Saturday, December 31, 2011

The water of purification

“The priest is to take some cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet wool and throw them onto the burning heifer. After that, the priest must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water. He may then come into the camp, but he will be ceremonially unclean until evening.” Numbers 19:6-7
In Numbers 19 we read the instructions for preparing the water of purification. It involves the sacrifice of a red heifer, then its ashes are collected. The ashes are put into a jar which is then filled with water, and then used to purify people or things that have become unclean by coming into contact with dead bodies or carcasses.
This might all sound completely irrelevant to us today, but there is a picture here of Jesus, which we can learn from. In Lev. 1:10-12, God insists that the high priest must not deliberately make himself unclean. Yet here, the very act of preparing the ashes for the water of purification, renders the priest and those who help him, unclean (see Num. 19:8-10).
Think about what Jesus did for us: He came into this world, sinless, His blood uncorrupted by Adam’s sin (hence the need for the virgin birth). He lived a perfect life of obedience to the Law of God. He did not make Himself unclean by sin on account of anyone. But there was one time where He did become unclean, and the Father forsook Him (Matt. 27:46). That was when He was in the process of making a way for us to be purified and our uncleanness removed from us. He gave up His own perfect record, becoming sin – the very essence of what He hated – so that we could be redeemed. We should never underestimate this.

Friday, December 30, 2011

The voice of the mob

“But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that He be crucified, and their shouts prevailed.” Luke 23:23
We all know the story of how Pilate wanted to release Jesus, having found nothing in Him deserving the death penalty, but how he was pressured into crucifying Him by the mob rounded up by the Sanhedrin. The mob mentality was thriving back then, just as it is today. It would seem that every time there is a mob in the Scriptures, they are always clamouring for something that is not right (e.g. Gen. 19:4-5, Num. 11:4-6, Judg. 6:30, Luke 4:28-29, Acts 19:28, etc.).
Why did Pilate give in to the mob? Chuck Smith* teaches that Pilate was on his ‘last warning’ from Rome to keep the peace in Judea. He had already incited the Jews by marching into Jerusalem carrying standards bearing the bust of Caesar, and generally made little attempt to accommodate their religious rules. But the Jews threatened him that if he did not do what they wanted, they would start a riot and send reports to Rome (John 18:12).
We can criticise Pilate, and we can criticise the Sanhedrin. Certainly both were responsible for their sin in crucifying Jesus. But God’s will had to be done. He used the circumstances and personalities there to have Jesus crucified, even though He was innocent – the Scriptures had to be fulfilled.

* - c2227, 30:00 onwards

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Short memories

“The next day the whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. ‘You have killed the Lord’s people,’ they said.” Numbers 16:41
In Numbers 16 we read of yet another rebellion by the Israelites against Moses and Aaron. Korah, a Kohathite of the tribe of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram, of the tribe of Reuben, rebuked Moses for setting himself over the people. The truth is, Moses had not done this; God had appointed him to the position, and in fact Moses hadn’t wanted it in the first place (Ex. 4:13). As a result, God indicated whom He had chosen: Moses instructed Korah to come with his supporters (250 men) and offer incense to God, and fire came from the tabernacle and consumed them (Num. 16:35). Dathan and Abiram refused to come, and the Lord caused the ground to open up and swallow them alive (Num. 16:31-32).
Despite these miraculous occurrences, the very next day the people grumbled against Moses for the way God had destroyed them. They had been terrified that they too, would be destroyed (Num. 16:34), but when nothing came to pass, they had no qualms about grumbling again. I think it’s also quite ridiculous to blame Moses for killing the Lord’s people – he certainly wasn’t responsible for fire coming from the tabernacle and the earth swallowing people alive.
This whole incident shows us just how short people’s memories can be. We haven’t changed. How many times have we promised God we will serve Him forever, or to never do something ever again, if He will just get us out of our current mess, and then go right back to what we were doing before the trouble came? God allows trouble to come into our lives so that we will learn from it and grow. So let’s make sure that we do!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Jesus' last healing

“But Jesus answered, ‘No more of this!’ And He touched the man’s ear and healed him.” Luke 22:51
Each of the gospels gives us a different side to the story of what happened in the Garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus was arrested (see Matt. 26:47-56, Mark 14:43-52, Luke 22:47-53, and John 18:1-11). John tells us how when He spoke, they could not stand up but fell to the ground (John 18:4-8). John’s gospel also tells us that the disciple who cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant was none other than Simon Peter (John 18:10). Mark does not mention the ear incident at all. Matthew and John mention it, and say that Jesus rebuked Peter. But only Luke tells us that after rebuking Peter, He touched the man’s ear and healed him.
This would be the last healing that Jesus performed before His crucifixion. It is interesting to note who it was: one who was there to arrest Him. But Jesus did not show partiality in giving grace to people. If they had a need, as this man did, He met it – He didn’t take note of who they were, so long as they were willing to receive it.
Would we have been so gracious, do you think, if you knew that you were only hours away from an agonising death? Probably not. But even though Jesus knew that His death was fast approaching, He also knew that it was not the end.
John tells us that the servant’s name was Malchus (John 18:10). Malchus isn’t mentioned again in the Bible, so we don’t know whether, like so many others, perhaps he came to faith after the event. But there was a chance that he would, and so I believe this is why Jesus did take the time to heal him – as well as showing us His compassionate nature, right to the end.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

When Christians are given a hard time

“They spread a net for my feet – I was bowed down in distress. They dug a pit in my path – but they have fallen into it themselves.” Psalm 57:6
There are some people, it seems, who see their prime purpose in life is to give Christians a hard time. Some are famous, writing books, lecturing in universities and engaging in debates. Others are just people who we come across in everyday life, who may have been burned by a bad church experience or persuaded from a young age that religion is for losers. Whatever the case, we should not lose heart. Nor should we retaliate against them, because that will only add more fuel to their fire. The Bible tells us not to seek revenge on other people, but to leave that up to God (Rom. 12:19). He sees what is happening to us and will orchestrate things so that it comes back on them. This is exactly what happened in the Bible.
For example, Daniel was minding his own business, praying to God three times a day, and his enemies knew that the only way they could get rid of his was to pass a law forbidding his worship of God. As we know, Daniel was thrown into the lions’ den, but he was not harmed. The next day, when the king discovered he was still alive, he ordered Daniel to be taken out and his accusers thrown in instead (Dan. 6). Another example is Haman: he was so jealous of Mordecai that he built a gallows and went to seek the king’s permission to have him hanged (Est. 5:14). But his plan backfired, and ultimately he was hanged on the same gallows (Est. 7:9-10).
So when you are being persecuted by vocal opponents, trying to catch you out, keep your cool; don’t take their bait. Instead, pray about it. Tell God exactly what’s happening and how you’re feeling, and ask Him to give you the strength and patience to endure. Trust Him, and He will take care of things, one way or another.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Deliberate sin

“But anyone who sins defiantly, whether native-born or alien, blasphemes the Lord, and that person must be cut off from his people. Because he has despised the Lord’s word and broken His commands, that person must surely be cut off; his guilt remains on him.” Numbers 15:30-31
The Old Testament law makes it quite clear that there was no forgiveness for deliberate sin, when a person knew what the law of God said and then chose to disobey it. For sins which the person accidentally committed, either through not intending to (e.g. receipt of stolen goods or manslaughter), or through ignorance of the law, there were the sin and trespass offerings that could be made. But where someone knew the law of God, there was no offering that could be made.
It’s interesting to note that this deliberate disobedience is called blasphemy. Usually we think the word ‘blasphemy’ refers to using God’s name as a swear word. But the meaning is much, much broader than that. Blasphemy is bringing God’s name into disrepute, either by what you say or what you do. To say that you belong to Him and then consciously disobey His commands, brings His name into disrepute. To deliberately disobey means that you think your way is better than God’s. You are despising His commands by doing so.
This is a lesson for all of us, because we have all done this – known what the right thing to do is, and not done it; or known what the wrong thing to do is, and done it. Praise God that in this dispensation, even these deliberate sins can be covered by the blood of Christ, if we seek His forgiveness! But this is not a license to keep on sinning; we should strive to be conformed to the image of Christ.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

I don’t know what it’s like where you live, but I’m finding that in society, Christmas is becoming less and less about remembering and celebrating the birth of Christ, and more and more about presents. Sure, we know that Jesus wasn’t born on 25 December, and that many of the Christmas traditions are taken from the festival of Saturnalia, but we can still celebrate the event of Jesus’ birth as a human (just as, at least in New Zealand, Queen’s Birthday holiday is not celebrated on the Queen’s actual birthday).
In some places, political correctness has taken over so that you’re made to feel guilty for even uttering the words ‘Merry Christmas’ for fear of offending someone. We’ve gone from ‘keep Christ in Christmas’ to ‘keep Christmas’!
I remember talking with my family once about which was more important, Christmas or Easter. Without Easter, we would still be lost in our sins. But without Christmas, there wouldn’t have been the events of Easter.
I hope you have a relaxing, joyful and very Merry Christmas this year!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The times of the Gentiles

“They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” Luke 21:24
Here in Luke 21 we have a description by Jesus of some of the events that will take place after He is taken up into heaven. Note that it is a different teaching from that in Matt. 24 and Mark 13, which deal with events leading up to and through the Tribulation period. Both have the prophecy of nation rising against nation, kingdom against kingdom, earthquakes, famines, and so forth. But then Matthew’s and Mark’s accounts go on to say ‘After these things’ while Luke says ‘But before all this’. Also the teaching recorded by Luke was given in the temple (Luke 21:5-8), while that recorded by Matthew was given on the Mount of Olives (Matt. 24:1-3).
‘The times of the Gentiles’ refers to the period in which Israel is subjugated by the Gentiles, beginning with the Babylonian captivity in 477 BC. It continues right up to the Tribulation period, which is its fulfilment (Rom. 11:25). Therefore we are still in this period today, and just as Jesus said, we do see Jerusalem trampled on by the Gentiles – the site of the Temple Mount being occupied by the Al Aksa mosque and the Dome of the Rock, being a continual reminder of this. But Jerusalem will once again be a holy city (Joel 3:17, Zech. 8:3), with Jesus ruling and reigning from His throne there as King over the entire world. These times of oppression were prophesied, but they will not last forever.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Walking in the light

“For You have delivered me from death and my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.” Psalm 56:13
Throughout the Bible, when we see God delivering someone, He doesn’t just deliver them from something, He also delivers them to something. The Israelites were delivered from slavery in Egypt, and delivered to abundance and blessing in the Promised Land. We have been delivered from death, and delivered to life.
Being delivered from death is the first step in our salvation, also called justification. At this moment our status is radically changed before God – we are no longer condemned to an eternity of torment, but our sins are forgiven and we are made a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17).
To have our feet kept from stumbling is the next step in our salvation, which is called sanctification. After we are converted, we still continue to stumble into sin. Sanctification is the purification process, and it is only completed when we go to be with the Lord.
Today’s verse gives us the purpose in justification and sanctification: “that I may walk before God in the light of life.” We have been delivered from sin, in order that we might serve God. The more we are walking in His light, the greater will be that desire to serve Him and not ourselves.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The bad report

“And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, ‘The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak came from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.’” Numbers 13:32-33
We all know this story: Moses sent twelve men to explore the land of Canaan, one from each of the tribes of Israel. They came back with a huge bunch of grapes and other fruit (Num. 13:23). But ten of them also came back with a bad report.
Here was this land that had been promised to them by God. It was a land of blessing and abundance, a land that God had chosen and prepared especially for them. Yes, there were other people living in it, but their expiry date was fast approaching (see Gen. 15:16). Just as the Israelites would not have to work hard to make the land produce fruit, neither would they have to work hard to defeat the people inhabiting the land, because God would go before them and give them victory.
But ten of the men brought a bad report, even saying that the land was evil, devouring those who dared to enter. They exaggerated everything: “All the people we saw there are of great size.” It was true that there were some giants, but not all of the people were enormous. Rahab, for instance, was not. “We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” I don’t get the impression that the spies actually went into any of the Nephilim cities and asked the people there what they thought of them. What this boiled down to was a lack of faith, and letting fear take control. They had completely left God out of the equation. He would give them the victory, if they would just trust Him. It’s the same for us. We shouldn’t trivialise the presence of giants that stand in our way; but neither should we fear that we will be destroyed by them. If God has promised us something, He will fulfil it. Don’t speak badly about what God is doing – otherwise, like these men, you might miss out on it altogether.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Looking back to Egypt

“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.’” Numbers 11:4-5
Time and time again in the wilderness we see the people complaining about something. It’s interesting to note where the source of the complaint came from on this occasion (which led to God providing quail for the people). It was started by ‘the rabble’ travelling with the children of Israel. These were Gentiles who had joined them either from Egypt or along the way (see Ex. 12:37-38). But their attitude spread through the whole community.
They started looking back to Egypt as being ‘the good old days’, thinking back to the wonderful food that was available to them there. But we know that it was not wonderful at all. The Israelites were oppressed as slaves, forced to make bricks for building various cities for Pharaoh, then having their raw materials no longer supplied to them – it was a miserable existence. How quickly we forget the misery of the past.
Spiritually, the land of Egypt is a picture of the unregenerate world. “You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived” (Col. 3:7). But now God has redeemed us from the rut of sin, and called us to journey with Him to the Promised Land. We will all go through some wilderness experience on our way to full Christian maturity and the abundant spiritual life led by the Holy Spirit. And in that time, it may sometimes be tempting to throw in the towel and go back to our old ways in Egypt. But we forget just how bad that life was – the emptiness of not knowing God, the futility of life. Don’t let other people, who aren’t part of the family of God, entice you back. Keep pressing on in the Lord.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

By what authority

“So they answered, ‘We don’t know where it was from.’ Jesus said, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.’” Luke 20:7-8
In Luke 20:1-8 we see the Pharisees challenging Jesus, saying, “Tell us by what authority You are doing these things” (Luke 20:2). Here was this man, who hadn’t gone to their seminary, who was drawing crowds to hear His teaching and making them jealous. I love Jesus’ response here. Instead of giving them a direct answer, He poses them a question: “John’s baptism – was it from heaven, or from men?” (Luke 20:4).
Now they were the ones in a tight spot. They wanted to say, ‘From men’, because they didn’t like John the Baptist either, but they knew that if they said this (and thus denying that his ministry was from God), this would go against the popular opinion of the people. If they said, ‘From heaven’, then Jesus would start questioning them as to why they had not welcomed him as a true prophet of God. So instead they decide to answer with something non-committal: “We don’t know.”
This wasn’t true. They did know; they just didn’t want to say. So, since they refused to say, then Jesus responds in kind and refuses to give them an answer, instead saying, “Neither will I tell you”. He knows that they know the answer, and He makes sure that they know that He knows that they know.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Recognising the time

“They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognise the time of God’s coming to you.” Luke 19:44
In Luke’s account of the Triumphal Entry, we see this unique view of Jesus’ reaction upon seeing the city of Jerusalem and the hardness of the hearts of the Pharisees. This was the only time during Jesus’ earthly ministry that He allowed people to treat Him like a king. On other times He had expressly forbidden them, or removed Himself from that place (see John 6:15, also Matt. 12:15-16, 16:20, Mark 3:11-12, 7:36, 8:29-30, 9:9, Luke 8:56, 9:20-21).
The Triumphal Entry was the fulfilment of Dan. 9:25 – “Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens’ [of years], and sixty-two ‘sevens’ [of years].” Thus, the prophecy says that from the decree to restore and rebuild the city of Jerusalem (note: not the Temple!), until the coming of Messiah the King, would be 69 x 7 = 483 years. This prophecy was fulfilled to the very day, culminating in the Triumphal Entry: Jesus, the Messiah, entering Jerusalem riding a donkey as per Zech. 9:9 [1]. But the Pharisees criticised Him – they didn’t recognise that this was the time of God’s coming. And as a result, Jerusalem was completely destroyed.
There’s a lesson here for us, too. While the Bible doesn’t give us a prophecy giving the exact day, it does tell us that Jesus is returning again, and it could be at any moment. Are we ready for Him?

[1] Sir Robert Anderson, The Coming Prince.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Triune blessing

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace.” Number 6:24-26
This passage in Numbers is a familiar one to many people. It is the blessing that God, through Moses, instructed Aaron to pronounce on the Israelites. An interesting thing to note is the three-fold repetition structure of this blessing: (1) The Lord bless you and keep you; (2) The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; (3) The Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace. It’s one of many allusions in Scripture, by this three-fold structure, to the Trinity. (Other passages include the ‘Holy, holy, holy’ of Isa. 6:3, the three-fold description in Gen. 48:15-16, 2 Sam. 23:2-3.)
The blessing is one that we can desire today. Some people think that the notion of God watching them all the time is disturbing. But it is a true blessing to have God always watching us, always aware of our situation, always ready to help and to hear us when we call to Him, always ready to shower us with His grace and peace.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Good teacher

“A certain ruler asked Him, ‘Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ ‘Why do you call Me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good – except God alone.’” Luke 18:18-19
Some people misinterpret this verse to say that Jesus is denying the suggestion that He is God. That is not the case at all. He is, in fact, saying the opposite – picking up on what the man said, and pointing out that the ruler is in fact indirectly calling Him God.
The word ‘good’ here is the Greek agathos, which speaks of intrinsic goodness. There is another word also translated ‘good’, kalos, which speaks of outward beauty and moral goodness; in other words, good in appearance or for use. We see both words used in Matt. 7:18 – “A good (agathos) tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good (kalos) fruit.” The nature of the tree is what determines the kind of fruit it produces.
This is not a rebuke, but drawing attention to what he said. Jesus is the good teacher – just as He is the good shepherd (John 10:11). It was right that the man called Jesus ‘good’, and in so doing, Jesus notes that he is close to faith, because he recognised that Jesus was intrinsically good, because He is God.

Friday, December 16, 2011


“The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, and their ways are vile; there is no one who does good.” Psalm 53:1
The Bible tells us that it is foolish to think that God does not exist. In fact, atheism is an illogical belief – to say categorically that there is no God, someone must have searched throughout the entire universe, to the macrocosm and the microcosm, through things material and immaterial, and found nothing. But no-one can claim to have done this. If an athiest is honest, they must admit that God could exist somewhere that they haven’t looked. In reality, they don’t know for sure, but they have made a conscious decision to not believe in Him. When confronted with the intricate design of creation – from the nervous system in our body, down to the cellular level – they still refuse to see God’s hand at work. The reason for this stubbornness is quite simple: people don’t want to be accountable to God. They know that if they acknowledged His existence, then they have to acknowledge that He created them, that they owe Him a debt and they have to obey His rules. But they want to be free to continue in their sinful ways. Let’s call atheism what it is: it’s not that people can’t believe, but that they won’t believe. They have made a choice, based on convenience – not logic.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The camp of Israel

“The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: ‘The Israelites are to camp around the Tent of Meeting some distance from it, each man under his standard with the banners of his family.’” Numbers 2:1-2
The first part of the book of Numbers is a portion of Scripture that we may be tempted to gloss over, but even in these descriptions of the camp of Israel and the census taken of the Israelites, there are some special insights for those who would take the time to look.
The Israelites were to camp around the Tent of Meeting, the Tabernacle – the place where God had promised to reside among the people. As we know, they consisted of twelve tribes (the descendants of Joseph being split into the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, and the Levites excluded from the count in order to be used in the service of the Tabernacle). These twelve tribes camped in four camps: Judah, Issachar and Zebulun under the standard of Judah; Reuben, Simeon and Gad under the standard of Reuben; Ephraim, Manasseh and Benjamin under the standard of Ephraim; and Dan, Asher and Naphtali under the standard of Dan.
Throughout history, the tribes of Israel have had tribal symbols, largely drawn from the blessings of Jacob (Gen. 49) and Moses (Deut. 33). We have all heard of ‘the lion of the tribe of Judah’ – Judah’s symbol was indeed the lion. Reuben’s symbol was the man. Ephraim’s symbol was the ox. And one of the symbols of the tribe of Dan was the eagle.
Why is this of interest? Because of what we read elsewhere in the Scriptures about the cherubim surrounding the throne of God: they have four faces: a lion, a man, an ox and and eagle (Ezek. 1:10, Rev. 4:7). We know that the Tabernacle itself was a model of God’s throne room in heaven; here we see that it was not just the Tabernacle that was a model, but in fact the whole nation of Israel.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The rich man and Lazarus

“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’” Luke 16:31
In Luke 16:19-31 we read what some people call the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. However, this is not a parable – in parables, none of the characters have names. Jesus gives us an insight into what really happens to people after they die.
The story is familiar to us: the beggar, Lazarus, went to Abraham’s side and was comforted, but the rich man went into Hades. The rich man called out to Abraham, asking him to send Lazarus with a drop of water to cool his tongue from the torment (Luke 16:24), but was told that this was impossible because of the great gulf between them. Then he asked for Lazarus to be sent to warn his brothers, to which Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them” (Luke 16:29). The rich man insists, saying, “but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent” (Luke 16:30). Abraham again replies, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31).
There are many people today who say, “If I see a miracle, then I’ll believe in God.” But the Bible tells us that things don’t work this way. The fact that we exist, is a miracle. We don’t need to see miracles in order to believe. We already have the witness of the Bible. If someone won’t believe it, they won’t believe any miracles either. And there was One who came to reach us, and He did rise again from the dead, yet there are many who don’t believe – showing Abraham’s words here to be true.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Jubilee year

“Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each one of you is to return to his family property and each to his own clan.” Leviticus 25:10
The Jubilee year is something that we read about in Leviticus, but was never actually practised by the Israelites. It occurred every fifty years, taking place the year after the seventh ‘Sabbath year’ (which the Israelites also never practised; this neglect was the reason they went into captivity for seventy years, see 2 Chr. 36:21). The Sabbath year (Lev. 25:1-7) was to be a year of rest for the land, every seventh year, where the fields were left to lie fallow. God promised to bring an abundant harvest in the sixth year so that it would last for three years (Lev. 25:21). After seven Sabbaths was the Jubilee year, when three things were to happen: 1. All property was returned to the family of its original owner. 2. All Hebrew slaves and servants were to be set free. 3. All debts were to be forgiven.
The Jubilee is prophetic of a coming time when all things will be created new – the Millennium period, when Jesus is ruling and reigning on the earth, from Jerusalem. This is what Peter refers to as “the times of restitution of all things” (Acts 3:21, KJV). At that time, the world will again come under God’s control as its original owner. We will all be set free from our bondage to sin, as Christ rules over the whole world in righteousness, and our sins are forgiven – we receive our resurrection bodies that are no longer subject to the sinful impulses we currently have. Are you looking forward to that day?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Our love for Jesus

“Large crowds were travelling with Jesus, and turning to them He said, ‘If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be My disciple.’” Luke 14:25-26
Jesus said some pretty shocking things at times (e.g. John 6:52-66, and Matt. 5:29-30), and this is one of them. What does it mean to hate our father and mother? Doesn’t the Bible say we are to honour our father and mother? The word ‘hate’ here is the same used to describe how the world hates Jesus and those who follow Him. We read similar passages elsewhere: “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matt. 10:37). “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:25).
What Jesus is saying is this: our love for Him must be so prevalent in our lives, that the contrast to all our other loves (for our family etc.) are as if those were hatred. If we love our family and ‘like’ Jesus, then we need to re-examine ourselves. At the end of the day, we are defined by our relationship to Him. Our lifestyle and our priorities need to reflect this. In heaven, we won’t have husbands or wives, children or grandchildren, because we will all be seen as God’s children. Our love for the Lord must be above all else. It’s only then that we can endure the hard times – so that we don’t end up blaming God when tragedy strikes us or our family, but instead say, ‘It is well with my soul’ – not the tragedy itself, but knowing that God is in sovereign control over everything.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The ransom for our life

“the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough” Psalm 49:8
When we hear the word ‘ransom’, we think of it as being a large sum of money demanded by a kidnapper in order to release their prisoner. What a fitting picture this is for us, in terms of being held captive by sin and a payment being required to release us. Under the Old Testament law, restitution could be made for certain types of sins. The theft of a sheep could be forgiven by making restitution four times over (Ex. 22:1). Certain things could be redeemed back by adding an extra 20% to their value (Lev. 27:13, 19, 27). But when a sin had been committed such that death was required, no restitution could be made (Lev. 27:28-29, c.f. Lev. 24:21). Such sins included adultery (Lev. 20:10), murder (Ex. 21:14, Num. 35:16-19), kidnapping (Ex. 21:16), cursing parents (Ex. 21:17, Lev. 20:9), blasphemy (Lev. 24:16), working on the Sabbath (Ex. 31:14-15, Ex. 35:2), child sacrifice (Lev. 20:2), homosexuality (Lev. 20:13), witchcraft (Lev. 20:27), etc. All sin separates us from God. This condemns us all, for we have all sinned, and the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). We cannot redeem ourselves from this predicament. There is no ransom we can make, no bargaining that we can do with God to escape it. But there is a way out – provided by God Himself. “But God will redeem my life from the grave; He will surely take me to Himself” (Ps. 49:15). The cost of our redemption was great – it took the death of God’s own Son. This payment was the only one that could ever be enough. Now all we have to do is accept this truth, and believe that it has been applied to us.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Responsibility to obey

“That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Luke 12:47-48
Many people struggle with the question, ‘Is God going to judge people living in the jungle who have never heard of Him?’ It’s true: it’s hard to believe in something you haven’t heard of (Rom. 10:14). Today’s verse gives us an important understanding of how God treats us: those who have knowledge of Him, and those who don’t. If we know what God’s law says about what is right and wrong, then we have the responsibility to obey it. If we don’t know God or His law, the standards are lower – but there are still standards. Paul wrote to the Romans, “All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who heard the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them” (Rom. 2:12-15). What Paul is saying is that if someone doesn’t have the written law of God, they still have the law of God instilled into their conscience.
What does that mean for us, who not only have the Old Testament law, but the whole canon of Scripture? We have a greater responsibility to respond to the gospel. We know the will of God, and we know that Jesus is returning. What are we doing with this knowledge? Are we ready for our master to return? Are we doing what He wants?

Friday, December 9, 2011


“Then He said to them, ‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.’” Luke 12:15
The context of this verse is that it is part of Jesus’ response when asked by someone in the crowd following Him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me” (Luke 12:13). This man obviously felt as if he had been treated unfairly. But Jesus refused, and used the situation as an example to teach the people an important truth, that we would do well to take heed to.
The ‘winner’ in life is not the person who dies having the most money, or the most toys, or the biggest house, or the longest list of celebrity friends. If such a person does not know Jesus Christ as their Saviour, none of that will keep them from an eternity of torment, separated from God. If we allow it to, greed can take over our lives. It develops into envy, selfishness, and pride. We need to recognise these things in our lives.
So what should our attitude be? We should have a light touch on the things of this world. Paul wrote, “What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of this world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away” (1 Cor. 7:29-31, emphasis added). In life, we need to keep the main thing, the main thing. That is, knowing Jesus as your Lord and Saviour. He will take care of the rest (Matt. 6:33).

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Giving our best

“When anyone brings from the herd or flock a fellowship offering to the Lord to fulfil a special vow or as a freewill offering, it must be without defect or blemish to be acceptable.” Leviticus 22:21
There were many different types of offerings specified in the book of Leviticus. The sin offering and the guilt offering were required of the people, to cover unintentional sins against the Lord’s commands. But the burnt offering and the fellowship offering were both voluntary (Ezek. 46:12).
The burnt offering symbolised dedication to the Lord, and as such, the whole animal was to be burnt up and not eaten. Burnt offerings were presented every morning by the priests (Lev. 6:12, 1 Chr. 16:40), at the dedication of the tabernacle (Num. 7), by Samson’s parents (Judg. 13:16), by the people when the ark of the covenant was returned (1 Sam. 6:14), by David at the threshing floor of Araunah (1 Chr. 21:26), at the dedication of the temple (2 Chr. 7:1).
On the other hand, the fellowship offering was one that the person bringing the offering was allowed to eat from. Eating from the same meal as someone symbolised fellowship with them, becoming one with them. Part of the animal was burned as a sacrifice to God, part was eaten by the priests, and part was eaten by the person bringing the offering.
Both of these offerings were to be of animals that were without defect or blemish. These refer to physical faults: defects from birth, or blemishes being faults as a result of injury. The point is this: these two offerings were voluntary, but even so, God required them to be of the very highest quality. You couldn’t look at a lame sheep in your flock and say, “Well, we’ll just sacrifice that one to God to get rid of it.” The principle applies to us today – we must give God the best of what we have, not the leftovers. What time of the day are you most productive? Whether it is morning or night, give that time to God. If you have decided to give financially to some ministry, give it as the first priority, not whatever’s left over at the end of the month. If you’re bringing food to share for a pot-luck lunch at church, bring the best, not the leftovers. In serving other people in this way, we are serving God. After all, He has given us everything we have – our possessions, our food, our very breath. If we are going to give back to Him, doesn’t He deserve the best?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Titles and status

“Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces.” Luke 11:43
In Luke 11 and Matt. 23 Jesus pronounces several woes on the Pharisees. Here is one that unfortunately is still prevalent today, in our workplaces and even in our churches. People crave titles and status. How much more important would it make you feel to be introduced as ‘Doctor So-and-so’? Even the use of the word ‘Pastor’ as a title, can cause that person to see themselves as having a higher status than others. This is completely contrary to what Jesus tells us our attitude should be.
“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi’, for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father’, for you have one Father, and He is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher’, for you have one Teacher, the Christ” (Matt. 23:8-10).
“Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:25-28).
The very word ‘minister’ means to serve. When did ‘the ministry’ become a thing of status?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

One greater than Solomon and Jonah

“The Queen of the South will rise at the judgement with the men of this generation and condemn them; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgement with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here.” Luke 11:31-32
Here we see Jesus giving two examples, to make a single point. The people were once again showing their unbelief by asking Him to show them a sign from heaven. Here was the Son of God, the Messiah, who the nation of Israel should have welcomed with open arms, yet they refuse to believe in Him. Jesus says that both of these examples – the Queen of Sheba, and the people of Nineveh (incidentally, both Gentiles!) would judge those people asking Him to show them a miraculous sign.
We read about the Queen of Sheba in 1 Kin. 10. She came to visit Solomon, to see if the glory of his kingdom and the extent of his wisdom was really as great as she had heard. The people in Jesus’ time had a much greater witness – here was the Son of God, the source of all wisdom and knowledge, and He had come right to them. They didn’t have to travel over land and sea to see Him.
The men of Nineveh responded in repentance to an eight-word message from the most reluctant prophet the world has ever seen: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned” (Jon. 3:4). In contrast, Jesus willingly and patiently taught for 3 ½ years, expounding God’s truth.
These people had been given the greatest light of all, and they chose to reject it. Therefore their judgement would be more severe than those who had been shown less light than them. The same is true for us. Have you responded to the light that you have been shown?

Monday, December 5, 2011


“When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first.” Luke 11:24-26
Demon-possession is not an old-fashioned term for mental illness or schizophrenia. It is a very real phenomenon, and it persists to the present day. Reading the Scriptures, we also realise that demons are different to fallen angels. Both are evil, but fallen angels are, like godly angels, able to manifest themselves in a physical body of their own – while demons crave embodiment. A person can be possessed by multiple demons at once – in Luke 8:30 we read of a man who was possessed by up to 6,000 demons. But they can be cast out, by the power of God and the authority of Jesus Christ.
These verses in Luke give us a unique insight into what happens in the heart of a person who is delivered from demon-possession. The demon, cast out of the person, “goes through arid places seeking rest”. But, if it cannot find another host, it will return. If the ‘house’ – the person’s heart – is not re-occupied by another spiritual force, namely, the Holy Spirit, they are at risk of being re-possessed by that demon, and possibly others also. If a person is delivered from demon possession, they need to come to faith in Jesus Christ as soon as possible.
This understanding of the Scriptures on this matter also shows us that a Christian cannot be possessed by a demon. The Holy Spirit won’t be room-mates with a demon. If we have the Holy Spirit indwelling us, we do not have to worry at all about becoming demon-possessed.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Be still, and know

“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:10
Our lives can get really busy and frantic at times, and we can feel like everything is spiralling out of control. It’s times like this that we need to remember this verse: to be still, stop panicking, and remind ourselves that God is God.
It’s not easy to be still sometimes. Have you ever noticed how hard it is to fall asleep, if you are anticipating a big day the following day? For instance, departing on a long trip, or sitting an exam, or starting a new job – our minds suddenly start racing with all kinds of thoughts. Have I remembered to pack everything? What to do if something isn’t in the right place? What outfit to wear? The constant stream of thoughts can make it hard to sleep, and it takes discipline to quiet them.
Psalm 46 depicts a time when the nations around Israel were engaging in warfare with each other, with Israel caught in the middle. I’ve never lived in or visited a war zone, but I imagine it must be pretty terrifying. But if we hold fast to God’s word, we can be sure that at the end of the day, God will be victorious. He is in control of all things, big and small, personal and international. Just be still, and focus on who He is.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Who is my neighbour?

“But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’” Luke 10:29
The parable of the good Samaritan is one of the best known of Jesus’ parables, yet it is only recorded in the Gospel of Luke. It came about following a discussion that Jesus had with a teacher of the law about what he had to do to inherit eternal life. It boiled down to two laws: the love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbour as ourself. But, we read, the man wanted to justify himself. He wanted to clarify just what Jesus thought the term ‘neighbour’ referred to.
The point about the parable of the good Samaritan is that the priest and the Levite did not stop to help the man who had been mugged, but the Samaritan did. Therefore the Samaritan was being a neighbour. This was almost unthinkable for a Jew at that time – Samaritans were considered to be unredeemable. But Jesus was teaching this man that ‘neighbour’ is a broad term, referring to our fellow man – not just those of our religion, race, nationality, etc. Similarly, we use the term quite narrowly today, to refer to the person living in the house next to us. We need to learn what this second commandment, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’, really entails.
Let’s finish today with some food for thought from Matt. 5:46-47. “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?”

Friday, December 2, 2011

Calling down fire

“When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, ‘Lord, do You want us to call down fire from heaven to destroy them?’” Luke 9:54
This incident is only recorded in Luke’s gospel. Jesus and His disciples were travelling through the region of Samaria, but the Samaritans refused to welcome Him because He was going to Jerusalem (Luke 10:52-53). (The Samaritans did not believe that Jerusalem was the true place of worship, see John 4:20.)
James and John were quick to pass a final judgement, offering to call down fire from heaven as a punishment for the people not receiving Jesus. But Jesus rebuked them, saying “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of, for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” (Luke 9:55, NIV footnote). Then He and the disciples went to another village instead (Luke 9:56).
Jesus had compassion – the Samaritans were under no compulsion to help Him. Maybe later they would believe, but they could not if they were destroyed now. We can learn an important lesson here: if someone doesn’t want to receive Jesus, we shouldn’t pass them off as a lost cause. Go to another ‘village’, maybe later they will receive Him. While they are alive, never stop praying for them.

Thursday, December 1, 2011


“As long as he has the infection he remains unclean. He must live alone; he must live outside the camp.” Leviticus 13:46
Leviticus 13-14 gives us God’s rules, as dictated for the priests, concerning the diagnosis and handling of a person with leprosy, and the procedures for ceremonial cleansing in the event that he was healed.
Leprosy in those days was considered incurable. It is a disease that causes the nerves to become numb. The person is unable to feel pain when they injure themselves or touch something hot; it is these injuries that cause the extremities to eventually start falling off. Lepers were to live alone, outside the camp, wearing torn clothes and crying out ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ whenever anybody approached. It was a miserable existence – and it paints a graphic picture for us.
In the Bible, leprosy is a picture of sin. Think about it: as we continue in sin, against the conviction of the Holy Spirit, we harden our hearts and our moral senses of what is right and wrong become numb. Sin separates us from God; we are outside the fellowship of the camp. Often lepers would band together in colonies to help each other. Isn’t this what happens among the people of this world? – we have the ‘prostitutes’ collective’ and the ‘gay community’, etc.
But all hope is not lost. In the event that a person was cleansed from leprosy, the priest was to go to him outside the camp to inspect him, and start the cleansing process that would enable him to come into the camp. Jesus is our high priest. He came into this fallen world to reach us, in our sinful state. He came outside the camp, so that we might come back into fellowship with God.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

What God has done for you

“The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with Him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, ‘Return home and tell how much God has done for you.’ So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.” Luke 8:38-39
Many people, especially those who come to Christ in their 20’s or 30’s, want to go into the ministry straight after their conversion. This is what this man, who was once possessed by a legion of demons (a Roman legion being 6,000 soldiers) and was so tormented that he lived like a wild animal, wanted to do. But Jesus refused. Instead, He told him to return to the town and tell the people there how much God had done for him. For this man – and for all of us – our most effective witness is to the people we know already. They knew our lives before we were saved, and they notice a difference in us. Simply tell what God has done for you. They can’t deny that you are a different person, a new creation, and that the reason for the change is Jesus Christ.
Certainly God does save some people in miraculous ways, in order that they might go into full-time ministry. We see this in the Bible in the life of the apostle Paul (see Acts 9:15). But even Paul didn’t become a missionary straight away. He spent fourteen years in obscurity before Barnabas sought him out a second time and brought him to Antioch (see Gal. 2:1-2, Acts 11:22-26). The Bible specifically says that leaders in the church should not be recent converts (1 Tim. 3:6). Sometimes, especially in countries where Christians are persecuted, churches grow so rapidly that leaders must be appointed who have only been believers for a short time. In those cases God is able to grant extra grace to those people. But I think we need to be careful who we appoint to leadership positions – that it really is a call of God and not simply the new-found exuberance that comes with conversion, where the person thinks that the only way to serve God fully is to ‘go into ministry’.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Ear, hand, and foot

“Moses slaughtered the ram and took some of its blood and put it on the lobe of Aaron’s right ear, on the thumb of his right hand and on the big toe of his right foot.” Leviticus 8:23
Yesterday we read how, when Aaron was being ordained as a priest by Moses, as directed by God, Moses was the one who dressed him with the priestly garments. Following this dressing, there were sacrifices, which Moses made on Aaron’s behalf. There was a sin offering (Lev. 8:14-17, to atone for Aaron’s sin), a burnt offering (Lev. 8:18-21, symbolising devotion to God), and the offering of a ram of ordination (Lev. 8:22-29). It was the blood of this ram that Moses put on the lobe of Aaron’s right ear, the thumb of his right hand, and the big toe of his right foot. This is hugely symbolic – and it applies to us, because the Scriptures tell us that we belong to a royal priesthood (1 Pet. 2:9).
First, the ear: representing what we hear. Our spiritual ears should be attuned to the voice of God (Luke 8:18). Second, the hand: representing our actions. We should only do that which is pleasing and brings glory to God. Thirdly, the foot: representing our walk. The Christian life isn’t a couple of hours once a week; it’s a daily journey. Like Aaron, our lives are consecrated to God. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:1-2). “You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your body” (1 Cor. 6:19-20).

Monday, November 28, 2011

Being clothed

“Then Moses brought Aaron and his sons forward and washed them with water. He put the tunic on Aaron, tied the sash around him, clothed him with the robe and put the ephod on him. He also tied the ephod to him by its skillfully woven waistband; so it was fastened on him.” Leviticus 8:6-7
Leviticus 8 gives us all the details about the ordination of Aaron and his sons to serve God in the priestly ministry in the tabernacle. In the first part of the chapter, we see Moses dressing Aaron with all the garments that God had instructed to be made (see Ex. 28). The main thing that we notice is that Aaron did not dress himself. A similar instance happened in Zech. 3:3-5, where another high priest, Joshua, had clean clothes put on him. We also read that God was the one who clothed Adam and Eve with garments of animal skins after their fall (Gen. 3:21).
This is an insightful picture for us. Clothing is symbolic in the Scriptures of righteousness (Rev. 19:8, Isa. 61:10, Ps. 132:9). We are clothed with the righteousness of Christ, but we cannot clothe ourselves. He is the one who clothes us – taking away our old garments, our self-righteousness, those filthy rags (Isa. 64:6) – and clothing us with His perfect righteousness.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Loving our enemies

“But love your enemies, do good to them and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” Luke 6:35
Loving our enemies is not easy. Yet it is a command that Jesus gives us – and something that we can do, through the Holy Spirit. We don’t have to like them, but we are to love them – to put their needs ahead of our own and do right by them. We see a similar passage in Matt. 5:43-48, but there are some differences in this passage in Luke (in fact, some commentators think that the two passages actually arise from two different occasions where Jesus was teaching His disciples).
The major thing I want to pick up on here is the reason Jesus gives us as to why we should love our enemies. That reason is because God is kind to the ungrateful and wicked, so if we are His children, we should do the same.
Ingratitude is one of the hardest attitudes to deal with. Although we can demand that someone say ‘Thank you’, there is nothing you can do to make them grateful. If we feel indignant when people are ungrateful toward us, how much more do you think God feels – when people refuse to acknowledge His blessings, His sovereignty, or even His existence? Yet He still provides them with food, shelter, oxygen, etc. Is it too much for Jesus to ask us to do good to our enemies?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Calling all sinners

“Jesus answered them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.’” Luke 5:31-32
The first step in coming to Christ is to admit that you are a sinner. It doesn’t matter if you’ve broken every one of God’s laws, or just one – the Bible tells us, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10). Getting to heaven by keeping the law is like hanging on the end of a chain. It doesn’t matter if one, or ten, or a hundred links in the chain are broken, you are going to fall. None of us will be declared righteous by God, apart from faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:20-22).
Here is one of the great mysteries of the gospel: that Jesus calls us while we were still sinners (Rom. 5:8). He reached down into the cesspool of this sinful world, and pulled us out. We can’t do anything to save ourselves. If we had to clean up our lives before we could be saved, then it would be salvation by works, and the door would not be open to all.
Another way of reading this verse, especially in the light of the attitude of the Pharisees He was talking to, is, “I have not come to call the self-righteous, but sinners.” The Pharisees were criticising Jesus for spending time with the tax-collectors, whom they viewed as traitors, having sold out to Rome. Jesus did not deny that these people were sinners, but He knew that they were spiritually hungry for Him. He did not spend His years of ministry debating with the Pharisees and persuading them to believe in Him. He made Himself available to those who knew they were sinners, and who wanted to be saved.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Jesus' prayer life

“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Luke 5:16
There are several verses that give us a glimpse into Jesus’ prayer life. He prayed regularly and often, and sometimes spent all night in prayer. Prayer is talking to God, spending time with Him, voicing to Him what’s on our heart and allowing Him to speak to us. A lifestyle of prayer is a lifestyle of continual fellowship with God. The more time you spend with Him, the better you will get to know Him.
“Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” The Greek word for ‘lonely’ is eremos, which appears fifty times in the New Testament. It is the same word translated elsewhere as ‘wilderness’ (such as where John the Baptist preached) or ‘deserted’ (such as in Matt. 14:15 where the people followed Jesus and the disciples, leading to Him feeding the 5,000). In this case it’s unlikely that the word refers to the desert regions of Israel, as Jesus wasn’t always near the desert. Instead, it probably takes on the broader meaning, a place where He could be alone – with no-one else around, and no distractions.
We need to find times and places where we can be alone to pray, just us and God. If we only pray with others, for instance, at church prayer meetings, we have missed the point of prayer. Corporate prayer is good, but it is not a substitute for daily, individual prayer. Imagine if you only spoke to your husband or wife when you were out with other people! Jesus knew how important prayer is. If He needed to pray, then how much more than we!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Being troubled by sin

“I confess my iniquity; I am troubled by my sin.” Psalm 38:18
Confessing our sin is one of the first steps towards conversion, but as we all know too well, it doesn’t end there. Christians do continue to sin – sometimes small, sometimes big; sometimes through weakness, other times deliberately. Paul addressed a wrong attitude that was floating around the church in Rome: “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Rom. 6:1-2). There are two categories of ‘sin’ in view here: what Paul is referring to is continuing to live in a sinful lifestyle. The other category is the individual sins we commit through the day. Someone who is continuing to live a sinful lifestyle, has not understood the magnitude of what sin is – nor what it cost God.
Are we troubled by our sin? This can take many forms. Martin Luther was so troubled by every little sin he committed that it nearly tipped him over the edge – until he was set free by discovering that well-known verse: “The just shall live by faith” (Hab. 2:4, Rom. 1:17, Gal. 3:11, Heb. 10:38). Are we troubled because, like Luther, it shows us our own weaknesses? Is it because we know that our sin causes God pain? Jesus died for every single one of our sins; do you get the feeling that every time you fail, you are adding to His suffering?
This is the measure of our spiritual maturity: how much we hate sin in our lives and want to live righteously, for God. If we think nothing of it, we show that we don’t understand the cost of sin (Rom. 3:23). God doesn’t love us any less when we slip up, He is always there to forgive us when we confess our sin and ask for His forgiveness (1 John 1:9). But we must understand how God views sin, and develop His attitude towards it.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

When unbelievers prosper

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.” Psalm 37:7
Have you ever been annoyed because a non-Christian got ahead of you in life? Perhaps you got passed over for a promotion at work; you were next in line when all the tickets for a big game got sold out; they got upgraded to business class on a flight and you didn’t – the list goes on. It may be something trivial, or it may be something more critical and prestigious. But the Bible tells us on several occasions not to worry or be envious if we see wicked people prospering. Habakkuk complained to God: “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; You cannot tolerate wrong. Why then do You tolerate the treacherous? Why are You silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves? (Hab. 1: 13). The psalmist said, “When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me – until I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understodd their final destiny” (Ps. 73:16-17).
This is the key: look at things from God’s perspective, from eternity. Unbelievers may prosper now, but their prosperity will not last. On the other hand, we are looking forward to spending eternity with God. There’s no need to envy them. Just be still, and wait patiently for God. We read “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up” (James 4:10). And again, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time” (1 Pet. 5:6).

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

In our own eyes

“For in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin.” Psalm 36:2
It’s a risky thing to flatter ourselves. Usually this happens when we look around us at other people, and say to ourselves, ‘Well, I’m not as bad as that person.’ It’s easy to slip into the world’s way of thinking: that if our good deeds outweigh our bad, God will smile upon the good things we have done, ignore the bad, and welcome us with open arms into heaven. But to have such an attitude, especially if a person dosen’t know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour, is a dangerous thing that could see them ending up in hell.
Paul tells the Corinthians, “When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise” (2 Cor. 10:12). The standard that we have to measure up to is not to be in credit on the good vs. bad deeds count, or to be above average in comparison to other people. The standard God has set is absolute perfection. None of us can claim that. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).
Jeremiah tells us, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). Deep down, we all think that we are good people. But the reality is that deep down, we are all sinners. We are self-deceived, if we think that we are inherently good and can get to heaven on our own merit. We need the Holy Spirit to reveal to us what is really going on in our heart, so that we can see our sin for what it is, then repent of it and be restored to a right relationship with God.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The golden calf

“So I told them, ‘Whoever has any gold jewellery, take it off.’ Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf.’” Exodus 32:24
Most of us are familiar with the incident concerning the golden calf. Moses had last been seen climbing Mount Sinai and entering the thick darkness on top of it. While he was there, receiving the commandments from God and instructions about the tabernacle, the people grew impatient and wrote him off as dead. They turned to Aaron, Moses’ brother and spokesman, and asked him, “Make us gods who will go before us” (Ex. 32:1). Aaron asks for their jewellery, and from it he makes a calf. At that point, Moses comes back down the mountain to find them worshipping it.
It’s interesting to note here that Aaron makes the calf sound like an accident: “I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!” The reality was, he had fashioned it into the shape of a calf using tools (Ex. 32:4). Why didn’t he just tell the truth?... probably because human nature always tries to shift the blame to something or someone else – in this case, the fire.
Another interesting point is that they were trying to worship the God who brought them out of Egypt (Ex. 32:4). Why they thought God was shaped like a calf, I don’t know. They were probably just following the examples they had seen in Egypt, where there were many gods in the shapes of all kinds of animals, birds, and insects. They hadn’t yet been given the law, which expressly forbade the fashioning of idols or images to worship.
There is a lesson here for us. God did forgive the people. We shouldn’t be like Aaron and try to make excuses for our sin. Instead, we should be quick to confess our sin to God and repent of it (1 John 1:9).

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Facing trouble

“A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all” Psalm 34:19
You may have noticed, but life as a Christian isn’t easy. Life in general isn’t easy – you have the pressures of work, family, finances, time, sickness, politics, etc. But as a Christian, you can add to the list persecution in all its guises: from the snide remarks by your co-workers, through to the threat of imprisonment or even execution from your government, in some countries. Becoming a Christian doesn’t make these troubles go away. But our faith does give us hope for the future – both in this life, and in eternity. One day there will be no more sickness or death or pain. Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). We can find peace in the midst of the storm, in Him.
You might be facing a really difficult time right now. Perhaps everything just seems too overwhelming, with no let-up in sight. Perhaps you’re struggling to see how everything could possibly go back to normal. Here’s God’s promise for you today: He will deliver you from your troubles. You don’t have to face them alone – He is with you, all the time. Just keep holding on to Him, and He will bring you through.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

'But not during the Feast'

“Now the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some sly way to arrest Jesus and kill Him. ‘But not during the Feast,’ they said, ‘or the people may riot.’” Mark 14:1-2
We’re familiar with the events that have come to be celebrated as Easter: Jesus being betrayed by Judas, arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, tried before Annas, Caiaphas, Herod, and Pilate, beaten, flogged, and ultimately crucified – then buried, and rising again after three days. All of this happened on the Passover: this was the reason that the soldiers were instructed to break the legs of those hanging on the crosses, and thus hasten their deaths (John 19:31).
But it’s interesting to note that the chief priests were deliberately trying to avoid having this happen on the feast day. The Feast of Unleavened Bread, which follows immediately after Passover, was one of the feasts for which it was compulsory that every able-bodied Jewish male come to Jerusalem to celebrate. There would have been crowds of people from all over Israel, and no doubt they would have heard of Jesus. To see Him killed at this time could have incited a riot – and if that happened, the Romans would come down heavy on the nation.
But Jesus was crucified on the Passover. He had to be, in order to fulfil the prophecy as being our passover lamb, sacrificed in our place so that we might have life (1 Cor. 5:7). God’s timing over-ruled theirs. He was in complete control of the events.

Friday, November 18, 2011

It's what's inside that counts

“Make the tabernacle with ten curtains of finely twisted linen and blue, purple and scarlet yarn, with cherubim worked into them by a skilled craftsman.” Exodus 26:1
We learned earlier that the tabernacle was built as a model of God’s throne room in heaven. The innermost part of the tabernacle, the Holy of Holies (called ‘the most holy place’ in some Bible translations), was the place where God’s presence resided between the cherubim on the mercy seat. Although only the high priest was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies – and even then, only once a year – the descriptions that we are given of it in the Scriptures allow us to imagine what it might have been like.
Inside the tabernacle was beautiful. We see four materials being used: white linen, blue, purple, and scarlet yarn. Each of these symbolises something different. White linen speaks to us of God’s righteousness. Blue is the colour of heaven (hence the blue threads the Israelites were to weave into their clothing, Num. 15:38). Purple speaks of royalty. Red symbolises blood. It was embroidered with cherubim, just as the cherubim stand around the throne of God in heaven, giving Him worship and glory and honour.
But the rest of the people never saw this beauty. The tabernacle was covered with curtains made of goat hair (Ex. 26:7), then a covering of ram skins, then a covering of hides of sea cows (Ex. 26:14). It must have looked quite ugly from the outside.
But even here, there is a picture for us. We read of Jesus, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him” (Isa. 53:2).
It’s the same for us: it’s not what we look like from the outside that matters – it’s what’s inside the counts.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

End times deception

“For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect – if that were possible.” Mark 13:22
The Bible tells us, over and over again, that the end times will be a time of great deception. Ever since Jesus ascended to heaven, there have been people who have claimed to be Him (we still see them today from time to time, usually appearing on TV). Rightly so, we straightaway write them off as nut jobs – but what if such a person, claiming to be Jesus, started gong around performing miracles, healing the sick, and so forth? The world is not ready for this! The false Christs that will arise will seem to meet all the requirements of Jesus in terms of His ministry. And, just to show how great this deception will be, Jesus adds the words “to deceive the elect – if that were possible.” ‘The elect’ refers to believers, those who have been elected by God for salvation. What He is saying is that if believers did not have the Holy Spirit to help them discern this deception, if they looked at things solely on face value, knowing the Lord, they would be deceived. We read also in 2 Thess. 2:9-11: “The coming of the lawless one [the Antichrist] will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.”
The lesson for us is clear: If you don’t know the Lord, if you’ve been shown the gospel but refused to believe it, then you will be deceived in the end times. There is no guarantee that you will be able to resist this deception, and come to Christ once all the things prophesied by Scripture start coming to pass. The only way to avoid being deceived is to have the Holy Spirit indwelling you, so that you can have discernment. “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2).

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Do you know you're forgiven?

“Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.” Psalm 32:1-2
There’ll be times in your Christian walk, when you’ll feel so miserable about some sin or other that you’ve committed, that you wonder if God has really forgiven you. Perhaps you can accept that He’s forgiven all your sins up to some point, but the latest ones are just too much. These thoughts always have the same source: Satan, trying to cast doubt on your salvation. It’s times like this we need to turn to verses like this, and to hold fast to them. The Bible tells us, over and over again, that we can be sure all of our sins are forgiven, covered by the blood of Christ (Mark 3:28, Col. 2:13). God does not count our sin against us any more – “as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Ps. 103:12. Note that the separation is not between north and south, but between east and west. You can get to the north or south pole; you can keep going east or west forever and never reach the east or west pole.)
Another way to think about it is this: when Jesus died on the cross, how many of your sins were yet future? The answer of course, is ‘all of them’. God isn’t surprised when we sin. He knows that although we are saved, we are still feeble human beings with a sin nature that is still resisting Him. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
When we finally grasp this truth – that our sins truly have been forgiven by God – we find that peace that passes all understanding, that ‘blessedness’ that only a child of God can know. The word ‘blessed’ means ‘happy’. Are you happy, knowing that your sins are forgiven?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Making the tabernacle

“See that you make them according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” Exodus 25:40
This is an interesting verse; it occurs in the description God gives Moses concerning how he was to build the tabernacle and its furniture. All we have is a description in words, but apparently God showed Moses something, which the tabernacle was to be modelled after. In Rev. 15:5 we read how the tabernacle in heaven was opened. In Heb. 8:5 we are told that the earthly tabernacle was a copy of things in heaven. So by understanding the tabernacle that Moses built, we can gain some insights into what is in heaven.
There isn’t time or space in this posting to go into great detail about all the items in the tabernacle – the ark, the mercy seat, the golden altar of incense, the lampstand, the table, the bronze altar, and the laver. But it is worth pointing out that God refers to the mercy seat (which sits as a cover on the ark of the covenant) as the place where He would meet with Moses (Ex. 25:22). He described it as being ‘between the cherubim’ – which is how the throne of God in heaven can also be described (Rev. 4:6, c.f. Ezek. 10:14, 20).
Each of the pieces within the tabernacle show us some aspect of Jesus Christ. The lampstand: He is the light of the world. The veil: He is the door for the sheep. The table of shewbread: He is the bread of life. The white linen fence surrounding the outer court: representing His righteousness, imputed to us. These things are all worth studying in more detail; they will give you a much better appreciation of who He is and what He has done for you!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Blood and yeast

“Do not offer the blood of a sacrifice to Me along with anything containing yeast.” Exodus 23:18
Many people who start reading the Bible from Genesis, get to about Exodus 19 and then lose interest – most of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy are rule after rule concerning social justice, ceremonial procedures, instructions for sacrifices, the tabernacle, and the like. It’s tempting to skip over these sections if you’re not Jewish. But as with all things, these books are in the Bible because they show us truths about Christ.
Why would God tell the Israelites not to offer yeast and blood together? We need to understand the symbolism being used here. In Lev. 17:11 we read, “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.” In the Old Testament, the life-blood of animals was offered as a substitute to cover the sin of a person, sin that required their life to be ended. The ultimate example of this, of course, is the death of Christ on the cross for our sins, shedding His own blood for us.
So what about yeast? Throughout the Bible, yeast is used as a symbol of sin. If yeast is added to dough, it ferments and causes the bread to be puffed up. You don’t need much yeast; it will spread and multiply until it has permeated the whole lump of dough.
So what God is saying here is this: the blood of the sacrifice offered must be without sin. This is beautiful symbolism of our Saviour: He had to be without sin. Otherwise, He could not have redeemed us; He would have died for His own sin.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


“Calling His disciples to Him, Jesus said, ‘I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.’” Mark 12:43
Those of us who have been Christians for a while, know that when it comes to giving, God doesn’t notice the amount that we give. I would even go so far as to suggest that it’s not the percentage of what we have, that we give, either. A person with $10m could give half of it away and still live quite comfortably. But for the person with only $100, to give half away would be of much greater significance.
Another important passage to consider is 2 Cor. 9:6-11 – that on giving cheerfully and not because you’re forced to. We might have been told to ‘give until it hurts’. But that’s not what God is about. Give as much as you are happy to do so. And if the thought of giving anything at all makes you grumpy, then don’t give – but pray that God would soften your heart.
So, it’s not the amount, or the percentage, that we give, but what it costs us. We see a glimpse of the heart attitudes of the poor widow and the rich people: the rich people “threw in large amounts” (Mark 12:41), but the poor widow “came and put in two [lepta]” (Mark 12:42). It was easy for the rich people to give, and so they were unconcerned about it. They threw the money in and thought nothing more of it. But for the widow, it was a deliberate action. It required great willpower to let go of those two coins, knowing that she was giving to God. And Jesus noticed. This is a lesson for all of us, concerning not what we give to God (since that is between you and Him), but how we give.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Committing your spirit

“Into Your hands I commit my spirit; redeem me, O Lord, the God of truth.” Psalm 31:5
These words probably sound familiar to us – and they should, because they are the words uttered by Jesus on the cross (Luke 23:46), and by Stephen as he was being stoned to death (Acts 7:59). We should have this attitude too. However, it should not only be when we are on our deathbeds, but while we are still alive. If we have been born again, then we are to count our old nature, the sin nature, as dead to us (Rom. 6:2, 11). “But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness” (Rom. 8:11). “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3).
This new life that we have is spiritual life, not physical life. Physically, we are all getting closer to death. Our bodies are wearing out; becoming a Christian doesn’t change that. But coming to faith in Christ grants us new, eternal life, with Him. And here’s the point: we don’t have to wait until we physically die, to start enjoying that eternal life. God gives it to us, and the smartest thing we can do with it is to give it right back to Him – committing it into His hands. This means, to say to God, ‘You are in control.’ This isn’t a once-for-all thing; it’s a daily decision we need to make. And that’s the first step you need to take, in order for God to use you in a mighty way.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The pillar of cloud and fire

“By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.” Exodus 13:21-22
The pillar of cloud by day and fire by night was the way God led the Israelites through the wilderness. It represented God’s presence among His people, settling on the tabernacle (Ex. 40:36-38). When the pillar lifted from the tabernacle, it was God’s way of telling the Israelites to pack up their tents and move with Him, and they would follow the pillar until it stopped again. In this way, God guided the Israelites. You would think that with such an obvious, visible manifestation of God’s guidance, the people would have believed in Him. Yet they still doubted. Time and time again, God led them to a place where there was no food, or no water, and they grumbled against Him and against Moses.
We might not have visible guidance from God like the Israelites did, but He does still guide us every day. We have the ‘more sure word’ of the promises in the Bible (2 Pet. 1:19). The promises that He will never leave us nor forsake us (Deut. 31:8, Heb. 13:5). The promise that all things work together for good for those who love God (Rom. 8:28). The promise that we will not face any temptation we cannot bear (1 Cor. 10:13). The promise that Jesus is returning (Acts 1:11, Rev. 22:12). If we have trouble believing these promises of God, having a pillar of cloud and fire guiding us would not make any difference. It is just as Jesus said to Thomas, “Because you have seen Me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Lord hardened his heart

“But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go.” Exodus 10:20
Many people have a problem with this verse (and others) that talk about God hardening Pharaoh’s heart. “So you mean to say that if Pharaoh had wanted to repent, he couldn’t?” That’s right. But it’s also important to note that there is a progression. With each of the plagues, we see Pharaoh promising to let the people go, and then after Moses prays for relief, he reneges on his word and refuses.
0. Aaron’s staff turns into a snake. Pharaoh hardens his heart (Ex. 7:13).
1. The Nile turns to blood. Pharaoh’s heart becomes hard (Ex. 7:22).
2. The plague of frogs. Pharaoh hardens his heart (Ex. 8:15).
3. The plague of gnats. Pharaoh’s heart is hard (Ex. 8:19).
4. The plague of flies. Pharaoh hardens his heart (Ex. 8:32).
5. The plague on the livestock. Pharaoh’ heart is hard (Ex. 9:7)
6. The plague of boils. God hardens Pharaoh’s heart (Ex. 9:12)
7. The plague of hail. Pharaoh’ heart is hard (Ex. 9:35).
8. The plague of locusts. God hardens Pharaoh’s heart (Ex. 10:20)
9. The plague of darkness. God hardens Pharaoh’s heart (Ex. 10:27).
10. The death of the firstborn. Pharaoh lets the people go, but then God hardens his heart and he pursues the Israelites to the Red Sea (Ex. 14:8).
The lesson for us is this: Yes, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, but only after he had hardened his own heart first, to the point of no return. It is still possible for people to do this today. The Holy Spirit is alongside every person, convicting them of their need for a Saviour, but they can reject Him over and over to the point where their heart becomes so hard that they cannot hear Him anymore. They are like the path that the seed fell on and the birds snatch it away (Matt. 13:4, 19). Their heart is unyielding to the things of God. “For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them” (Matt. 13:15, quoting Isa. 6:10).
Have you hardened your heart towards God? Is your heart becoming calloused? It’s not too late to repent and turn back to Him.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

God's purpose in judgement

“For by now I could have stretched out My hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth. But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you My power and that My name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Exodus 9:15-16
Here in Exodus 9 we come across a very interesting verse. If you think about it, it does beg the question: why did God bother sending ten plagues upon Egypt, when He knew all along that it would not change Pharaoh’s heart? Why didn’t He just wipe them all out straightaway?
We can extend this kind of questioning to the events of the Great Tribulation. Why bother with all the seals, the trumpets, the bowls; all the plagues upon the earth – why not just say, ‘That’s all, folks!’ and be done with it?
Because God’s purpose in bringing these judgements is not just about judging. Even in the midst of the plagues of Egypt, and also in the midst of the Great Tribulation, there will be some who are not a lost cause. They just need a little prodding to come to God, by seeing His power. Pharaoh had hardened his heart, but there were some Egyptians who heeded the words of Moses and Aaron (see Ex. 9:20-21). It is for these people that God has mercy in not destroying them completely, so that they might be saved. God does not delight in the death of the wicked (Ezek. 18:23, 33:11). Judgement is called His ‘strange work’ and His ‘alien task’ (Isa. 28:21). Judgement is His last resort, and even in it He is showing mercy so that people might come to Him and be saved.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Whoever has will be given more

“Consider carefully what you hear,” He continued. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you – and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.” Mark 4:24-25
This thought crops up in Matt. 13:12, Matt. 25:29, Mark 4:25, Luke 8:18, Luke 19:26. It’s interesting to note that it does not refer to money, as many people imply and teach. Mark 4:24 begins with “Consider carefully what you hear”, and Luke 8:18 begins with “consider carefully how you listen”. This is a promise that refers not to money, but to knowledge and understanding.
“With the measure you use, it will be measured to you – and even more.” As we spend time in the Word of God, studying it, meditating on it, praying that the Holy Spirit would teach us what it means, we will receive more and more understanding of it. If we don’t spend much effort, the Word will have little impact in our lives.
“Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.” If we are constantly in the Word, being spiritually fed by it, we will receive more and more understanding and insight. But if we neglect it, our spirit will atrophy. The little understanding we had, will shrivel up. “The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Gal. 6:8). You have two natures within you: the flesh, and the spirit. They are in competition with each other. The one that you feed the most, is the one that will grow. If you want to grow spiritually, feed your spirit with the Word of God.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Stubborn hearts

“He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.” Mark 3:5
This is the only instance that it is recorded that Jesus get angry at something or someone. (We also see Him driving out the money-changers in the temple (on two occasions: John 2:14-17, at the start of His ministry, and Matt. 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-17, Luke 19:45-46), but it is not said there that He was angry.) There are many other instances which, if we had been in His situation, we would probably have been angry – facing Judas in the garden as he betrayed Him, standing before the high priest as He was illegally struck in the face, being told by the pig-farmers to leave their area after He had delivered a man from a legion of demons, etc. He wasn’t angry when people abused Him, when they deserted Him, or when they didn’t have enough faith. There was only one thing that made Jesus angry: people having stubborn hearts.
There is a good side to stubbornness: it’s called perseverance. That’s when we refuse to give up on God. But stubbornness is more often than not a bad thing – refusing to believe God despite the evidence, and wanting to keep doing our own thing instead of what God has told us to do. We see other examples in the Scriptures. Moses made excuses time and time again why he couldn’t be God’s mouthpiece to the children of Israel (see Ex. 4:13-14). Balaam persisted in seeking after the reward that Balak offered him; his donkey was more attuned to the presence of the angel of the Lord than he was (see Num. 22:22-35). The nation Israel, time and time again, refused to believe God, turned away from Him to follow idols, mistreated the prophets He sent, all the while thinking they were better than other nations (see Luke 14:16-24).
It’s easy to point the finger at other people. But do we do the same thing? Has God told us to do something, and we are stubbornly refusing to do it? Has He told us to stop doing something, and we are stubbornly persisting in it? If that’s the case, we need to watch out: being stubborn makes God angry. Let Him soften your heart; be obedient to Him.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

New wineskins

“And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins.” Mark 2:22
This is a familiar passage, but it can be difficult to understand what is actually meant by it.
First, we need to understand how wine was made at that time. A wineskin was a leather bag; ‘new wine’ was grape juice that was still in the process of fermenting. This would be poured into a new wineskin, which was supple and was therefore able to stretch as the fermentation process produced carbon dioxide gas. But after the wineskin had been used once in this way, it became brittle and was not able to stretch again. Thus, putting new wine into an old skin would result in pressure building up, and the wineskin would eventually break because it was not able to stretch.
Many people have suggested what the symbolism might be referring to. Some speak of how the gifts of the Spirit tend not to be in operation in the more traditional churches. But that is not the context here. Jesus was asked, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but Yours are not?” (Mark 2:18).
John was the last of the Old Testament prophets, as said by Jesus Himself (Matt. 11:13). The Pharisees, likewise, were followers of Old Testament Judaism. But Jesus was bringing a new way of relating to God, a new power that came through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit inside a person. What He was saying is this: you cannot put the power of a life in Christ into the Old Testament law. Even today, there are those who try to take their Christian faith and fit it into the Mosaic law. Jesus says it can’t be done. The new wine – the new life that Christ offers us – needs new wineskins: a way of life that allows us to be stretched and filled with the Spirit of God.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

All authority

“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.’” Matthew 28:18
When we think about Jesus, we often think of a gentle man who wouldn’t hurt a fly; a man who would sit and talk with His disciples, a man who didn’t have a house or a penny to His name. And that’s true – for the time that He was ministering, before His crucifixion and resurrection from the dead. The well-known passage in Philippians 2 (called ‘the Kenosis’) tells us the depths to which God the Son stooped down, and the heights to which He has been raised again. He “made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:7-11).
Now Jesus has been raised from the death, He is once again glorified with the Father, with the glory He had before (John 17:5). He laid aside His deity for a time, but now He has taken it back up. He has paid the price to redeem the earth out of Satan’s clutches. This is why He could say, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.”
Think for a minute what that means. He has authority – discretionary power – over all things. Whatever happens on earth, only happens because He allows it. This is true for nations, and it is also true for each one of us as individuals. Jesus has authority and control over our lives and our circumstances. Do we really believe this? We don’t need to worry about what might happen, because He has everything in hand.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The valley of the shadow of death

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4
The 23rd psalm is one of the most well-known psalms, in both Christian and secular circles. It is also called the shepherd psalm, because in it David likens God to a shepherd guiding us, His sheep. We read how He provides for all our needs and guides us to a place of safety.
Today we focus on the fourth verse of this psalm: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” What is the valley of the shadow of death? I have read that in Israel there is a certain wadi called the Wadi Kelt, which literally means the valley of the shadow. It lies between Jericho and Jerusalem, and is the main route by which shepherds would take their flocks from the Jordan river valley to the hill country of Judea. It has steep cliffs and many caves, and it is easy to get lost there. Bandits would hide in the caves and ambush travellers passing through (c.f. Luke 10:30). There is no vegetation.
Sometimes we can feel as if we are passing through a desolate place with potential danger around every corner. The heat is on, and we aren’t sure of the way to go. But it’s in those times that we need to stay close to our Shepherd. He comforts us with His rod and His staff. These were implements the shepherd used: the rod, to keep the sheep moving and pull them out of any holes they fell into; the staff, to fight off wild animals who might attack the flock. This is exactly what the Christian life is like. God will sometimes prod us with His rod to keep us moving. If we fall into sin, He will not leave us there but will seek to pull us out. When we face the enemy, we don’t need to fight him ourselves; we leave that up to God. Once we can grasp these truths, and keep our eyes fixed on the Lord, we realise that in life we have nothing to fear. He is big enough, and wise enough, to guide us in safety – even though the valley of the shadow of death.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

God is 'I AM'

“Moses said to God, ‘Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you,” and they ask me, “What is His name?” Then what shall I tell them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: “I AM has sent me to you.”’” Exodus 3:13-14
‘I AM’ might seem like a bit of a strange name to our ears, but God says it is His name. In the Bible, a person’s name tells us a lot about them. God didn’t say that His name was ‘I was’, nor did He say it was ‘I will be’. You see, for God, there is no past or future. He is always in the now. Also, His name is not ‘I speak’ or ‘I give’, but ‘I AM’ – He is to us whatever we need. He is our helper when we need help, our Saviour when we need saving, our comfort when we need comforting.
There’s another place in the Bible where God speaks of Himself as being ‘I AM’ – Jesus declared this seven times in the gospel of John (John 6:35, 8:12, 10:9, 10:14, 11:25, 14:6, 15:1). He declared that He was the bread of life, the light of the world, the gate for the sheep, the good shepherd, the resurrection and the life, the way and the truth and the life, and the true vine. He also laid claim to being the same ‘I AM’ as we read in today’s verse when God spoke to Moses from the burning bush (see John 8:58).
What are you needing today? Allow God to become that to you. He loves you and wants the best for you.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

What happened at the cross

“I am poured out like water, and all My bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within Me.” Psalm 22:14
Psalm 22 gives us a graphic prophecy of what happened to Jesus on the cross. It begins with His first words uttered: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” (Ps. 22:1, c.f. Matt. 27:46). It then goes on to describe some of the torments He faced. These are details we aren’t given in the New Testament – possibly because crucifixion was seen as relatively routine, so that the shock factor was not necessary; possibly because the disciples had all fled by that point (Matt. 26:56).
We often focus on the physical suffering Jesus endured (Ps. 22:14-18): His joints dislocated, His back ripped to shreds, severe dehydration and weakness from loss of blood, the public humiliation of being hung there naked, seeing His garments divided between the soldiers. But this psalm also gives us a glimpse of the spiritual torment He faced. As if God the Father turning His face away was not enough, Jesus was also attacked by demonic forces. “Many bulls surround Me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle Me. Roaring lions tearing their prey open their mouths wide against Me” (Ps. 22:12-13). Bashan was an area in the north of Israel, today called the Golan, where the giant king Og ruled in the time of Joshua. It was known for its idolatry, and the ‘bulls of Bashan’ is a reference to the demonic forces behind these idols. Also, we read in 1 Pet. 5:8 how Satan is likened to a roaring lion, seeking whom he would devour. As Jesus hung there on the cross, Satan must have felt like he had won.
Jesus didn’t deserve any of this. It was a punishment for sin that He hadn’t committed – our sin. Similarly, we don’t deserve what He gives us because of His death on the cross. Thinking about this humbles me, and fills me with appreciation. How about you?