Isaiah 43.3-7 – Eternal life & the purpose of Creation
Posted: 2 February 2011 in Isaiah, Scripture

For I am the LORD thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour: I gave Egypt for thy ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for thee. Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee: therefore will I give men for thee, and people for thy life. Fear not: for I am with thee: I will bring thy seed from the east, and gather thee from the west; I will say to the north, Give up; and to the south, Keep not back: bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the ends of the earth; Even every one that is called by my name: for I have created him for my glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him.

The whole of creation is here for no other purpose than to glorify God, but as is made clear in the last verse quoted above, that is especially true of those he has specially chosen for the purpose. Christians are therefore placed under an absolute duty to worship God, not with the motive of expecting anything in return, but simply for the sake of glorifying their Creator. Even so, it is God’s will that he be worshipped in eternity, and therefore those who have been chosen and redeemed for the purpose will have access to eternal life.

Notice that it is God, and not man, who is at the centre of all this.

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John 21 – Co-operating with God
Posted: 1 February 2011 in John

After these things Jesus shewed himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias; and on this wise shewed he himself. There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other of his disciples. Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing. They say unto him, We also go with thee. They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing. But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus. Then Jesus saith unto them, Children, have ye any meat? They answered him, No. And he said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find. They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes. (John 21.1-6)

As soon then as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread. Jesus saith unto them, Bring of the fish which ye have now caught. (John 21.9-10)

There are more parallels between John 21, and other passages in the gospels, than immediately jumped out at me on a first reading, many years ago. The draught of fishes is obviously paralleled by similar passages in the synoptic gospels, but it is also paralleled by Jesus’ discourse about himself as the true vine, elsewhere in John’s Gospel. In both passages the point being made is that, without Jesus we can achieve nothing – or at least very little. The disciples had been fishing all night, and they had caught nothing, but Jesus comes on the scene, and all of a sudden there is a graught of fishes.

The passage also reminds me of Jesus’ description of his disciples as fishers of men.

Verses 9-10 hark back to the feeding of the five thousand with two small fishes. The point here being made is (again) that by ourselves we can accomplish little, but, if we surrender our meagre resources to God, much can be achieved.

On a similar note, when Jesus gives his disciples their great commision, at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, they are told to go out and preach the Gospel to all the world. But note that they are not told to go out and make converts, because conversion is exclusively the work of the Holy Spirit, and he alone can change the hearts of men. It is very common to hear enthusiastic evangelicals talking about “winning souls for Christ”, and forgetting that their role is only to preach the Gospel. Everything else depends upon God.

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Psalm 136.10-20 – God’s “unfairness”
Posted: 31 January 2011 in Psalms

To him that smote Egypt in their firstborn: for his mercy endureth for ever:
And brought out Israel from among them: for his mercy endureth for ever:
With a strong hand, and with a stretched out arm: for his mercy endureth for ever.
To him which divided the Red sea into parts: for his mercy endureth for ever:
And made Israel to pass through the midst of it: for his mercy endureth for ever:
But overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red sea: for his mercy endureth for ever.
To him which led his people through the wilderness: for his mercy endureth for ever.
To him which smote great kings: for his mercy endureth for ever:
And slew famous kings: for his mercy endureth for ever:
Sihon king of the Amorites: for his mercy endureth for ever:
And Og the king of Bashan: for his mercy endureth for ever:

It is scarcely possible to read psalm 136, with its repeated refrain “for his mercy endureth for ever,” without wondering whether Pharoah, Sihon, Og, and others, might not have had a slightly different perspective on the matter. This psalm contains one of the uncomfortable truths to be found in the Bible; namely that God’s mercy is only available to those upon whom he chooses to bestow it, and for everybody else there is only wrath. It would seem that the full revelation of his divine nature requires God to put both his mercy and his wrath on display. Abstract theological truths, such as divine sovereignty, will otherwise not be sufficient for humans to take them on board. They need to be backed up by hard concrete reality.

The same thought might account for another apparent unfairness. Namely that some of God’s most faithful servants can live in conditions of dire poverty and hardship, whereas others, who never give God a second thought, can live a life of comfort and ease. The lesson here might be that serving God is not about obtaining material success, or some other reward, and that he must be loved and served for his own sake. For God’s true disciples, their service of him must be its own reward. (Which does not, of course, excuse anybody from trying to relieve suffering wherever it occurs.)

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Isaiah 37.1-7 – Trust in God and humble obedience
Posted: 28 January 2011 in Isaiah

And it came to pass, when king Hezekiah heard it, that he rent his clothes, and covered himself with sackcloth, and went into the house of the LORD. And he sent Eliakim, who was over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and the elders of the priests covered with sackcloth, unto Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz. And they said unto him, Thus saith Hezekiah, This day is a day of trouble, and of rebuke, and of blasphemy: for the children are come to the birth, and there is not strength to bring forth. It may be the LORD thy God will hear the words of Rabshakeh, whom the king of Assyria his master hath sent to reproach the living God, and will reprove the words which the LORD thy God hath heard: wherefore lift up thy prayer for the remnant that is left. So the servants of king Hezekiah came to Isaiah. And Isaiah said unto them, Thus shall ye say unto your master, Thus saith the LORD, Be not afraid of the words that thou hast heard, wherewith the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me. Behold, I will send a blast upon him, and he shall hear a rumour, and return to his own land; and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land.

Elsewhere Isaiah criticises Ahaz for relying upon Assyrian help in a time of crisis. Here it is the Assyrians who pose the threat, but, unlike his father, Hezekiah’s first instinct is to turn towards God for help. Since God’s purposes will invariably be fulfilled in their season, to conform himself to God’s will is really the only completely sane thing any man (or woman) can do. Nevertheless, obedience does not come naturally to us, and a humble submission on our part requires the inestimable gift of God’s grace. Inestimable because, only through trust and obedience, can salvation be ours.

In Hezekiah’s case he hears that the Assyrian threat will come to nothing. Later on in the chapter it transpires that the Assyrian king is to learn the price of blaspheming the only true God.

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John 17.1-4, 9 – Predestination
Posted: 27 January 2011 in John

These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.

I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine.

The first and fourth verses in the passage quoted above identify the purpose of the Incarnation to be the glorification of God. The second verse says, in words of more or less one syllable, that Jesus came to give eternal life to as many as God had chosen to give him – with the implication that eternal life is given only to those whom God has given ears to hear. The last verse quoted reiterates the point when Jesus says that he prays only for those who have been given him by the Father.

That we human beings feel uncomfortable with the picture of God thereby presented to us is perhaps not surprising, but it is not for us to reject the testimony of scripture, and come up with a god who is more to our own liking. To do so is idolatry – a refusal to give God, as he reveals himself in scripture, the worship and glory which is rightfully his.

The Old Testament prophets make it very clear that idolatry is the one thing which the Lord of all Creation does not tolerate.

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