s provision, protection, power and plan, the Israelites grumbled and forgot His daily gifts. They pleased themselves with idols instead of waiting, and grew impatient with God’s hard route through the desert (Ex 32:11 Cor 10:7-10Heb 3:9-10). Even on Canaan’s border, they listened to the 10 spies instead of Joshua and Caleb’s encouragement, “We can certainly do it…the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them” (Numbers 13:3014:27-28).

The desert displays our idols

The truth is that testing always reveals what we really value and who we worship. It was so for the Israelites, and it’s the same for us.

Paul says that the Israelites’ 40-year pilgrimage was recorded as both a warning and an example for the Christian life (1 Cor 10:69-11), as we too have been set free from sin’s “slavery”. We are travelling through the wilderness of this world to the new heavens and new earth that God has promised us (Rev 21-22). Our wilderness is the testing ground to build our relationship with our Father and prepare us for our future home. The Israelites should rouse us to exercise our faith to the very end (Heb 3:14).

But when I look at my own Christian life, I see that my record of obedience and trust is at best fluctuating, and my faith often gives way to fear. Everything I read about the Israelites has been true of me, and still is.

If we don’t see Jesus in our wilderness, we will end our journey in a ditch of despair.

‘Manna’ from heaven

When Jesus turned to the books of Moses, He saw every story pointing to himself and trained his disciples to do likewise (John 3:9-15Luke 24:27). Matthew took great care to point out that Christ was everything Israel was meant to be…and everything we can never be: Jesus did for us what we cannot do ourselves, and blazed a trail for us to follow too.

In Christ’s 40-days of testing in the wilderness, He also experienced severe hunger and thirst. Yet, Jesus remained dependent on His Father for his provision (Matt 4:2-3). Each time He responded to Satan, He showed that God’s word is the best ‘food’ and protection in times of temptation (Matt 4:4). Even in His dying hours, it was Scripture that came out of Jesus’ mouth, not cursing (Ps 22:1Matt 27:46). Jesus leaned on God’s word right to the end. He was both the perfect Adam and the perfect Israelite.

Like the Israelites, Jesus was tempted to misuse God’s power and protection, even in the desolate wilderness of the cross (Matt 4:5-7Matt 27:3942). Yet, Jesus waited until God’s appointed time and trusted God’s purposes (Matt 26:39), even when God’s plan led Him up Calvary.

Jesus too was tempted to take a different route to become King (Matt 4:9-10). Yet, the Son of God left the milk and honey of heaven to journey through our wilderness. His life was poured out in the desert, so that we could drink His pure, living water of salvation (Heb 4:15John 7:38Isa 12:3).

The cross was surely the most wretched wilderness that any man could endure, but Jesus pressed on, so that you and I would not die in the desert apart from God’s blessing. The joy of leading us into the Promised land was what kept him going (Heb 12:2):

‘Never again will they hunger;
    never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,’
    nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb at the centre of the throne
    will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water’ (Rev 7:16-17).”

Jesus Himself is the Bread of heaven, better than any manna that God provided in the desert. He is the ‘bread’ that was broken for us  and God’s gracious ‘manna’ for our own journey through the wilderness (Luke 22:19-20John 6:51-58).

Is the Lord’s arm too short? (Num 11:23)

“The Lord answered Moses, “Is the Lord’s arm too short? Now you will see whether or not what I say will come true for you” (Num 11:23).”

God showed grace to the complaining Israelites and gave them meat to eat (quails). He also showed his righteous anger for their grumblings, because discontent is a serious rejection of the Lord Himself. Their craving ended up consuming them (Numbers 11:2031-35).

It’s easy to wonder why the Israelites refused to trust in God’s providence when He’d proved Himself so merciful and faithful. But don’t we also crave ‘other food’ in our lives? Other provision, protection, plans, power and promises that are not from the Lord? In our dissatisfaction, isn’t it easy to overlook God’s daily gifts and to think that the Lord’s arm is too short… and ours is longer than it really is? Isn’t it easy to overlook the simple privilege of having the Bible, prioritising what we put in our mouths over ‘every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’? (Matt 4:4)

We don’t know exactly how God will provide and protect His people from the financial impact of COVID-19, but we do know that we must ask our loving Father for our daily needs and give without fanfare to those in need (Matt 6:6811Matt 6:2-4). We can be sure that knowing and being known by Christ is the key to contentment, as He will never leave us to fend for ourselves (Phil 4:1119Rom 8:32-37). We also know that we mustn’t worry about tomorrow, as each day has enough worries of its own (Matt 6:34). Perhaps that’s all we need to know.

Prayer

Father, thank you for pursuing me when I wanted nothing to do with you and for your kindness that led me to repentance. Thank you for your new mercies every morning. Thank you that you fight on our behalf and provide everything we need in Jesus. Thank you that our wilderness is not aimless wanderings, but that your providence always leads us from ahead and behind. Thank you that you walk with us by your Spirit, even through the worst of the wilderness. Lord, make us quick to say thank you and slow to crave what you haven’t given us. We trust that you will lead us safely to our promised home. Amen.

 

What on earth has Christ to do with Creation?

Lord of creationI grew up in a Church where we said the words of the Nicene Creed every Sunday. The words tumbled out of my mouth easily, though they didn’t mean much to me at the time. Especially the parts about Jesus, “the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten not made…being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made..who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven.” (Not being able to read, I misheard ‘begotten’ as ‘forgotten,’ and nothing made sense after that!)

I’ve come to love the Creed as a potent portrait of the Triune God and His stunning gospel: The Maker of heaven and earth has built a bridge, so that his finite and sinful creatures may reach Him and know Him as Father. In John Stott’s words:

“Only one bridge spans the otherwise unbridgeable gulf. It has been thrown across from the other side. It is Jesus Christ, God’s eternal Son, who entered our world, became a human being, lived our life, and then died our death, the death we deserved to die because of our sins.”

It’s easy to recite words, but do we really think of Jesus as Lord of Creation? And does it really matter whether this is the Jesus we believe in, or not?

In the beginning…

It mattered greatly to John, one of Jesus’s closest disciples. The risen Jesus must have opened up the scroll of Genesis with his disciples, because John began his Gospel with the same words as Genesis 1. He made some staggering statements:

Here’s what John wrote about Jesus as Lord of Creation:

“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… 14 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…18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.” (John 1:1-41418).

Here’s what Moses wrote about how the universe came into existence:

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light (Gen 1:1-3).

Eternal and living Word

John deliberately echoed the first words from Genesis 1 to leave us in no doubt that Jesus is the Lord of Creation. He is also God’s perfect Son and image-bearer (John 1:1418). Yet amazingly, God’s eternal word that created the universe is also the carpenter’s son, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). The eternal word is also the living Word who lived among us.

John is unequivocal that Jesus is the eternal God who lit up the darkness, brought order from chaos and filled the emptiness at Creation. Christ was the creative word that called the cosmos into being each time God spoke, “Let there be…and there was…” We must let the full import of John’s prologue sink into our hearts and minds: Jesus of Nazareth existed at the beginning– before and outside of time, space and matter! This is not just something John made up, as Jesus claimed it too (John 17:5).

Last week I said that Christ is more than we could ever hope for. He is not just for a particular nation, era or ethnic group, but for the whole world and for all time. Jesus is not just Creator of our world, but the whole cosmos—even what’s invisible to our telescopes. He transformed the formless, dark void of nothing-ness into an earth and sky teeming with light and life, order and purpose, beauty and fruitfulness. It’s a picture of blessing.

Light of life

Yet, according to John, Christ’s creative work hasn’t stopped. The Creator is also the Re-creator (or redeemer) of his broken universe that’s no longer under God’s blessing (Gen 1:28), but under His curse (Gen 3:24).

Here’s how John describes Jesus, the true light:

“9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:9-13).

When I read this description of the true light, I think of a rescue searchlight in a gloomy cave, enveloped by pitch darkness— the darkness of Satan, ignorance, alienation, hatred, illness, fear and death. Jesus is the searchlight, seeking out lost people in the darkest corners of the cave, even those who have been blinded for so long, they no longer realize it’s dark. Each and every lost soul who responds to His searchlight, He rescues and restores to the sunlight of family, wholeness and fruitfulness. To blessing and life.

The curse is not God’s final word to us. Jesus is God’s final Word.

That’s exactly what John records Jesus doing when He left heaven to make his dwelling with us:

He announced, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

Jesus filled the empty wine jars of an ashamed wedding host and restored order to His Father’s house (John 2:1-1214-16). He filled hungry stomachs with overflowing food, and his disciples’ empty nets with thousands of flapping fish (John 6:1-14John 21:11). He poured living water into the dry soul of a Samaritan woman (John 4:7-42). He spoke wholeness into a lame man and brought light to the eyes of a man born blind (John 5:5-9John 9:7John 9:26-27). When He walked on water, Jesus defied the laws He embedded in His universe at creation (John 6:19). Just as he created the universe ex nihilo, He provided fish and bread out of nothing after his resurrection (John 21:9). He forgave and restored the dignity of an adulterous woman and breathed life into Lazarus (John 8:11John 8:11). He forgave Peter and re-made him as a fruitful evangelist (John 21:15-17). Jesus’ stunning words matched his works, “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged, but has crossed over from death to life”(John 5: 242125). That’s the crux of the incarnation, which every one of Jesus’ miracles pointed to.

But Jesus never acted alone. From the beginning, God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have always worked together to create and re-create life.

New creations

Jesus told Nicodemus that God’s Spirit breathes new life into the hearts of born again believers (John 3:7-8).  This Spirit is the same creative Spirit that fluttered over the face of the waters at Creation, waiting for God’s word to carry out His will (Gen 1:2). And exactly the same Spirit who hovered over Jesus at his baptism when the Father gave His blessing, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to Him” (John 1:32Luke 9:35Matt 3:17)!

Just as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit worked together to give life to the first humans (Gen 1:26), God’s word (the gospel) must go out in the Spirit’s power to create new creatures who seek after the Lord.

Renewed day-by-day

Here’s why I think it matters to see Jesus in Creation, even as we go about tidying messy homes, putting food on the table and stringing words together for blogs– generally bringing order from chaos: If Jesus really made and holds the universe together, then we’ll only find our life’s meaning and purpose in Him (Heb 1:1-3Col 1:151617). What He did at Creation, He keeps renewing day-by-day in our inner selves (2 Cor 4:16). Only the Lord of Creation can bring us through the chaos of Coronavirus and all the effects of sin, to our ultimate home. Only His Spirit can illumine the beauty of the gospel to those crouching in darkness. And only when His Spirit “hovers” over His children, will our hearts burn as we live and breathe God’s Word (Rom 12:21 Peter 1:23). If we remain in a living relationship with Jesus, we will be His faithful image-bearers who bear lasting fruit (John 15:4-5Phil 4:17Gal 5:22-23Matt 28:19-20). After all, if Christ spoke the universe into being, He can surely restore every empty, dark, chaotic cave in your life that is crying out right now for redemption!

Making all things new

Jesus is the word of renewal and hope we see in Genesis 1 and John 1. But our hope becomes reality when we see Jesus in the final scene of the Bible. Next time Christ comes, it won’t just be to visit earth for 33 years, but to make his home with us forever!

“He who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev 21:5).

The presence of Jesus, who existed before the sun, will light the new Creation. The earth will drip with even more abundance and blessing than the Garden of Eden, and no sin or deceit will enter it again (Revelation 21:2327Rev 22:2):

“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death, or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away…” He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children” (Rev 21:3-7).

What on earth has Christ to do with Creation? Absolutely everything!

Lord of Creation, your word has been burning in our hearts today as you’ve searched us with your powerful light. Make us new by your word day-by -day, so that we’ll bear fruit that will last. Thank you for your beautiful world, which displays your power, glory and concern for even the smallest things. Most of all, thank you for your blessed Son, in whom we are made “very good” sons and daughters, today and forever. In His beautiful name, Amen.

Further reading:

Poythress, Vern: How to read Genesis 1-3: Let there be light. Desiring God.

Guthrie, Nancy: The Promised One.

“This will be the seventh-day rest that every Sabbath since Eden has pointed toward and implanted in us a longing for—finally like it was in the garden at the beginning, only better, and this time, forever. God’s people in God’s place, enjoying God himself in their midst for all time.” (Nancy Guthrie- The Promised One).

Is your heart burning with the truth of the risen Christ?

Burning heartBy Rosie Moore.

Imagine seeing Jesus in the flesh after his resurrection! The pair on the Emmaus road had burning hearts as Jesus walked beside them and opened up the Old Testament to them. They started their journey bewildered, sad and disappointed, but that evening at dinner, Jesus opened their eyes to see that the cross and empty tomb were part of God’s plan from the beginning.

Back in Jerusalem, the eleven disciples thought they were seeing a ghost when Jesus joined their meal. But he invited them to touch his body, reminding them that his death and resurrection was all written down centuries before, “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms. Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:4445). When they finally turned to their Bibles and saw Jesus for who he was, they couldn’t be silenced. The fire of the truth could not be extinguished. Is that your experience?

Today, let’s join two burning hearts on the road to Emmaus:

15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.

17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

19 “What things?” he asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

We had hoped…

Cleopas and his friend had hoped Jesus was the one to redeem Israel, but he’d been crucified instead. To them, Luke 24:19 and 20 were jarring contradictions.

Why is it so easy for us to misunderstand who Jesus is, or be disappointed that he has not done for us what we hoped? Perhaps it’s because our view of Jesus and what He came to accomplish is skewed, confused, small or incomplete. Perhaps we don’t pay enough attention to the original source, but only to podcasts and videos about Jesus, plucking from the Bible the ‘useful’ bits that fit our hopes, dreams and needs for today. Like the two disciples, we too are prone to define Jesus for ourselves but blind to God’s big story for the world. Jesus tells us where to look if we want to see Him and his mission clearly. Perhaps it’s time to go back to the whole Bible to see who Jesus is and why He’s much more than we could ever hope for.

In all the Scriptures…

“He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

 You might find it odd that Jesus’ first revelation of himself to these disciples was by way of a Bible study from the Old Testament! That isn’t exactly the kind of sentimental message we pass around social media, which makes us Oooh and Aaah in amazement! Jesus was explaining how all those flawed heroes, stories, symbols, laws, sacrifices, shadows and types were scenes from an unfinished play, awaiting their fulfillment in Him. As Nancy Guthrie writes,

“The Old Testament serves to point out our cavernous need for a better law keeper, a better judge, a better prophet, a better priest, a better king. Jesus must have looked Cleopas and his companion in the eyes that day and said, “That’s me. I’m the one the whole of the Old Testament points to. I’m the one God intended to send all along.”

It was while Jesus filtered familiar Scriptures through the mesh of the gospel, that the sparks of spiritual insight were lit, and their eyes became clearer.

Their eyes were opened…

29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! (Luke 24:29-34).

But is it true?

Today’s familiar story is happy and hopeful, but I pray our hearts are burning with its Truth. Luke intends us, 2000 years later, to be fired up by the same internal combustion engine that no one has been able to switch off since those first disciples saw Christ alive. The resurrection is a critical moment. Jesus’s whole life stands or falls on this moment in history. In fact, the whole Bible stands or falls on whether it’s a fact or fallacy. Was Jesus a blasphemer, a delusional man, a liar…Or was He speaking the truth when He called himself the Messiah-King? (Matt 26:63-64)

The only way you and I will answer that question with integrity is if we read the gospel accounts for ourselves and decide whether Christ’s claims are true.

Search the Scriptures, see Christ for yourself!

I’d like to suggest that the best way you can spend lockdown is by returning to the source and searching the Scriptures for yourself.

I’d like to suggest that one of the best ways we can use our time in lockdown is by turning to the source and searching the Scriptures for ourselves.

“Jesus showed us that the surest road to wisdom is not speculation, reasoning, or reading human books, but meditation on the Word of God…When Jesus sought to enrich others, He worked from the quarry of Holy Scripture…O for grace to study the Bible with Jesus as both our teacher and our lesson!” (C.H Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, Jan 18).

Read for yourself how Jesus showed the first eye-witnesses his hands and feet and invited them to touch him (Luke 24:39-40). Join their journey from amazement to adoration as they exclaim one by one, “My Lord and my God!…It is the Lord!… I have seen the Lord!… It is true!” (John 20:28John 21:7John 20:18Luke 24:34). Read for yourself how they watched Jesus fill their fishing nets and eat a breakfast braai with them on the beach (John 21:1-14). From defeat, doubt and disbelief, they were led by the truth to clarity, joy, worship and boldness. Is this your experience?

But this story is a forewarning that the truth is flammable. Once God’s Spirit opens our eyes to see Jesus in the Scriptures, we cannot be silent about Him. The Bible isn’t just ink on paper, or inspirational thoughts, or head knowledge. It should fiercely impassion our minds, emotions, words and actions! It’s God’s true story of what He is accomplishing in the world, and in us, through Christ. And it is only this fire of truth that will make us bold and confident in the gospel over the long haul. Without the fire of God’s Spirit, we will just use the Bible to gather dry factual crumbs or inspirational quotes, instead of feasting on Christ, the Bread of life. Let us be warned by the Pharisees of Jesus’s day:

“You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39-40).

Prayer

Lord, open our eyes to see and wonder at the truth of who you are in the whole Bible. Give us a big, beautiful picture of yourself that not only fills our hearts, but extends to the whole world. Help us to be diligent in searching the Scriptures for ourselves, rather than relying on snippets from those who are more learned. Holy Spirit, make our hearts burn with the truth of your Word every day of our lives. Soften our hard hearts that think we know it all already, but refuse to come to you personally to have life. Amen (John 20:31John 5:40).

A foretaste of our new series “Burning hearts”

The Emmaus Road was just a foretaste of the revelations to come. Before Jesus sent his disciples out as his witnesses to the world, He spent almost forty days opening up the Jewish Scriptures with them. He showed them how every book from Genesis to Malachi pointed to Himself and mapped out their gospel mission to the nations. He taught them, through the familiar Torah, how God’s promised Messiah would save them through suffering, dying, rising and returning as Judge and King on the last day. Don’t you wish you could Zoom to those Bible studies with Jesus?!

In the weeks before Ascension day, The God Walk will give a tiny taster of what Jesus discussed with his disciples in these final days. We will start at the beginning, Seeing Christ in Creation. Then the Lamb of God, Son of DavidWisdom Song and The Prophet’s Promise. I look forward to walking with you on our mini Emmaus road!

Instead of a song, here’s a video to help us to see that Jesus truly rose from the dead. I pray that you will stand alongside those first eye-witnesses and say, “It is true!” And that this truth will change you forever.

Who is it you are looking for?

Empty tomb resizedNow Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her (John 20:11-18).

Last at the cross, first at the grave

It’s amazing how the first person to see Jesus alive is Mary Magdalene, a woman with no legal or social standing in Jewish culture, and a dubious past. But Jesus had freed her from seven demons and she owed him everything (Luke 8:2). Her devotion to Jesus was so irrepressible that she had left her home in Magdala to follow and support His mission. She never left his side on the way to Jerusalem. Even when his close friends deserted Jesus, Mary stayed, witnessing his trial and sentencing by Pilate. She watched her Saviour die on the cross and helped prepare his body for burial. On the first day after the Jewish Sabbath, it was Mary who was at the tomb earliest in the morning to witness the greatest event in world history.

Imagine her grief as she stood outside the tomb (John 20:11). Imagine her confusion as she saw the ‘gardener’ and asked where he had put the body. Imagine her excitement when she finally saw Jesus for who He was: Her “Rabboni”! And imagine her astonishment when she heard him calling her to be the first messenger of the good news!

An unlikely missionary

In spite of her history and her gender, Jesus called Mary Magdalene to be his first ambassador after his resurrection. It was a scandalous honour in their patriarchal society, but after her personal encounter with the living Jesus, Mary needed no further convincing. She believed Jesus when he said, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’ (John 20:17). Those were radical, reassuring words to hear from the King of kings.

Mary was bubbling over with joy as rushed to obey Jesus’s first mandate to go and tell her brothers the good news. She may not have been a leader or one of the twelve, but she was a woman with a mission! And she had just heard that she was God’s own daughter, as surely as Jesus was God’s own Son!

She heard Him call her name

At first, Mary is confused about who Jesus is, but Jesus points her in the right direction with his questions, “Why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Jesus’s questions are full of tenderness and patience. They are personal and probing questions designed to help her discover the truth. That is exactly how Jesus deals with us as we grapple with the truth of who He is. He does not try to confound or hide from us.

Then Jesus comes to her and tenderly calls her name, “Mary.” That’s when Mary recognizes him. Her doubt and confusion give way to jubilation and affection for her Saviour. Just as Jesus had said, “His sheep follow him because they know his voice” (John 10:3-4).

Is this your experience this Easter? Are you fully convinced that Jesus is alive today? Do you know Christ in a personal relationship, as Mary did? Do you know that He has spoken to you in the Bible, and are you eager to go and tell others the good news found in its pages?

Beyond evidence

I could give you all the arguments why the resurrection actually happened. I could spend many pages writing about the missing body, the secure stone weighing 2 tons and the Roman guards outside the empty tomb. I could tell you about the eleven separate occasions when Jesus was seen alive (including 500 people at the same time), and throw in the evidence of the cowardly disciples who became brave evangelists, willing to die for their belief in the risen Jesus. I could tell you about Jesus’ skeptical brother James, and Paul the stubborn persecutor of Christianity, who both became grace-filled preachers who suffered and died for the truth of the resurrection. As an erstwhile lawyer, I love hard evidence!

But instead, I’ll leave with you this simple story of a weeping woman, who heard Jesus call her name. Don’t let this season pass you by without grasping hold of the person at the centre of Easter. Mary Magdalene saw Jesus as her own Christ, her risen Lamb of God, her Saviour, her Lord and King. This same risen, reigning Jesus calls you by name and has made himself known to you. He asks you the most important question you can hear this Easter, “Who is it you are looking for?”

Can you say, with Mary, “I have seen the Lord!”

P.S Happy Resurrection Sunday!

Here’s a read-aloud poem to lighten your hearts during this sombre season:

How the Virus Stole Easter
By Kristi Bothur
(With a nod to Dr. Seuss)

Twas late in ‘19 when the virus began
Bringing chaos and fear to all people, each land.
People were sick, hospitals full,
Doctors overwhelmed, no one in school.

As winter gave way to the promise of spring,
The virus raged on, touching peasant and king.
People hid in their homes from the enemy unseen.
They YouTubed and Zoomed, social-distanced, and cleaned.

April approached and churches were closed.
“There won’t be an Easter,” the world supposed.
“There won’t be church services, and egg hunts are out.
No reason for new dresses when we can’t go about.”

Holy Week started, as bleak as the rest.
The world was focused on masks and on tests.
“Easter can’t happen this year,” it proclaimed.
“Online and at home, it just won’t be the same.”

Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, the days came and went.
The virus pressed on; it just would not relent.
The world woke Sunday and nothing had changed.
The virus still menaced, the people, estranged.

“Pooh pooh to the saints,” the world was grumbling.
“They’re finding out now that no Easter is coming.
“They’re just waking up! We know just what they’ll do!
Their mouths will hang open a minute or two,
And then all the saints will all cry boo-hoo.

“That noise,” said the world, “will be something to hear.”
So it paused and the world put a hand to its ear.

And it did hear a sound coming through all the skies.
It started down low, then it started to rise.
But the sound wasn’t depressed.
Why, this sound was triumphant!

It couldn’t be so!
But it grew with abundance!
The world stared around, popping its eyes.
Then it shook! What it saw was a shocking surprise!

Every saint in every nation, the tall and the small,
Was celebrating Jesus in spite of it all!
It hadn’t stopped Easter from coming! It came!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!

And the world with its life quite stuck in quarantine
Stood puzzling and puzzling.
“Just how can it be?”
“It came without bonnets, it came without bunnies,
It came without egg hunts, cantatas, or money.”

Then the world thought of something it hadn’t before.
“Maybe Easter,” it thought, “doesn’t come from a store.
Maybe Easter, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

And what happened then?
Well….the story’s not done.
What will YOU do?
Will you share with that one
Or two or more people needing hope in this night?
Will you share the source of your life in this fight?

The churches are empty – but so is the tomb,
And Jesus is victor over death, doom, and gloom.
So this year at Easter, let this be our prayer,
As the virus still rages all around, everywhere.

May the world see hope when it looks at God’s people.
May the world see the church is not a building or steeple.
May the world find Faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection,
May the world find Joy in a time of dejection.
May 2020 be known as the year of survival,
But not only that –
Let it start a revival.

Amen!

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

God-forsaken resizedOne of the worst aspects of the COVID-19 outbreak in Bergamo, Italy, is that thousands of its victims died alone, without the comfort of loved ones at their bedside. Regardless of culture or religion, the world has been forced to discard ancient rituals to say goodbye to the dying, to honour the dead and comfort the bereaved, for fear of spreading the virus further. But on this Easter Friday, Christians can know that we will never experience the horrific separation that Christ suffered as he gasped for breath on the cross. As our substitute, Jesus was weighed down, not only by his own broken body, but by the burden of sin he never committed. Christ became a curse for us (Gal 3:13) and emptied the cup of God’s wrath. Enveloped by darkness from noon until 3pm on the Friday of Passover, Jesus owned King David’s cry in Psalm 22:

 ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Matt 27:45-46Ps 22:1a).

“Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest (Ps 22:1-2).

Jesus’s cry of true abandonment gave voice to an immense spiritual grief. It eclipsed all other griefs, as the perfect Son bore the wrath of His beloved Father against every loathsome sin committed in the world. For the first time in all eternity, the righteous Judge of all the earth turned his face away from his beloved Son. He shut the door in Jesus’s face, to open the door to forgiven sinners.

Let’s go back to the Psalm that Jesus meditated on as he hung on the cross. Read Psalm 22 through on your own, then keep the text in front of you as we massage its truth into our hearts:

Despised by the people

“But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
“He trusts in the Lord,” they say,
“let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him…”

The Psalmist clearly had his own enemies and personal torment. But David was also a prophet, inspired by the Holy Spirit to describe an infinitely more profound anguish to be suffered by one of his descendants (1 Peter 1:10-11).

Jesus knew more than any man what it is to be abandoned and despised. Judas betrayed him and his friends deserted him. Even Peter denied him. Then there were the three nighttime trials and the brutal flogging. The Chief Priests didn’t care that Judas had betrayed innocent blood (Matt 27:4). Nor did Pilate and Herod care that Jesus was guiltless (Matt 27:182426Luke 23:41415). Everyone knew Christ was innocent and that the trials were a complete mockery of justice. Yet, they continued to bay for blood while Pilate washed his hands.

How accurate and ironic is the taunt of Ps 22:8“He trusts in the Lord, let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him”. It was an echo of the insults hurled at Jesus by the soldiers who crucified him (Matt 27:27-3139-40); the Jewish leaders who rejected Him as Messiah (Matt 27:41-42) and the robbers who were crucified with him (Matt 27:44).

The irony was lost on those too blinded by the Enemy to see that their insults were prophetic declarations that Jesus was indeed the promised Saviour-King he claimed to be.

Surrounded by enemies

“Many bulls surround me;
strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
13 Roaring lions that tear their prey
open their mouths wide against me

16 For dogs encompass me;
a company of evildoers encircles me” (Ps 22:6-812-1316).

David’s lament and prayer for deliverance from his enemies hinted at a far more sinister and supernatural predator that has stalked God’s image-bearers since Eden. Until Eve’s seed would finally crush Satan’s head (Gen 3:15).

As Eve’s promised descendant, Jesus was at the centre of this cosmic war. Enemies hunted him like savage animals, even when he was a baby (Matt 2:16). Even while he prayed and fasted in the desert (Matt 4:1). Even after he healed the sick, cast out demons and announced a message of hope (Matt 12:1424Luke 4:29). Behind human agents, Satan plotted to destroy Jesus throughout his short life (John 8:44). Even in his dying hours, Satan continued to tempt Jesus to leave the cross and save himself (Luke 23:35-37). Yet, Christ loved us enough to stay— to save sinners instead of himself. He even prayed for his executioners (Luke 23:34).

Poured out like water

“I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
it has melted within me.
15 My mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
you lay me in the dust of death.

16 Dogs surround me,
a pack of villains encircles me;
they pierce my hands and my feet.
17 All my bones are on display;
people stare and gloat over me.
18 They divide my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment” (Ps 22:14-18).

Here’s why I trust the Bible is truly God’s word. There is nothing in David’s life that could align with this peculiar omnibus of torture. Psalm 22 is not an expression of psychological suffering or physical sickness, but a detailed account of execution by crucifixion. Yet, crucifixion was only invented by the Persians in 300BC and used by the Romans a thousand years after David.

Think of Christ’s nail-pierced hands and feet. Intense dehydration from his all-night ordeal, the labored march to Calvary and six hours of hanging in the sun. Gloating onlookers staring and spitting as he hung naked, at eye level. Bones jerked out of joint as he became too weak to support himself and as the cross fell to the ground. His clothes divided by gambling soldiers. It’s all in Psalm 22:14-18.

David’s lonely lament describes in vivid detail the darkness and despair of that first Easter Friday, as Christ pleads for God’s presence and rescue (Ps 22:19-20Heb 5:7). There is nothing stoic or detached about our Saviour as he carried out his mission to become sin for us. Being “poured out like water” runs much deeper than physical agony. It points to the spiritual desolation Christ experienced when God withdrew his familiar presence. His Father turned his face away, because He could not look upon sin. And his Son was riddled with sin on the cross. Our sin.

Stand in awe of him!

But suddenly, without warning, the song of desolation turns to joy halfway through verse 21. Good Friday is not just a cry of separation and agony. It is ultimately a song of rescue and praise!

“You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!

22 I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
23 You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
24 For he has not despised or abhorred
the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him,
but has heard, when he cried to him.

25 From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows.
26 The poor will eat and be satisfied;
those who seek the Lord will praise him—
may your hearts live forever!

27 All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
will bow down before him,
28 for dominion belongs to the Lord
and he rules over the nations.

29 All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
those who cannot keep themselves alive.
30 Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord.
31 They will proclaim his righteousness,
declaring to a people yet unborn:
He has done it!”

David describes the party a Jewish person would throw when God answered his prayer of deliverance (Ps 22:19-21). It’s the kind of bash we hope to have for our son who turned 21 yesterday while in lockdown!

The guests at this lavish celebration sing songs of praise to God, whose face is no longer hidden from the forsaken one (Ps 22:24). It’s like a royal gala, with guests from many nations and families who join together to worship the King and serve him in posterity. It’s a sumptuous banquet, bursting with life, food and satisfaction (Ps 22:2225-26). Best of all, this never-ending feast is the hope of a ‘people yet unborn,’ who proclaim Christ’s righteousness! That’s us, the Church of Christ— and our children and future generations who come to love Christ as their own!

He has done it!

But why do we get to be guests at this party of all parties? The reason is that “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” was not the final word. After three hours of darkness, Jesus drew his final breath and cried his last words of victory,

“It is finished!”

God did not need three days to fully atone for sin. The price for sin was paid and the fellowship with God was restored. Everything needed for the salvation of sinners and of this sin-cursed creation, was completed on the cross. That’s why the Psalmist’s final cry is,

“He has done it!” (Ps 22:31)

It’s a victory song that comes into even sharper focus when Christ rises from the tomb on Sunday morning, ascends into heaven 40 days later, and reigns as King forever (Acts 2:31).

Let’s not be slow to believe!

I told you at the start what distresses me most about this COVID-19 pandemic. But the best story I’ve heard was that of a 93- year old man who recovered from the virus in an Italian hospital. When asked to pay for the ventilator, the old man started crying. He told the doctors, “I cry because I’ve been breathing God’s air for 93 years but I never paid for it. Do you know how much I owe God? I didn’t thank him for that before.”

God has indeed given us life and lungs, and Coronavirus has made us all too aware of this free and fragile gift (Acts 17:28). But God has also given us the free gift of His Son, who gave up his own breath, so that those who believe in him will live forever (John 19:30John 3:16-18). If you are a Christian, you have the promise of God’s presence forever.

For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him” (1 Thess 5:9-10).

No matter how alone you may sometimes feel, actively press yourself against Jesus, who is not afraid to call you his brother or sister (Heb 2:12). Good Friday confirms that there is nothing in life or death that can separate you from God’s love in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:38393439). But it is also a sober reminder that the worst separation is not the kind the world has seen in recent weeks. Far worse is the ultimate separation, when Christ gathers the nations before his throne and finally closes the door of his grace (Matt 25:10-1331323441Acts 17:31). It is this ultimate separation that only Christ can bridge. Let us not be slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken and the gospels have confirmed! “Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” (Luke 24:25-26Luke 24:44).

As you remember the meaning of Good Friday, listen to this Song by Andrew Peterson. He reminds us that on the Sabbath after Jesus died, God rested from his salvation work. That’s why sinners can rest from ours too. “It is finished! He has done it!”

Who touched me?

Who touched me? resized

By Rosie Moore.

In last Sunday’s sermon, Roydon Frost described faith as the beggar’s bowl by which we receive the gift of God. It’s a perfect picture of the three desperate people who came to Jesus for redemption in Mark chapter 5: A man tormented by so many demons that he was chained up and left to wander alone among the tombs. A woman with a chronic bleeding disease that left her ceremonially unclean, isolated and bankrupt. And the distraught father of a dying daughter. Yet, the Lord Jesus reached out to these two daughters and a son, and made them completely whole and well. By his touch, Christ became unclean and brought health to the sick, cleansing to the unclean, and life to the dead. He literally gave them their lives back.

These three interactions have really strengthened me in my faith this week. They’ve helped me remember that in these days of social distancing and isolation, there’s one person we must not stay away from and there’s one touch we all desperately need. It’s the touch of the Lord Jesus.

Please read the whole of Mark 5 on your own. We’ll focus today on Mark 5:24-34:

So Jesus went with him (Jairus, the synagogue ruler). A large crowd followed and pressed around him. 25 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29 Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. 30 At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”31 “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”32 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33 Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

“If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed”

The story of the hemorrhaging woman is wedged between the redemption of Legion (the demoniac), and Jairus’s little daughter, who is on death’s door. In fact, Jesus is on his way to the synagogue leader’s house to attend to the girl, while the teeming crowd is pushing and shoving to catch sight of the healer. Like keen fans, they’re hungry for a piece of the action.

The bleeding woman was in the crowd, but she wasn’t just a sign seeker. For as long as Jairus’s little daughter had been alive (12 years), this woman had been hemorrhaging from a disease. Not only was it physically crippling, but it was also humiliating and isolating. She was permanently unclean, which meant that her family couldn’t eat the food she cooked, couldn’t sit on the chair she sat on, or sit around the table with her at meals. They couldn’t even touch or hug her, without becoming unclean themselves (Lev 15:25-31). She wasn’t even able to worship with God’s people in the synagogue.

For a Jewish woman, can you imagine this extreme form of social distancing? This woman had been isolated, not for 21 days, but for twelve long years, and there was no prospect of healing. She had spent all her money on human help and was now bankrupt. She grew worse every day and her great suffering touched every part of her — physically, emotionally and spiritually. We all know the story, but let’s not miss the details of this outcast’s pain, as she pushed through the crowd to the famous Jewish Rabbi. Her desperation and determination overtook her shame and fear.

Perhaps this woman was emboldened to touch Jesus’ clothes by something she’d heard about Him. Perhaps she’d heard that from His touch, lepers were fully cleansed (Matt 8:3Mark 1:41Luke 5:13). The blind received instant sight and the mute could speak (Matt 9:2920:34Mark 8:22Mark 7:33). The sick were healed by touching Jesus as he walked by (Matt 14:36Mark 6:56). Perhaps the woman was also superstitious and believed that there was something magical about Jesus’s robe.

Luke adds that she just touched the fringe or edge of Jesus’s garment. It was a silent thought and a tentative action, but enough faith for Jesus to instantly stop the chronic flow of blood and reverse the ravages of her disease. She was perfectly healthy and clean again. And all it took was a finger of faith brushing Jesus’s robe. No more, no less.

A finger of faith

Isn’t it encouraging that Jesus didn’t treat this woman as a nuisance or distraction as he made his way to Jairus’s house? She wasn’t just an unclean “God-botherer”! Rather, Jesus responded instantly to the transfer of his healing power, and stopped to ask, “Who touched my clothes?” He wouldn’t let the woman experience physical healing without a heart-to-heart encounter with the living God. Christ refuses to be a miracle-dispenser. That’s when the woman, “knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth”.

Telling him the whole truth

What I love most is Jesus’s loaded response to the truth of her messy life:

“Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

Those words were even more soothing balm than her physical healing. Jesus was pleased by her small gesture of faith. He even called her ‘daughter’, the first and only time Jesus gave a woman this title.

The woman had held out her empty begging bowl, and Jesus had filled it with wholeness and health, so generously and so mercifully.

“Talitha Koum!”

It’s the same with the other much younger ‘daughter’ in this story. Jairus’s little girl is dead by now and the mourners are crowding around the synagogue ruler’s house. Yet, Jesus reaches out to take the corpse’s cold hand in his own, knowing that touching a dead body would defile Him (Numbers 5). The sinless Messiah touches a second unclean daughter that day, and commands her, “Little girl, I say unto you, arise!” Immediately the little girl gets up, walks around and eats a meal as proof of life!

A posture of faith and a gift of grace

All three people in Mark 5 refused to keep their distance from Jesus, but held out their begging bowls to receive his gift of life. They approached Christ with a posture of faith, which unleashed radical restoration:

When Legion saw Jesus from a distance, “he ran and fell on his knees in front of Jesus”. He came to Jesus in torment and self-hatred, naked and chained, with not a shred of dignity left. But he left Jesus fully dressed, in his right mind, and ready to follow His Saviour (Mark 5:61518).

The hemorrhaging woman slunk up to Jesus, shamed by her indignity, uncleanness and isolation, but went home with her head held high, in peace, freedom and wholeness (Mark 5:3334).

The father of the dying girl fell at Jesus’ feet and pleaded earnestly with him to touch his daughter and save her (Mark 5:22-23). Jesus met a cold corpse and a house of mourning, but left the family with life and joy.

But Jesus’s gift to these three desperadoes was just a sample of a much greater cosmic healing. His miracles were pointing to the cross, where the Lord Himself would soon be bound and abandoned. He would suffer torment and indignity, and would bleed to death, to call us God’s sons and daughters. He would become unclean and shunned by His Father, to restore us to peace with our Father. Christ’s willingness not to distance himself from humanity would come at great cost, but his ‘touch’ would reverse sin’s curse— even the curse of death. The only way to receive this gift of grace is to hold out our empty begging bowls of faith, like Legion, like the woman, like Jairus.

“This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Rom 3:22-2425).

Our begging bowl of faith

In mulling over these stories, I wondered what the begging bowl of faith looks like for us now, 2000 years later, when we are no longer able to physically reach out and touch the Saviour.

The Bible teaches clearly that Christian faith is not looking for holy relics or seeking signs and mystical experiences. Nor is it amazement at Jesus’ miracles, like the crowds of teeming fans who surrounded Him. Faith is not just believing and confessing that Jesus is Lord, as even the demons do that.

A great way to hold out our begging bowl of faith is simply to pray to be forgiven, cleansed and restored. It may sound undramatic and ordinary after such spectacular miracles, but prayer is how we call out to the Lord for what we need (2 Chron 7:14Ps 38:18Luke 11:4). And Jesus said it’s the way we commune with Him in a deep, daily, ongoing relationship (Matt 6:56Matt 7:9-11). Thank the Lord that Jesus’ touch is not a once-off event, but a perpetual supply of grace to those brought low by suffering, grief and their own sin.

“To pray is to accept that we are, and always will be, wholly dependent on God for everything. Prayer is awe, intimacy, struggle—yet the way to reality. There is nothing more important, or harder, or richer, or more life-altering. There is absolutely nothing so great as prayer” (Timothy Keller).

To pray in faith is simply to recognize who our Saviour is, and to tell him the whole truth about ourselves and those we love, just like the woman did (Mark 5:33). It is admitting that we are beyond human help, like Jairus and another desperate father who cried out on behalf of his demon-possessed son, “Take pity on us and help us…I believe, help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:2224).

To pray in faith is real and uncontrived, like the many raw prayers recorded in the Psalms: “Be gracious to me, Lord, for I am faint; O Lord heal me, for my bones are in agony, Turn O Lord and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love (Ps 6:2-4). Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble” (Ps 10:1)? Holding out faith’s begging bowl is letting go of pretences and simply telling Jesus the whole truth.

Restoration Day

Finally, this story reminds me that for us who follow the Lord Jesus, the new life that came to us when we became a new creation will one day be complete. We will see heaven standing open and Jesus dressed in a robe dipped in blood, on which is written “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” (Rev 19:13-16). Our own robes will be washed white as snow because of the death of Christ on our behalf (Rev 7:14Rev 19:8). It will be the voice of Jesus that will wake up all God’s sons and daughters when He calls us to life in His kingdom. Somehow, He will transform our lowly bodies to be fit for the new heavens and new earth (Phil 3:20-21). And on that day, we will finally be able to reach out and touch our Saviour (1 John 3:21 Thess 4:17). That’s the power of the cross! And what a day that will be!


Are we safe in our houses?

Lockdown resizedBy Rosie Moore.

“Go, my people, enter your rooms and shut the doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until his wrath has passed by.” Isaiah 26:20.

In this series titled Big Questions, we’ve been looking at questions from the Bible. You can stop paging through your Bible, as this week’s big question isn’t there! It’s just a question from inside my own head as I read and re-read the many Watsapp messages applying Isaiah 26:20 directly to our nation in lockdown until the end of Passover on 16th April. When I see a verse in splendid isolation, I like to read what comes before and after the little gem to make sure that it actually says what I thought it said! Without context, it’s tempting to make myself the centre of the text and miss the depth of God’s message for all time. This week, as I allowed verse 20 to take its place within the whole chapter, against the backdrop of the rest of the Bible, I began to see that this little verse is indeed God’s word to His people, but in a far richer sense than I first imagined. Now that you’ve stocked up on all your supplies and are finally able to take a breath, I’d urge you to read chapter 26 slowly on your own. I will highlight extracts and draw out the main themes of the text, before considering how these apply to our own state of emergency.

Two cities

Isaiah 26 is essentially a song about two cities. The first is the strong city that God himself has made for all His people. Its gates are always open to its righteous citizens who keep faith. Salvation itself is the city’s walls of defence. There is safety, protection and privilege for those who live within its walls:

“In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah:

We have a strong city;
God makes salvation
its walls and ramparts.
Open the gates
that the righteous nation may enter,
the nation that keeps faith” (Isa 26:1-2).

But the alternative is a lofty city of human pride and self-sufficiency. Its inhabitants will be humbled and its useless walls will be demolished and levelled to dust. The bricks and mortar of this proud city are no protection at all, and the feet of the poor will trample down the symbols of their oppression:

“He humbles those who dwell on high,
he lays the lofty city low;
he levels it to the ground
and casts it down to the dust.
Feet trample it down—
the feet of the oppressed,
the footsteps of the poor” (Isa 26:5-6).

Isaiah 26 is a song of trust, praise and meditation for God’s people, but it also asks each one of us which city we call home.

Double peace

Wedged between the two cities is one of the most encouraging promises that God’s people can hear in times of turmoil:

“You will keep in perfect peace
    those whose minds are steadfast,
    because they trust in you.
Trust in the Lord forever,
    for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal (Isa 26:3-4).

In the Hebrew, “perfect peace” is a double peace that comes to those who are devoted to God and firmly fix their eyes on Him under all circumstances. It is a steady and stable attitude that rests on his unchanging love and mighty power, unshaken by surrounding chaos.

Profound peace from God is nothing like the transitory peace that comes through the Headspace app on our cellphone, a session of yoga or a long walk on the beach. It’s not based on circumstances or state of mind, but on the eternal Rock (Phil 4:7Isa 26:4).

The waiting room

Throughout Isaiah’s prophecy, he is moving between the present (700BC) and the future. While the prophet is pointing to God’s glorious future, he never forgets the harsh realities for God’s people living on earth now. Verses 7-21 describes that present waiting room:

It’s a time when many people happily receive God’s benefits, but reject God himself and continue to do evil. They refuse to learn from God’s grace or his warnings (Isa 26:10). It’s a time when some people are blind to the hand of God in their lives (Isa 26:11), and when other gods rule instead of the One True Lord (Isa 26:13). It’s a time when God’s people are longing for redemption and groaning in distress, discipline and disgrace (Isa 26:916-18).

But at the same time, it’s also a world where God always makes a level path for the righteous (Isa 26:7). It’s a time when God’s faithful people wait and yearn for His name and His renown, rather than seeking their own fame. It’s an opportunity for God’s people to walk in faith and obedience (Isa 26:8-9). The waiting room is a world where God establishes peace for his people and grows them into a commonwealth that glorifies His name (Isa 26:15). Best of all, it’s a world where the dead will live again:

“But your dead will live; their bodies will rise. You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy. Your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead (Isa 26:19).

It’s into this great tension that God speaks the poignant word that’s been shared all week on social media:

“Go, my people, enter your rooms and shut the doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until his wrath has passed by” (Isa 26:20).

It’s a truly amazing instruction, which is just as relevant for God’s waiting people today. But does this verse promise that God will keep us safe in our houses until the end of Passover, when the COVID threat has passed us by?

Hide yourselves for a little

It’s impossible to understand what this verse promises us today without looking through the lens of what happened in Egypt 1750 years before Isaiah was born: Isaiah 26:20 is a vivid picture of the first Passover night when the angel of death passed over the Israelite houses whose doors were marked by the blood of the lambs. The parallels are unmistakeable.

When the Lord goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down (Isa 26:20).

At this first Passover in Egypt, God’s people literally hid themselves in their homes for the night until He led them safely out of slavery to their promised country.

But God’s word to His waiting people today must also be seen through the lens of what Jesus did on the cross at Passover in 33AD. Isaiah’s song longs for redemption, but God did indeed come to earth to bring redemption! He came in the form of His Son, the Passover Lamb that we remember at Easter, whose blood hides us from the wrath of God. This season of Lent is the time to marvel at this great peace that the Lord accomplished for us, just as Isaiah foretold (Isa 26:12). And it is the only basis for the perfect peace described in Isaiah 26:3-4.

The gospel tells us that anyone can enjoy the safety of the strong city of God, but we must trust in the salvation God Himself has provided. It is Jesus’s righteousness, and not our own, that makes us a “righteous” nation (Isa 26:7;2). Only His salvation forms our “walls” of protection (Isa 26:1). Jesus is the Lord of all the earth (Isa 26:13) and in Him the dead will rise again (Isa 26:19).

Jesus is the fulfilment of Isaiah’s song and He is the only safehouse that exists in this world.

The only safehouse

Our true safety depends on which passport we hold and to which city we belong. That is the primary message of Isaiah 26. But what does exactly does Isaiah 26 promise the people of God in our current lockdown, as we wait for COVID to pass?

Let’s think beyond our ‘safe’ middle class houses for a moment and imagine what it’s like to be God’s faithful people working in hospitals and ICU’s, pharmacies, old age homes, in the streets and the supermarkets, risking their lives to bring the viral pandemic under control. They are being sent out of their homes to protect the vulnerable. Imagine for a moment God’s people who are homeless, split from families or hooked up to a respirator fighting for their lives. The reality is that many of God’s faithful people don’t have “safe houses” to lock themselves into. But does that mean that they’re not secure or protected by God? Does that mean that they cannot “wait and hide themselves for a little” during this pandemic, or any other disaster?

Of course not! Scripture shows us that the image of hiding in our houses is a metaphor, (although very apt and sensible counsel for our time). Our hiding as Christians entails trusting that, for a little while, we suffer grief in all kinds of trials, our faith will be refined and prove genuine (1 Peter 1:6-7). It is believing that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor 4:17). Our waiting includes longing with all of creation for the earth’s final redemption (Romans 8:18-27Isa 26:16-21), as well as praying with hope in the promises of God’s word. But it also means acting lovingly for the good of others who need our help (Micah 6:8), caring not just for our own families, safe in our own homes, but for our neighbours too. Wherever we are and whatever we face in the coming weeks, we can give thanks and rejoice, because our hope, protection and safety are rooted in God’s good purposes (1 Thess 5:16-18Rom 8:28-30).

So, in answer to our big question, Are we safe in our houses? the answer is Yes and No. Staying home is the best way to flatten the curve of coronavirus in our nation, but not even Buckingham Palace was a safe place for Prince Charles! And more importantly, no one is safe from the incurable virus of sin which infects us all, not from the outside, but from the inside of every human heart. No amount of social distancing can save us. The only cure for this deadly virus is the vaccine God has provided. Jesus is the Passover Lamb that takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).

Lockdown over this Easter period is a good time to unite as families and a nation, to reflect on how broken our world really is and how much we need a Saviour. It’s a good time for Christians to remember that we’re just campers here (1 Peter 2:11), citizens of a heavenly city with solid foundations, whose architect and builder is God (Heb 11:10). There is only one “safe house” to lock down in, and that is the house built on the Rock (Matt 7:24-27Luke 6:47-49). Jesus himself told us how this is done:

“Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.”

Building on the Rock

My friends, this song of Isaiah has been a great blessing to me this week. Whether you know Christ in a personal way or not, the current State of Emergency asks us all some urgent questions. Let none of us be like those who will not learn that we’re beyond human help (Isa 26:10-11). I appeal to you to humbly ponder these questions and lock down in prayer:

  1. To what city do you belong —God’s safe city, or a flimsy city built on money, self-righteousness and pride?
  2. Do you experience the peace of a steadfast mind (Isa 26:3-4)?
  3. What are your heart’s desires (Isa 26:9)? Do you long for Christ’s salvation to reach the ends of the world? Do you yearn for His return to bring final redemption to our world? Do you live for God’s renown (Isa 26:8)? Or do you just hope for immediate relief from COVID-19 and safety in this world?

Prayer based on 1 Peter 1:3-6:

We praise you, God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! Thank you that in your great mercy, you have given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. We take safety and hope in an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade, kept in heaven for us. Protect our nation, protect our homes, especially the most vulnerable among us. Thank you that through our faith in Jesus, we are shielded by your power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. Keep us faithful as we wait in our houses for our true home, and give us grace to hide ourselves in you.

In Jesus’s name, Amen.