Friday, September 30, 2011

Adding to God's word

“The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’’” Genesis 3:2-3
Yesterday we read how Satan casts doubt on God’s word and denies it, to try to tempt us into sin. But Eve did herself no favours either. She changed God’s word – adding some words, and taking away others. Let’s see what God actually said: “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden” (Gen. 2:16) – Eve leaves out the word ‘any’. What she says sounds more like a concession from God, rather than the blessing of free choice. “But you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” – what she says is fine so far – “for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Gen. 2:17). Did you notice what she added, and what she left out? She adds, ‘and you must not touch it’. This is the first instance of what we might call Phariseeism: man adding extra rules to what God had said. (For example, concerning the Sabbath day, the Bible only says to do no work and light no fires in their dwellings. But the rabbis, over the centuries, added many more Sabbath rules, which were written down from oral traditions in the Talmud. These included things such as, you could not look at a mirror on the Sabbath (because you might see a grey hair and be tempted to pluck it out, which would be considered work), you could not wear a wooden leg on the Sabbath (because that would be carrying a burden and thus doing work), and so forth. This is why Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for their bad attitudes when He healed people on the Sabbath, because God’s intention for the Sabbath was for a blessing of rest for mankind – not an excuse to make people’s lives miserable (Mark 2:27). The initial intention behind these extra rules – and behind Eve saying ‘you must not touch it’ was to put a protective fence around the rule that God had given. But Eve had still added to God’s word, and she knew it.
Eve also left out a critical word: ‘you will not surely die’. She downplays the seriousness of the consequences of breaking God’s rule. It’s interesting to note that Satan corrects her, as he denies God’s word, saying, ‘You will not surely die’ (Gen. 3:4). Satan knew what God had said. By correcting her, he sets himself up as someone she should listen to, because after all, he knew what God really said.
The Bible speaks on several occasions about not adding to it or taking away from it (Deut. 4:2, Deut. 12:32, Prov. 30:6, Rev. 22:18-19). God is just as serious about His Word today as He was in the Garden of Eden.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Satan's tactics

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?’” Genesis 3:1
Here in Genesis 3, we see the tactics that Satan uses to tempt us into sin – and we’ll note that they really are the oldest tricks in the book. There are three things that he says to Eve, which we’ll notice that he still uses today in tempting us.
Firstly, he says, “Did God really say...?” Satan’s first tactic is to cast doubt on God’s Word. If you’ve ever been discouraged in your Christian walk, perhaps you have doubted your salvation, or the fact that God loves you no matter what, because you are His child – then you can know for certain that this is an attack from Satan. God wants us to have assurance and not doubt. This is why it’s important for us to know His Word and hide it away in our hearts. Satan knows Scripture, and he will malign it; that’s why we need to know it too.
Secondly, he says to Eve, “You will not surely die” (Gen. 3:4) – a direct denial of what God said (Gen. 2:17). He uses the same trick with us: telling us that we’re special and some aspect of the Bible doesn’t apply to us. He’ll say, “I know the Bible says this is a sin, but that was then and this is now; it’s socially acceptable – it’s right.” Again, we need to know God’s Word and resist him.
Thirdly, he says to Eve, “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5). In effect, he is implying to her that God is unfair, that He is holding something good back from her. It’s interesting that Satan appealed to Eve’s desire to be more spiritual, to be more like God. He’ll make us feel the same way, like God is stopping us from reaching our true potential, that He is selfish and doesn’t want to share. But all God’s commands are for our good (Deut. 10:13). He is completely fair with us. We don’t deserve to be like God – this is a mark of a cult, that we can become ‘little gods’. We need a Biblical view on our position before God: we were sinners with nothing to offer Him. He pulled us out of the pit and made us co-heirs with His Son. This should fill us with humility; we didn’t do anything to deserve it. God does share His blessings with us. But we must always remember that He is God, and we are not.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The name Jesus

“She will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21
Several people were told by God what their children’s names were to be (e.g. Ishmael, Gen. 16:11; Isaac, Gen. 17:19; Solomon, 1 Chr. 22:9 (who was also called by God Jedidiah, 2 Sam. 12:25); Isaiah’s son, Isa. 8:3; Hosea’s three children, Hos. 1:4, 6, 9, and John the Baptist, Luke 1:13).
Names in the Hebrew culture are not chosen for their phonetics or aesthetics. They are chosen because of their meaning. Often, children were named because of some event that happened when they were born (e.g. Esau, means ‘hairy’, because when he was born he was covered with thick hair; while Jacob, ‘heel-catcher’ or, figuratively, ‘deceiver’, who was born holding onto Esau’s heel – Gen. 25:25-26). But the times when God announces what a child’s name should be, it is always prophetic of what they would become. The name Jesus, or in Hebrew, Jehoshua, a variation of ‘Joshua’, means ‘The Lord is salvation’. It was actually a very common name in Israel at the time Jesus was born, because every Jewish mother longed for her son to be the Messiah who would deliver Israel. (We read of another man called Jesus in Col. 4:11.) But what a fitting name that God would give His own Son, so that we might know Him. We read, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him” (John 3:17). Jesus Himself said, “I did not come to judge the world, but to save it” (John 12:47). The name ‘Jesus’ means ‘The Lord is salvation’. And in Him we find that salvation. Do you know Him personally today?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Rahab and Ruth

“Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth...” Matthew 1:5
Matthew’s gospel begins with a genealogy of Jesus Christ, showing how He was descended from Abraham, through the royal line of David, from the tribe of Judah, all as prophesied (Gen. 49:10, 2 Sam. 7:12). It’s interesting to note, in this, the most Jewish of the four gospels, the mention of two Gentile women. (Tamar is also mentioned (Matt. 1:3), and ‘Uriah’s wife’ whome we know as Bathsheba, Matt. 1:6).
We encountered Rahab in Joshua 2. She was a prostitute living in Jericho (and thus a Canaanite), who sheltered the spies when they came to the city. She was spared for her kindness, and included in the ‘hall of faith’ (Heb. 11:31). She made a profession of faith in Josh. 2:11 – “for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.”
Ruth was also a Gentile, from Moab (Ruth 1:4). She too, made a profession of faith: “Your people will be my people and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16). As we know, Boaz the kinsman-redeemer married her and redeemed the land for Naomi.
God used both of these women in the human genealogy of Jesus – He doesn’t hide them away as skeletons in the closet. He isn’t ashamed of them because of their backgrounds, or the fact that they were born outside the covenant – rather, He is greatly pleased because they came to faith. The inclusion of Rahab and Ruth speaks hope to all of us. If God could use them in this way, He can use any of us. None of us are too low that God will not use us as His instrument, if we come to faith and dedicate our lives to Him.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Being like a tree

“He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.” Psalm 1:3
Here in New Zealand we are just starting to move into spring. I live quite close to a river, and noticed yesterday that the trees alongside the river are starting to get their leaves. It’s a sign that winter is over and summer is coming.
Like all living things, trees need water to survive. Being planted by a stream means that they will have a constant supply of water. The Bible talks about ‘living water’, referring to the Holy Spirit (John 7:37-39). A tree that only gets watered once a month or once a year, is not going to be as healthy as a tree that has a continual supply of water. Similarly, a believer who only communes with God occasionally, is not going to be as spiritually healthy as one who is constant communion and fellowship with God.
Our Christian life should be our whole life. It should determine how we live. This is why we read, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, or stand in the way of sinners, or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night” (Ps. 1:2). Does this describe you? Are you like the tree planted by the streams of water?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

One rule for Adam

“And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.’” Genesis 2:16-17
I think it’s interesting to contemplate on this single rule that God gave Adam when He created him and placed him in the Garden of Eden. Adam was commanded not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This raises a couple of questions.
One question is, why did God put the tree there in the first place? Let’s think about what would have happened if God hadn’t created the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam and Eve would have been happy, always enjoying fellowship with God – and never having to make their own choice about whether to obey Him or not, since where there is no law, there is no wrongdoing, because the law defines what is right and wrong (Rom. 4:15, Rom. 5:13). Thus, this single command, was an integral part of God giving man free choice – the choice to obey or to disobey Him. God didn’t create mankind as robots who will automatically love Him. He wants our love for Him to be voluntarily given; it means much more to Him this way.
A second question is, God knew that Satan would try to tempt Adam and Eve, so why didn’t He say, ‘Don’t listen to the serpent’ instead? The answer is simple: Because then, Satan would have used something else. It’s the same with us – the temptations that he tempts me with will most likely be different to those he uses to tempt you, and vice versa. Rather than telling us what to avoid, God tells us proactively what to do and not do. Remember, Satan knows Scripture. He masquerades as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14). He will appear to be good and offer us pleasurable things, but underneath there is a temptation to go against God and His word. This is why knowing God’s word is so important.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The six days of creation

“God saw all that He had made, and it was very good. And there was evening , and there was morning – the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.” Genesis 1:31-2:1
The first chapter of Genesis is one that many people try to ignore or allegorise. They do this to try and make the Biblical account marry up with the theory of macro-evolution and the idea that the earth and everything in it must have been formed over millions of years. But there is really no need to do this at all – and those who try end up contradicting both the Bible and evolutionary theory (plants being created before the sun, birds being created before reptiles, etc.). Also, a proper understanding of the Hebrew text reveals that these ‘days’ are to be interpreted as literal, 24-hour periods, not ‘geological ages’ or thousands of years (a la 2 Pet. 3:8). This is because of the construction: the Hebrew does not say ‘first day’, ‘second day’ etc. It says ‘day one’, and every other place in the Scripture, it is clear that this construction refers to a literal 24-hour day. Then we also have Ex. 20:11, where God says the Sabbath (resting on the seventh day) is because God rested on the seventh day – and the same word is used in both cases.
When it all boils down, it’s not hard at all to believe that God could do it. After all, He can do anything. So why not create the entire universe from nothing, in just under a week? It may interest you to note that the early church fathers also struggled with the idea of a six-day creation. They couldn’t understand why God would take so long.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The unsealed book

“Then he told me, ‘Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, because the time is near. Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy.’” Revelation 22:10-11
As stated when referring to Rev. 1:3, many people tend to shy away from reading the book of Revelation, because they think it’s too hard to understand. But here, at the end of the book, we see an angel telling John not to seal up the words of the prophecy. This is in contrast to what Daniel was told, that the words of prophecy he had been given were to be sealed until the time of the end (Dan. 12:4, Dan. 12:9). If John, therefore, was in the ‘end times’, how much closer are we! In no previous generation have all the pieces been in place for Revelation to be able to be fulfilled – Israel is back in the land as a nation, the world is crying out for a one-world government with a Messiah-like leader, a cashless society and the technology to implement it, and so forth.
But the following verse is equally interesting. It is divided in two: him who does wrong, him who is vile; him who does right, him who is holy. I’ve been told that the construction of this sentence implies that the wickedness of the wicked will increase, but on the same token the righteousness of the righteous will increase. That is, right and wrong will become more and more polarised. There won’t be anybody sitting on the fence. It’s easy for us to look around and see wickedness on the rise. But are we also seeing righteousness on the rise, in our own lives? Jesus said that in the last days, the love of many would grow cold because of this increase in wickedness (Matt. 24:12). But He also said that our love for each other would be a sign by which people would know that we belong to Him (John 13:35). Are you doing right today? Are you being holy – set apart for God’s purposes? Or is your love growing cold? I would encourage you to pray to God about this, and ask Him to show you where you are at.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The new Jerusalem

“I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.” Revelation 21:22-23
Chapter 21 of the book of Revelation gives us a description of the city of the new Jerusalem. We are told it is 12,000 stadia on each side, as wide and long as it is high (Rev. 21:16), which makes it about the size of the moon! It has the brilliance of a clear gemstone (Rev. 21:11), possibly a diamond. It has twelve gates of pearls (Rev. 21:21) and twelve foundations of gemstones (Rev. 21:19-20), the wall is made of jasper, about 200 feet thick (Rev. 21:17-18), the streets are made of glassy gold (Rev. 21:21). There is no day or night (Rev. 21:25), no sun or moon (Rev. 21:23), instead it is the glory of God that gives it light.
What an amazing place! – and this description is only of the basic structural things: the wall, the gates, and the roads. John doesn’t tell us what else is inside the city; for that, we’ll have to wait until we get there. And what is the purpose of the new Jerusalem? It is the house that Jesus as the bridegroom has been preparing for His bride, the church. This magnificent city will be our new home, where God will dwell among us. We will be living there!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Cursing God

“They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify Him.” Revelation 16:9
Revelation 16 tells us about the seven final judgements that God pours out on the earth, the climax of the Great Tribulation, the bowl judgements. By this point, everyone will have chosen a side – they will have either come to faith in Christ and be living in intense persecution, under the threat of death for not worshipping the Antichrist (Rev. 13:15); or they will have bowed down before the Antichrist and taken his mark. There will be nobody sitting on the fence.
Several times in the book of Revelation, we see this happen: God brings a judgement, the people know it is from Him, but they refuse to repent and instead they curse Him (Rev. 6:16, 9:20-21, 16:9, 16:11, 16:21). But this is nothing unique to the Tribulation period – people do this today!
Here’s the thing – God is always right. If anyone is in the wrong, it is us. We can get angry with God for allowing something to happen, or for not giving us what we want. This is what David felt when God struck down Uzzah for irreverently touching the ark of the covenant (2 Sam. 6:8). But his anger was quickly replaced by fear and reverence for God (2 Sam. 6:9). We need to keep a right perspective on things. God can see all things; when we get angry with Him, it’s about as becoming as a toddler throwing a tantrum.
All through the Tribulation, God is giving people chance after chance to repent. And many do – there will be a great harvest of souls during this time (Rev. 7:9, 14). But those who refuse to repent, even go so far as to curse the one who has extended His grace to them. What an affront to God. Let us never be guilty of cursing Him.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The mark of the beast

“He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no one could buy or seel unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name.” Revelation 13:16-17
There has been much speculation over what the mark of the beast might be. Some have suggested that it is credit cards, barcodes, microchips, a supercomputer in Europe. The truth is, we won’t know until it happens. But let’s see what the text really says.
The taking of the mark of the beast – whatever it is – is an act of pledging allegiance to the beast, the coming world leader, who is commonly called the Antichrist. It is interesting to note the position of the mark: in the forehead or in the right hand. Zechariah 11:17 tells us that the Antichrist is wounded in his arm and his right eye; this is most likely a reference to the fatal wound that he survives, and which the world worships him for (Rev. 13:3-4).
One interesting thing to note is that the Greek actually says ‘in the hand’ and ‘in the forehead’, not ‘on’. Thus the mark is not just something on the skin, like a branding or tattoo, but something that is inserted, perhaps like a microchip or RFID tag. (These are being used today in pets to help identify them; we can imagine that it won't be long before they are inserted into children for the same purpose.) But at the same time, there will be a visible mark, so perhaps it is a combination. We are told here that the mark “is the name of the beast or the number of his name” (Rev. 13:17). Then we are told that the number of the beast is 666 (Rev. 13:18). Again, there has been much speculation as to what this means. Perhaps one of the most interesting I have heard is from Walid Shoebat, a former Muslim who came to faith in Christ.
Whatever it is, it is something that replaces cash and credit cards, thus changing the way that people buy and sell. Because of this, many will take it for convenience – perhaps not knowing that this act is one that will condemn their soul. “There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name” (Rev. 14:11).

Monday, September 19, 2011

The woman of Revelation 12

“A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.” Revelation 12:1
There has been much confusion concerning the identity of the woman in Revelation 12. In fact, she is one of two symbolic women who appear in the book of Revelation, the other being Mystery Babylon (Rev. 17). Many have suggested that the woman in Rev. 12 is the church, but this cannot be so. In fact, there is only one entity that she can be, and that is the nation Israel.
The reference to the sun, moon, and stars harks back to Joseph’s dream as a young man. “‘Listen,’ he said, ‘I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.’ When he told his father as well as his brothers, his father rebuked him and said, ‘What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?’” (Gen. 37:9-10). Thus the symbolism of the sun, moon, and twelve stars (eleven plus Joseph) was interpreted for us by Jacob, and there is no need to interpret them as anything different.
There are other clues that this is Israel. “She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron sceptre. And her child was snatched up to God and to His throne” (Rev. 12:5). This child is Jesus, the Messiah, who ascended to God after His resurrection, and who will rule with an iron sceptre (Ps. 2:9, Rev. 19:15-16). The entity that brought Him forth was Israel, not the church.
Understanding this helps us to correctly understand the rest of Rev. 12. In this chapter, we see Satan’s plan through the ages: firstly to attempt to stop Messiah being born at all (Rev. 12:4), and then secondly to persecute the woman, Israel (Rev. 12:13). During the Tribulation, God protects her (Rev. 12:6, Rev. 12:14-16).

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The glory of the temple

“‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty.” Haggai 2:9
Haggai ministered to Israel after the return from the Babylonian captivity. One of the first things the people did when they returned was to start rebuilding the temple. We read in Ezra 3:12 that some of the people were upset about the second temple, because it was so small and basic compared to the glory they remembered of Solomon’s temple. This is what God is referring to in His words through the prophet Haggai. Glorious though Solomon’s temple was, this second temple would be even better.
The glory would not be greater because of what the house looked like physically, but rather, because of what God would do there. The second temple was refurbished by Herod the Great, and it was this same temple that Jesus was brought into as a baby for His circumcision, the same temple where He taught. In other words, this seemingly less glorious temple would be the one that Messiah would enter – something that never happened in the first temple.
There is a lesson here relating to us too. We might not be the most physically or intellectually stunning person. But God can take ordinary people and make them glorious, by His Spirit indwelling them. Paul wrote, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (2 Cor. 4:7). Don’t worry if you come across as a plain clay pot. It’s the treasure inside that makes you valuable.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Learning to do God's will

“Teach me to do Your will, for You are my God; may Your good Spirit lead me on level ground.” Psalm 143:10
Sometimes we think of God’s will as some enormous thing that is too far beyond our reach to even try to grasp. We think of it as some complex, infinite thing that can’t be nailed down – and in some aspects, it is. But in other aspects, the Bible shows us that it is possible for us to learn God’s will and know it.
The key, we are told here, is to be guided by the Holy Spirit. This is His role: to guide us into all truth (John 16:13). God’s will is called good, pleasing, and perfect (Rom. 12:2), and we can know it as our minds are transformed by the Holy Spirit. Doing the will of God then becomes quite easy: if we are following the Spirit in obedience, and have no unrepentant sin in our hearts, then wherever we are is in God’s will.
Another point to note here is this: God’s Spirit is called ‘good’. This reminds me of how Jesus responded to the rich young ruler, who addressed Him as ‘Good teacher’ (Mark 10:17). “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good – except God alone” (Mark 10:18). What Jesus is saying here, is that ‘good’ is only to be used to describe God. The man, addressing Jesus as ‘good’, was either consciously or unconsciously, calling Him God. Likewise, the Holy Spirit is also God, in the Trinity, and by that very nature, He is always good.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Rejoicing through the pain

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour.” Habakkuk 3:17-18
Can you remember a time when nothing was going right for you? (Perhaps that’s what you’re facing right now.) In times like this is easy to wallow in self-pity, get frustrated at the world, feel depressed, and wonder where God is in all of it. That’s when we need to have a solid foundation in the Lord, and be reminded of verses like this one.
When we look at things from God’s perspective, our attitude will change. Think about this: we can rejoice even if God does nothing else for us – He has saved us. In the light of eternity, this life is a blip. Paul wrote, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4:17). His ‘light and momentary troubles’ included being whipped, stoned, imprisoned, beaten, and shipwrecked (2 Cor. 11:23-25).
I’m not meaning to put down bad things that happen in people’s lives. Being afflicted by some horrific injury or disease, losing your job, having your family fall apart, having your house burnt to the ground are not trivial things. Take Horatio Spafford for instance: in a few short years, his 4-year old son died, his business was burned to the ground, his four daughters were drowned in a shipwreck. Yet out of these experiences, Spafford wrote a hymn that will be familiar to most of us:
When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

What God requires

“He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8
As we grow in the Lord, we come to realise that our relationship is not just about Him providing salvation and blessing us, but also provides us with the opportunity to give back to Him. This naturally raises the question, what does God want us to do for Him? God has given us many commands in the Scriptures – and John tells us in his first epistle, “This is love for God: to obey His commands. And His commands are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). But obeying God’s commands is not everything. The rich young ruler who approached Jesus said he had kept all the commands, yet he knew he was still lacking something (Matt. 19:16-20).
Micah tells us here three things that God requires: to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God. Justice and mercy are two of God’s key characteristics. The more we spend time with Him, the more we will become like Him and be able to see things His way. Humility is one of the greatest character traits a Christian can possess (Matt. 18:4, Luke 14:11). How does your walk compare with this today?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

God helps the poor

“I know that the Lord secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy.” Psalm 140:12
Throughout the Bible, we come across verses like this. God especially looks out for the poor and vulnerable – widows, orphans, those who are destitute. In the Law of Moses, the command is given not to show partiality to either poor people or rich people, but to judge fairly (Lev. 19:15). The reason is, God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34, Rom. 2:11, Eph. 6:9). He does not show favouritism. He does not give handouts to the poor simply because they are poor – for example, if they are poor because they are lazy (2 Thess. 3:10). But He objects to rich people taking advantage of the poor (James 5:1-5). God will take care of the poor person who cries out to Him.
We need to remember that Jesus was born to a poor family. They couldn’t afford a lamb for the offering at His circumcision (Luke 2:24, viz. Lev. 12:8). He had nowhere of His own to live (Matt. 8:20). He had to borrow a coin to show a theological lesson (Matt. 22:19). Jesus knows what it is like to have few material possessions. He became poor so that we might become spiritually rich (2 Cor. 8:9). And for one final verse, let’s note James 2:5, “Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom He promised to those who love Him?” I had the opportunity to visit my sponsored child and his family in Africa a few years ago. It was immensely humbling to see what little they had, and yet their faith in God was strong and deep. They really knew what it meant to depend on Him, to pray, ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ – in a way that I don’t.
So we must never look down on poor people; instead we should do what we can to help. Our worth is not based on our wealth. Praise God for that!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Letters to the seven churches: Laodicea

Revelation 3:14-22
The church of Laodicea is the seventh and last one that Jesus writes to. Along with Sardis, is has nothing good said about it. The name ‘Laodicea’ comes from lao, people (‘laity’) and dicea to rule. Thus the church of Laodicea is a church ruled by the people instead of by God. We’ll go on to see how this church had left Jesus outside their door, knocking unnoticed. It’s also interesting to note that the other six churches are addressed as ‘the church at...’ whereas this letter is addressed to ‘the church of the Laodiceans’. They had taken ownership of it, instead of remembering that it is God’s church. Laodicea represents the apostate church of the last days, and many of its characteristics can be seen in churches today.
The title Jesus uses of Himself is “the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation” (Rev. 3:14, c.f. Rev. 1:5). He is the source of all truth, and that truth is absolute, not relative, as many of today’s churches teach. He is the ruler of God’s creation – the arche, or architect. Isn’t it interesting how the church today has tried to marry the idea of evolution into the Genesis account (or even throw out Genesis altogether)!
Then Jesus goes on straightaway to rebuke them. He says He wishes they were cold or hot, but they are lukewarm. If they were cold or hot (in terms of salvation), then at least you know where they stand. But someone who is lukewarm, apathetic, goes along to church on Sundays for their religious fix, can be self-deceived into thinking they are saved when perhaps they are not. Such a person is much more difficult to reach than an unsaved person who knows they are not right with God. This church had fattened itself with material riches, but where spiritually impoverished (Rev. 3:17).
Next comes the exhortation: Repent, and be earnest – be hot, rather than lukewarm. Then we have an invitation from Jesus: “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with Me” (Rev. 3:20). This is wonderful as an altar call, but tragic in its context here: Jesus has been left outside the church, and nobody noticed!
The promise to the overcomer follows: to sit with Jesus on His throne. This refers to us reigning with Christ (Eph. 2:6, 2 Tim. 2:12). Finally comes the ‘He who has an ear’ phrase.

I hope these discussions about the seven churches have been helpful to you!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Letters to the seven churches: Philadelphia

Revelation 3:7-13
The sixth church we come to in Rev. 2-3 is that of Philadelphia. Its name means ‘brotherly love’, and along with the church of Smyrna is one of the two churches which receives no rebuke from Jesus.
The title Jesus uses of Himself is “Him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David; what He opens no-one can shut, and what He shuts no-one can open” (Rev. 3:7). We don’t see this exact description in ch. 1, instead there Jesus says He holds the keys of death and Hades (Rev. 1:18). Keys are things that open doors. We will see this theme repeated throughout this book, beginning with the commendation, that Jesus has placed before them an open door that no-one can shut. This terminology was used earlier by Paul (Acts 14:27, 1 Cor. 16:9, 2 Cor. 2:12, Col. 4:3) to refer to witnessing opportunities. In the historical context, the church of Philadelphia relates to the missionary church.
Jesus goes on to say that they have little strength, but they have kept His word and not denied His name. This reminds me of what Paul wrote: “Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand” (Eph. 6:13). Of ourselves, we don’t have any strength. We need to stand on the word of God, and He will enable us to still be standing when the dust of battle settles.
The exhortation to the church of Philadelphia is to hold on to what they have (Rev. 3:11). It doesn’t sound very hard to do, but Christians today are increasingly letting go of the basic, funadmental truths of the gospel and God’s Word. We don’t need to invent new doctrines; we just need to hold on to what we already have.
This church also has an express promise to be removed prior to the Tribulation: “Since you have kept My command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth” (Rev. 3:10). This is not a promise to preserve them through the Tribulation, but to remove them from the situation altogether.
Finally we have the promise to the overcomer, followed by the ‘He who has an ear’ phrase common to all the letters. The overcomer is promised to be made a pillar in the temple of God, never again to leave it. Jesus will write on them the name of God, the name of God’s city, and His own new name. We write our names on things that belong to us. So too with God. Do you belong to Him? Has He made you an overcomer?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Letters to the seven churches: Sardis

Revelation 3:1-6
The fifth church Jesus addresses is that of Sardis. The description Jesus uses of Himself is “Him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars” (c.f. Rev. 1:16). The ‘seven spirits’, which can also be translated ‘sevenfold Spirit’, is a term used of the Holy Spirit, taken from Isa. 11:2. The number seven symbolises completeness. The seven stars, we are told, are the seven angelos of the seven churches, the messengers or leaders. Jesus holds them all in His hand.
The name Sardis carries the idea of a remnant who escaped. The historical time period this church corresponds to is that of the Reformation, and for those of us who attend Protestant churches, it’s easy to feel like we escaped out of the clutches of Roman Catholicism thanks to Martin Luther. But Jesus has nothing good to say about the church of Sardis. Instead, He rebukes them, saying, “you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead” (Rev. 3:1). The term ‘reputation’, or ‘name’ in some translations, is the Greek onoma, from which we get the word ‘denomination’. How many people do you know who will gladly say they are ‘Lutheran’ or ‘Wesleyan’ or ‘Presbyterian’ etc., but show no evidence of having a living relationship with Jesus Christ?
Next comes the exhortation: Remember, obey, and repent (Rev. 3:3). We need to set aside our labels and get back to basics – reading, studying, and obeying the Word of God.
The promise to the overcomer is twofold: to be dressed in white (symbolic of purity and righteousness), and to never have their name blotted out of the book of life but to have their name confessed before the Father. Again, the word ‘name’ (onoma) is emphasised. The church had a name that they were alive, but were dead; the overcomer’s name will not be blotted out but will be proclaimed. Now, the issue of blotting out concerns many people. If your name is in the Lamb’s book of life – if you have entrusted your life to Him as the Saviour of your soul – it cannot be blotted out. Jesus is simply reminding us of this promise. He is not saying there is a risk it could be blotted out if we do not overcome.
Finally we have the ‘he who has an ear’ phrase at the end, as for Thyatira. The church of Sardis, the denominational church, will continue to the end. Did you see the reference to Jesus’ return? “But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you” (Rev. 3:3), reminiscent of Matt. 24:43-44, Luke 12:39-40, 1 Thess. 5:2, 2 Pet. 3:10.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Letters to the seven churches: Thyatira

Revelation 2:18-29
Thyatira is the fourth church of the seven that Jesus writes to in Rev. 2-3. Thyatira means ‘daughter’, and it’s interesting to note that the biggest problem in this church was a woman (whom Jesus calls Jezebel). The title Jesus uses of Himself, the Son of God, contrasts this. He also uses the description, ‘whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze’ (Rev. 2:18, c.f. Rev. 1:14-15). Both fire and bronze are symbols of judgement. Jesus has eyes like fire: He is angry at this church. But there is still a commendation for them: for their deeds, their love, their faith, their service, their perseverance, and how all of these are increasing (Rev. 2:19).
However, the rebuke is significantly longer in terms of the number of verses it occupies. They tolerated a woman, whom Jesus calls Jezebel (although it’s highly likely that wasn’t actually her name), who had risen to a position of leadership within the church and was leading people astray with false doctrine. In the Old Testament, Jezebel was the wife of king Ahab, and it’s clear that she was the one in control in their relationship. She was the one who called for the death of Elijah and the other prophets of the Lord. She caused Israel to fall into the sin of idolatry, and the same thing was going in on this church. Jesus says her time is up and He will soon judge her and all who have joined her. The exhortation is given to those who have not held to her teaching: to hold on to what they have until He comes. Next, we have the promise to the overcomer: to be given authority to rule over the nations with Jesus, and to be given the morning star (another title of Jesus, Rev. 22:16, also see 2 Pet. 1:19). Finally is the phrase, ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ Did you notice that? The order of these two elements is reversed from the first three letters. The last four are different to the first three in this regard; also in the last four there is a specific reference to Jesus’ return (Rev. 2:25). This has led some to surmise that the last four churches, when viewed in an historical sense, continue right up to the return of Christ.
In the historical, prophetic sense, the church of Thyatira represents the Roman Catholic church that arose during the Dark Ages. The emphasis on the female figure of Mary, praying to the saints (which is a form of idolatry), and so on, are alluded to in this letter. It’s easy for Protestants to look down on Catholics because of this. But Jesus says that they do have a few things in their favour – unlike the church of Sardis, which represents the Reformation, and which we will come to tomorrow.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Letters to the seven churches: Pergamum

Revelation 2:12-17
The third church written to in Rev. 2-3 is that of Pergamum. The name ‘Pergamum’ comes from two Greek words, ‘per’ meaning ‘mixed’ (as we have in the word ‘perverted’) and ‘gamos’ meaning ‘marriage’. Thus the church of Pergamum represents the historical time period when the church married the world, the time of Constantine and his successors. As with the other letters, first we have the description Jesus gives of Himself: “Him who has the sharp, double-edged sword” (Rev. 2:12). In ch. 1 we are told that the sharp double-edged sword comes out of His mouth (Rev. 1:16). We know from other Scriptures that the double-edged sword is a symbol of the Word of God (Heb. 4:12). This church had strayed from the Word, and Jesus is going to remind them of it.
Next we have the commendation: They had remained true to His name, although they lived in the place where Satan has his throne. They did not renounce their faith in Him, even when the leader of their church was martyred.
But then comes the rebuke: they had picked up false teaching along the way. One of these was the ‘teaching of Balaam’, and the other the ‘teaching of the Nicolaitans’. We studied Balaam not long ago; the teaching of Balaam referred to here is how he taught Balak (king of the Moabites) to entice the Israelites into sin through sexual immorality. There were people in the church of Pergamum, just as there are today, who will tell you that sex is okay and we shouldn’t be so legalistic about it being only for two people who are married to each other. This is a dangerous road to head down, because the Word of God tells us quite clearly what God’s plan for sex is. The Nicolaitans, it is thought, were a group of people who desired to set up a hierarchy in the church (the word ‘Nicolaitan’ comes from two Greek words, ‘niko’ = to rule, ‘laitan’ = laiety, the common people). This is exactly what Jesus came to abolish, so that there would be no ‘middle-man’ between people and Himself. Then we have the exhortation: Repent!
Following the phrase ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches’ is the promise to the overcomer: to be given some of the hidden manna, and a white stone with a new name written on it. Jesus is the manna, the bread that came down from heaven (John 6:48-51). If we are overcomers, we will spend eternity with Him, discovering all the things about Him that have been hidden from us so far. There are many thoughts on what the white stone is. One is that it is a symbol of acquittal. When a judge pronounced someone ‘not guilty’, they would be handed a white stone. In Christ our sins are forgiven and God pronounces us ‘not guilty’.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Letters to the seven churches: Smyrna

Revelation 2:8-11
The second church Jesus instructs John to write to is Smyrna. The name comes from the word ‘myrrh’ and reminds us of how myrrh is crushed to bring out its fragrance. The church at Smyrna was suffering through great persecution. Jesus describes Himself as “Him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again” (see Rev. 1:17-18). The theme of death is all through this letter. Jesus identifies with their suffering, and reminds them of the hope of resurrection.
Jesus commends this church, saying He knows what they are enduring: their suffering, their poverty, the way they were being mistreated “by those who say they are Jews and are not” (Rev. 2:9). They may have been physically destitute, but they were spiritually rich. There is no rebuke given to this church. Instead, He goes straight on to give them the exhortation: Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer; Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life. This might not sound like much of an encouragement to us, but to those who are enduring persecution, the reminder that we have a much better life to come is refreshing indeed.
Again the phrase ‘He who has an ear’ etc. comes before the promise to the overcomer. To the church at Smyrna, this is to not be hurt at all by the second death. We read about the second death in Rev. 20:12-15. The first death is the separation of the soul from the physical body. But the second death is the separation of a person’s spirit from God. Believers will never endure the second death; we will always be in the presence of God. This is a beautiful promise, and it’s one we can all cling to.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Letters to the seven churches: Ephesus

Revelation 2:1-7
The first church Jesus addresses of the seven is Ephesus. The name Ephesus means ‘darling’, and the description Jesus uses of Himself is “Him who holds the seven stars in His right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands” (see Rev. 1:13, 15). We are told in Rev. 1:20 that the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches (The Greek word angelos simply means messenger; this may refer to heavenly angels or even the leader of the church), and the seven lampstands are the seven churches. Jesus is in the midst of the churches. He holds their leaders in His hand. Both of these aspects highlight the intimacy that Jesus has with His church.
Next, He commends them: for their works and perseverance, how they had tested false apostles and not grown weary. This reminds us of how Paul instructed the Ephesian elders to watch out for false apostles coming into, or arising from within the fellowship (Acts 20:28-31). It would seem that they heeded his advice. But they did this at the expense of something else, for which Jesus rebukes them: they had left their first love. The Greek word for ‘first’ is protos, which is not necessarily the first in order of time (i.e. as many think, the love you had for Christ when you first believed), but first in order of importance. As Christians our first love in life should always be to love God. The Ephesians had left this. They hadn’t ‘lost’ it, but they had moved away from it; perhaps in their zeal to root out the false teachers in their midst.
The exhortation is threefold: to remember, repent, and return (Rev. 2:5). Firstly they were to remember what things were like in the past. They were to repent of their current situation – to turn around. They were to return to doing the things they did at first (again, protos) – to get back to basics of loving God and loving people. Then we have the phrase ‘He who has an ear’ etc. It comes before the promise to the overcomer, which is to be given the right to eat from the tree of life in the paradise of God. This was something that God had taken away from Adam after he fell (Gen. 3:22-24). But for those who overcome – for those who are in Christ (1 John 5:5) – they will be given the right to eat from the tree of life, and live forever.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Letters to the seven churches

“Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.” Revelation 1:11
Revelation 2-3 contains seven letters, written by Jesus, to seven churches. Only two of these are mentioned in the Bible: Ephesus (to which Paul wrote the letter of Ephesians), and Laodicea (Col. 4:15-16). Lydia was said to come from Thyatira (Acts 16:14) but the church there is not mentioned. There has been much speculation on why these particular churches were chosen. The number seven symbolises completeness, so the selection of seven churches shows that what Jesus writes to them counters all the issues that arise in any church. There are four levels of meaning with these letters. Firstly, these were literal churches at the time, with the issues that are described. Secondly, the letters are written ‘to the churches’ – any church can be described as a combination of the attributes presented here. Thirdly, they are written to individual believers (‘he who has an ear’). Fourthly, some also suggest that in the order the letters are presented, the seven letters give an outline of church history: beginning with the apostolic church (Ephesus), the persecuted church (Smyrna), the church becoming accepted and embraced by the world (Pergamum), the medieval church (Thyatira, which endures to the present day in Roman Catholicism), the reformed church (Sardis), the missionary church (Philadelphia), and the last days apathetic church (Laodicea).
Each of the letters follows a similar structure, which can be separated into seven parts.
1. The name of the church (“To the angle of the church in ... write”). The names have relevance to the issues that Jesus addresses in His letter to them.
2. The title that Jesus gives of Himself. These can all be found in chapter 1, and again, are relevant to the issues addressed.
3. Commendation – the things the church is doing well. Note that for two of the churches, there is no commendation.
4. Rebuke – the things the church is not doing well. Note that for two of the churches, there is no rebuke.
5. Exhortation – what Jesus encourages them to do.
6. The phrase, ‘he who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches’. The position of this phrase changes from Pergamum, the third letter, to Thyatira, the fourth letter.
7. A promise ‘to him who overcomes’.
In the following days, we’ll take each letter and discuss each of these seven things.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The outline of the book of Revelation

“Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now, and what will take place later.” Revelation 1:19
Revelation is a book that many Christians stay away from. That’s a shame, because there is a special blessing promised to the reader (Rev. 1:3). But the truth is, the book of Revelation is not that hard to understand, provided you have a reasonable grasp of the symbolism of the Old Testament.
Here, in Rev. 1:19, John is given the outline for the book. He is told to write it in three sections: The things that he had seen, the things that are, and the things that will be ‘after these things.’
The things that he had seen, up to this point, was the vision of Jesus, given in chapter 1. Thus chapter 1 is the first section.
The ‘things that are’, refers to things in the present time. This corresponds to the church age, and thus the second section of the book is the seven letters to the seven churches, which we will go into in more depth in the next few days.
Finally, the things that will be ‘after these things’, are the things that happen after the church age. The phrase ‘after these things’ is the Greek meta tauta - a phrase that we next come across, twice, in Rev. 4:1. This, the third section, comprises the rest of the book and concerns the events of the Tribulation period (or the ‘seventieth week of Daniel’), the Millennium, and eternity after all things are made new.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

When the wicked prosper

“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?” Habakkuk 1:13
This verse – which sums up Habakkuk’s complaint to God – is one that also describes a common complaint today: why does God allow the wicked to prosper. We’ve probably all asked this question at some stage in our lives – if not out loud, we’ve at least thought it as we see ungodly people winning the lottery, being promoted ahead of us, and generally doing well in life.
God’s answer to us today is the same answer He gave to Habakkuk: it’s not over yet. God will ensure that at the end of the day, when the dust settles, every person will have been dealt with in complete justice and fairness. The righteous will be rewarded; the wicked will be punished. It may seem that the wicked are allowed to prosper now, but ultimately they will not.
Here’s a thought: sometimes God blesses people so that they might acknowledge Him and turn to Him. We read in Matt. 5:45 that “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” So next time you see someone receive a blessing, who doesn’t believe in God, look at it as God showing His patience. “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).

Saturday, September 3, 2011

When God rebukes us

“Should it be said, O house of Jacob: ‘Is the Spirit of the Lord angry? Does He do such things?’
“‘Do not My words do good to him whose ways are upright?’” Micah 2:7

Micah had been prophesying about how God would send the nation into exile (Mic. 2:3). But the people told him that God wouldn’t do that to them; He would not send disaster (Mic. 2:6). They had a false confidence in their own self-worth, thinking because they were God’s chosen people, that He would not allow bad things to happen to them. Some Christians can develop the same attitude: that if God loves us so much, why does He allow bad things to happen to us?
But the truth is that God will discipline us, if we need it. He does so because He cares for us, as we read in Heb. 12:7-11. “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons... God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness.”
So we should listen to God’s words, even when (and perhaps especially when) He rebukes us. If we would learn our lessons early on, before sin really takes root in our lives and becomes a real problem, life would be so much easier. It’s up to us. God’s words always have the aim of producing good things in our lives. If He does rebuke us, it is only because He cares – that’s why we should listen!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Witnessing methods

“Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear – hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.” Jude 1:22-23
There are all sorts of resources available to Christians today to help guide them in witnessing to unsaved people. Unfortunately, most of these assume that ‘one size fits all’. But here Jude gives us three methods: to one person show mercy (those who doubt, i.e. they would like to believe but have some nagging questions they would like answered before they commit); to others, snatching them from the fire – telling them about the realities of hell and what they have to do so they don’t go there; to others showing ‘mercy mixed with fear’, that is, the fear of God that prevents you from wallowing in the sinful nature.
This highlights the need for us to be discerning when witnessing to unsaved people. Have they been convicted by the Holy Spirit of their need for a Saviour, but have been putting it off? These people don’t need to be threatened with hell; they need to be shown mercy and gentleness – they are close to salvation and we shouldn’t turn them away by portraying God as only a God of wrath and judgement. On the other hand, someone who says they don’t care how much sin they are into, needs to be shown the consequences of their lifestyle. They need to be confronted with the reality of hell.
Jesus didn’t use a ‘one size fits all’ approach when it came to dealing with people. To the woman at the well, who had had five husbands and was living with another man, He showed mercy (John 4). But to the Pharisees, He confronted their self-righteous attitudes head-on. So when you are wanting to witness to someone, ask the Holy Spirit firstly to do the convicting (because without this, they cannot be drawn to God, John 6:44), and ask Him secondly to show you how He wants you to talk to them.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Keep loving God

“Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.” Jude 1:21
This is a verse that many people misunderstand. They think it implies that we can do things that will make God stop loving us – that God’s love only extends so far, and we have a resonsibility to ensure that we stay within the boundaries of it. An analogy might be that God’s love is like a spotlight, and we have to stay in the spot and not stray outside it. But if that’s the case, then it flies in the face of many other Scriptures: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:8-39).
God never stops loving us. But we can fall into a situation where we stop loving God. The Bible tells us that this would be an attribute of the world in the last days (Matt. 24:12, 2 Tim. 3:1-3, Rev. 2:4). How do we stop loving God? As the saying goes, it doesn’t happen overnight. But it starts when we neglect to spend time with Him – time spent in prayer, in reading His Word, in fellowshipping with His people. As time goes on, we lose touch with Him. But it doesn’t have to happen. The Bible tells us to watch and wait for the Lord’s return. We are getting close. Now is the time to make sure we are in a place where our love for God is strong.