Deuteronomy 2.30-33 – History and its ultimate end.
Posted: 6 October 2014 in Deuteronomy

But Sihon king of Heshbon would not let us pass by him: for the Lord thy God hardened his spirit, and made his heart obstinate, that he might deliver him into thy hand, as appeareth this day. And the Lord said unto me, Behold, I have begun to give Sihon and his land before thee: begin to possess, that thou mayest inherit his land. Then Sihon came out against us, he and all his people, to fight at Jahaz. And the Lord our God delivered him before us; and we smote him, and his sons, and all his people.

The above verses describe the way in which human volition and divine intention are both present in human history, and it is the latter which determines the former. God does not merely react to the events, as if we were jointly the lords of history. He determines events in accordance with his divine plan. As far back as the time of Abraham, God had promised to give to Israel the land it is now about to possess. If these events had been observed by somebody without faith, he would have seen only two groups of combatants at war, with the Israelites being triumphant. They were triumphant, but the victory was in the first place God’s; not theirs. We, with the light revelation illuminating history, know that there is more involved in history than serendipity.

What was true then, is true today, and God is always present, guiding history to its ultimate conclusion. The return of Christ will witness God’s final victory over his enemies and the salvation of his saints. All things tend towards the glory of God.

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Luke 10.38-42 – The most seductive idol of all.
Posted: 5 October 2014 in Luke

Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

I can think of at least five places in the New Testament, apart from this one, where Jesus warns against worldly carefulness. Here Martha is depicted as being “cumbered about much serving,” whereas Mary is less distracted, and more able to attend upon the words of Jesus. Even though Jesus explicitly recommends it (Matt 6,25), probably very few of us would have enough faith to rely upon God for where the next meal is coming from, unless we attend upon it ourselves. However, a new car in the garage, in place of the old banger which is parked out there now, is another matter. To quote Paul, when writing to Timothy:

And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.

That is not quite the ethos of the world around us, needless to say, and it is very easy to fall into the trap of wanting to “keep up with the Joneses.” It is even easier to start making excuses for our own innate tendency to idolise mammon – with or without the Joneses next door to act as a spur.

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1 Chronicles 13.2-10 – Doing God’s will.
Posted: 4 October 2014 in 1 Chronicles

And David said unto all the congregation of Israel, If it seem good unto you, and that it be of the Lord our God, let us send abroad unto our brethren every where, that are left in all the land of Israel, and with them also to the priests and Levites which are in their cities and suburbs, that they may gather themselves unto us: And let us bring again the ark of our God to us: for we enquired not at it in the days of Saul. And all the congregation said that they would do so: for the thing was right in the eyes of all the people….. And David went up, and all Israel, to Baalah, that is, to Kirjathjearim….. And they carried the ark of God in a new cart out of the house of Abinadab: and Uzza and Ahio drave the cart….. And when they came unto the threshingfloor of Chidon, Uzza put forth his hand to hold the ark; for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzza, and he smote him, because he put his hand to the ark: and there he died before God.

So, in the above passage David seems to nominally acknowledge that no action is good in itself, not even retrieval of the Ark of the Covenant, unless it is in accord with God’s will. However, in the following verses there is no hint that any attempt was made to determine God’s will – maybe by consulting a prophet, a priest, or in some other manner. Instead we read that “the thing was right in the eyes of all the people,” and so that was good enough. Uzza’s death was, as the narrator says, the result of his own presumption, but it may also be that God regarded the entire exercise as presumptuous, and Uzza was made an example of.

In Matthew 7.21, Jesus issues a warning which here seems relevant:

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.

So it is not for us to seek to please God with our pious actions. It is only for us to seek out the Lord’s will, and then to do it.

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1 Corinthians 15.3-5, 12-15 – Our resurrection in Christ.
Posted: 3 October 2014 in 1 Corinthians

For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve….. Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not.

It would seem that an inability to believe in the power of God is no new thing. The reason for the Corinthians’ disbelief is not explicitly stated, but it can easily be surmised that it was because “everybody knows you don’t come back from the grave.” Like the present day John Selby Spong, they valued their own understanding over the words spoken by the Eternal Son, and, even though nominally believers, they didn’t want to be thought fools by their more “enlightened” contemporaries. There is nothing new under the Sun.

Speaking of our resurrection, little further down Paul says:

It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.

Which verse has been used to argue that the Bible knows nothing of an immortal soul, but only of a bodily resurrection, and that the soul is a concept which the later church borrowed from Plato. But it seems to me that, if we are to be raised with a spiritual body, something must be supposed to survive the disintegration of the natural body, so that it can be equipped with a spiritual body, and that something might as well be called the soul.

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Sometimes it is heard from atheists that “nobody wants to live forever.” One wonders at what age they would joyfully sign their own death certificate. But leaving that aside, servants are not well advised to rebel against their master, and oblivion for all eternity is not an alternative on offer from God. It is the Lord’s will that all his creatures glorify him (without exception), and if we refuse to do that voluntarily in this life, and the life to come, we will do it involuntarily, and for all eternity, in hell.

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Acts 1.4-5,8 – Relying upon God’s Holy Spirit.
Posted: 2 October 2014 in Acts

And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence….. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.

Instead of immediately going out to preach the Gospel, the disciples are here told to sit on their backsides, and wait until they have received the Spirit. The reason for that, of course, is to be found in John 13.5, where the disciples are told explicitly that they can do nothing without Christ. But then we might think, “Well, wait a minute, why is that? Conversion is primarily the work of the Spirit, and our vocal chords are in working order, so surely we are physically able to preach, and, when all is said and done, when it is the Lord’s will that somebody undergoes conversion, the Spirit will open their ears to hear.”

The reason that logic doesn’t quite work is that it is not only our listeners who need ears to hear, but it is also us who need to be the Spirit’s mouthpiece. There is no point in preaching as if we have a purely worldly message to deliver, because, after all, in this worldly terms that message might not make a great deal of sense. For preaching to be effective, it needs, as Paul puts it, to be “with power”. Even so, that phrase “with power” could sorely tempt us to rely upon our own resources. It is not through some special method of delivery on our own part that the living word of God will have an effect. The power must come from the Spirit acting through us, and almost in spite of us. The very same Paul who said that his preaching was “with power” seemed to be well aware that he personally wasn’t particularly impressive as a speaker (2 Cor 10.10). His success came through relying upon Christ.

Humility is the quality needed; not the over sized ego of a televangelist. We really must believe that, of our own selves, we can do nothing, and that we are entirely reliant upon the Spirit of Christ. All glory belongs to God, in preaching as in all else.

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