I love the way that John starts his account of the Gospel with the same words which launch the Bible in the book of Genesis … “In the beginning”: Indeed the apostle sees in the coming of Jesus that not only is this a “new beginning” for creation but that the incarnation of Jesus was intended from the very beginning.
God, who knows all things, created us in His image and gave us the freedom to love Him, or not. He knew that this freedom would create a challenge and that we would fail to really embrace the fullness of His intentions for us – We would want to make other choices which seemed preferable to us, as in Adam and Eve’s choice to eat the forbidden fruit.
God knew that this would create a strain in our relationship with Him; just as a disobedient child or a wayward spouse creates strains in a relationship. But God was not satisfied with an extended separation, so He, who is beyond time itself, entered into His creation to resolve the differences. He “bent over backwards” so to speak, in order to restore our relationship with Him – He allowed us to kill Him, and still He loved us. In the resurrection appearances, Jesus showed again and again, that His desire is nothing less than that we should be “saved into eternity”. What does that mean? Simply put, it means that when we accept this “new beginning” which Jesus heralds and creates, then we enter into a restored relationship with God.
This restored relationship has implications for our life now – we can literally “walk with God” now as did Adam in the Garden of Eden. It also has implications for our life beyond which continues when our mortal bodies fail.
When we admit to our own failures in the broken relationship between God and ourselves, and accept that Jesus’ reconciling work on the Cross has shown God’s continued love for us and His forgiveness of our failures, we enter into a new and eternal relationship with God. He is with us always – “I will never leave you, nor forsake you.”
That God became flesh (appeared as a human being, was incarnated) is the most profound mystery of all time. It is beyond our understanding and yet it is the claim of Jesus, and of the Bible. It propels us into the realm of the unbelievable, and yet … look around you, the evidence of the impact of Christ is everywhere: in our symbols, in our morals, in our living and in our aspirations. In a history which has been marked by several civilisations, wars, peace and giant strides in technology and human understanding, this humble Nazarene (or rather, incredible loving God) has stood out as offering the only real meaning and purpose to life itself. He offers us resurrection, new life, a new beginning – grasp it with everything you have got, there is nothing sweeter or more precious.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … in Him was Life, and that Life was the Life of all people … and the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us … we have seen His glory, the glory of the One and only Son. Hallelujah!
Last Sunday evening, as part of our Living Life Dangerously focus (living in the fullness of trust in God) we looked at Suffering. I defined suffering as living in a condition where it seems that God is absent. It might be pain, illness, grief or any other unhappy life circumstance; and in that situation we find ourselves without comfort.
Of course God is right there with us, but we don’t seem to be receiving any help or comfort from Him. So we suffer. This is not an uncommon experience in the world today and the Bible has many stories of such situations. So how do we understand it? Why does God seem to leave us in this uncomfortable situation? Why does He not seem to answer our prayers?
We must, of course, immediately turn to the situation of Job. Job lost his wife, children, possessions and even his health; there seemed no reason for it and his cry for help went apparently unheard. His friends blame sin, disobedience, lack of faith etc but Job denies all that, and he is right! However when we read Job’s story, we know something that Job and his friends do not know. God has a high regard and deep love for Job. Satan says that Job’s reciprocating love is only because God has supplied the man with many blessings. So God allows Satan to take away the blessings to prove to the evil one that Job’s faith is indeed genuine. In our consumer society, it is also easy to claim our blessedness by measuring the extent and wealth of our possessions – but the truth is that our blessedness come from God’s love for us. Job’s story is not about punishment, or even about testing faith; no, it is about proving faith. Job’s faith was genuine; his suffering was because it seemed that the God in whom he had put his trust was ignoring him. But God was not doing that at all, indeed, God’s heart must have ached with Job’s suffering but He could not intervene. Job’s faith had to be proved genuine to the evil one without any assistance from God. And it was!
Similarly, when Jesus was on the Cross, He cried out to the Father, “Why have You forsaken me?” The Father could not intervene, or it would have lessened our salvation – His love for us is great, and our redemption had to be paid in full through the death of Christ.
Sometimes our cry also is “God, why have You forsaken me?” but God has not forsaken us, and He never will. We don’t always have the whole picture though. Job suffered because of Satan’s accusation against God, Jesus suffered because God loves us so much. Our own suffering (the apparent absence of God) might have very wide implications – we don’t know. But we do know that God always works for the good of those who love Him. We do know that it is not God’s desire that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. We do know that God is love and that He loves us. Our response must be to continue in our faith, to trust and love God despite our circumstances and to always hope in Him. We need a childlike faith where we know the Father’s love and are sure always that His intentions are for the good.
Afterwards I offered to pray confidentially with anyone who felt themselves in a “suffering” situation. A few people came forward, and in one case, I felt convicted to tell the person that God would intervene before the week was over. I never do that; I trust God with all my heart but am quite often uncertain about my thoughts and feelings. But I had said that we must pray with childlike faith, and I did, and I had this thought prompt – so I said it.
Praise God that I received a call on Thursday that the prayer had been answered! God is good; all the time! He is worthy of praise and you can trust Him fully, without a doubt.
Why do we pray?
Mostly, it seems, because we need some help from God for something which
we can’t do ourselves. But this is only a part of praying. Prayer is really
about a relationship with God.
When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them about prayer, He started with
the words, “Our Father …” There is a relationship in those words, that
between a child and father. In the early part of our lives we are dependent on
our fathers for provision. As we get older, so we seek the guidance of our
fathers. We respect our fathers and we tend to build a unique kind of
relationship with them. I found in my life that as I got older and my dad got
much older, he became more than both of those relationships … he became
my friend and we developed a very special sense of love between us. In a
way, it was because he began to respect what I was doing with my life and
because he was proud of the part he had played in making me what I was
becoming. And I became newly appreciative of the role he had played in my
This, in a sense, also exemplifies the development of our own prayer life and
relationship with God. We start off dependent, then we seek guidance and
finally we have this relationship where we are so appreciative of each other
that we like nothing more than simply being in each others presence. Words
are no longer necessary.
This has also been my experience in the 24-7 Prayer Room. Even though I
had been devoted to prayer before my times in the Prayer Room, I found
that I experienced an exponential development of my relationship with God
in the hours I spent alone with Him. For 25 years I had been dependent on
God and was slowly drifting into that part of dependency where I sought not
things from Him, but His guidance as well. Then bang! It was on the 3rd night
of the first Prayer Room – I had done all my asking, sought all His guidance
and I had nothing more to say. It was 2am, I was alone at the church … then
I realised that I was not alone. I sat there with my Father for another two
hours, and we didn’t say a word to each other. It was a turning point in my
And yet, it has a great deal of significance for understanding God and the way we live our lives. After the establishment of the Kingdom under David, peace came upon the land but it was heading for spiritual disaster. The decline began with David’s adultery with Bathsheba and the shrewdly planned murder of her husband by the King, in an attempt to cover over his sin. God thus did not allow David to build the Temple, instead that privilege was passed to his son.
Solomon began as a wise man, seeking from God the gift of wisdom to rule well, but he ended up in the dumps. Someone once said that you can contrast the two parts of Solomon’s life by reading Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. The one is full of hope and wisdom, the other sees no meaning in life. At the end of Ecclesiastes Solomon makes the confession and appeal that we “should remember your Creator in the days of your youth”, that we should fear God and keep His commandments. He did come to his senses in the end.
After his death, Solomon’s magnificent kingdom was divided into two parts, the Northern Kingdom (Israel) and the Southern Kingdom (Judah). The division was caused by rivalry between military commanders and ultimately by the failure to acknowledge God. Look around the world today, do you see anything different?
In the South they still worshipped at the Temple but in a perfunctory kind of way. In the North they raised up two golden calfs (seem to think this happened before …) and ultimately the kingdom sank into the vile evil encouraged by King Ahab and his wife, Jezebel
But the fall of Israel did cause God to raise up the prophets – Elijah and Elisha in the North and Isaiah, Jeremiah and others in the South. Their prophetic voice was not fortune telling (Biblical prophecy is seldom looking into the future!), rather it was full of challenges to a nation and to leaders who had lost sight of God. The church needs to be a prophetic voice today. It needs to stand up to injustice, it needs to boldly proclaim the Word of God and it must continually offer to people the new life which comes through faith in Jesus Christ. It was the lone voices of Elijah, of Isaiah and Jeremiah, Micah and Haggai and others that kept the truth alive. God is deeply concerned about this world which He has created, His love is so much that He sent His Son to die so that we might live a resurrection life.
He raised up the prophets in those times and He has the church today. The church is not simply a social gathering with singing and teaching – it is an army of Godly people whose passion is not only to live their own lives well and in fear of God, but also having a longing and desire for others to be able to do so as well. Do you think about that? Are you concerned about the direction that this world is taking? You might not be able to change the world, but you can certainly change that little bit of the world in which you live. Fear God, keep His standards, love His people right where you are, and you will be a prophetic voice which will gain as much recognition from God as the likes of Elijah, and Moses and Amos (who, incidentally, was a farmer and a reluctant prophet).
The difference between the eternal success and failure of your life will ultimately depend on the decision which you make about this.
Although I have read through the Bible several times in my life, taught a Bible Survey course for several years at a Bible College and preached more than 2000 sermons based on the Scriptures, I am finding a new delight and challenge in the E100 Challenge. Apart from the discipline of setting aside the time, I am being really challenged by the broad sweep of the readings. We are not reading everything, just the one hundred most essential stories, but we are devouring huge chunks of the Bible Story each week and, for me, the challenge is putting it together into a 20 minute message for each Sunday.
This week our focus is on Judges but it covers the time from Joshua taking up the leadership of the people after the death of Moses right up to the story of Ruth who was, of course, the Moabite ancestor of King David. This is a period of about 400 years from 1400BC to 1000BC.
As I tried to summarise in my mind what the main feature of this time was about, it suddenly struck me that it was about God’s faithfulness. Of course, the whole Bible is about God’s faithfulness to His word and intention for creation and His people, but this section is supremely about that. We marvel at the story of Joshua and the miraculous taking of Jericho, we skip quickly through the courageous stories of Deborah, Gideon and Samson; we are touched by the story of Ruth and her discovery of true love.
But underneath it all is God unfolding His plan. Remember back to the beginning … God made everything just right, including giving freewill to those made in His image. God wanted a people to love and who would enter into a relationship with Him. Freewill was a necessity, for love must be freely given or it is not love. But Adam rebelled and became separated from God. God instituted the plan of reconciliation that included a flood, a scattering of the people after the Tower of Babel and the choosing of a family (in Abraham) to carry His name. There was a promise but also more rebellion, then exile in Egypt and finally a guided tour through the desert to the Land of Promise. People struggled with God, they rebelled (no water, no bread, no meat etc), they doubted (this is a land of giants!), they created idols … but all the while God was there patiently unfolding His plan, adjusting and tweaking continuously because of the rebellion of the people. He never gave up on them; He never gives up on us! God is ever faithful to His covenant. We read in 2 Peter 3:9 – “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” Further in 2 Timothy 2:11-13, the Scripture says, “Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us; if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.”
Be encouraged! God IS faithful and He will restore grace and mercy.
Hallelujah, for the Lord, the Almighty reigns.
Today we are going to examine the account of Jacob, and particularly focus on his wrestling with God. It was not only that night at Pniel as he was on his way back to the Promised Land: Jacob struggled a lot with God. Or perhaps I should say he struggled a lot with his own character, personality, desires and other worldly pressures before he finally rested in God. This is probably true for most of us in our journey of faith; certainly it is for me. My own character is such that I tend to be fiercely independent; I seldom ask for or admit that I need help; and I think that I can do everything better than anyone else. I know that the consequence of this is that I struggle; I find myself under too much pressure and eventually I am forced into a corner. At that point I have to accept God’s admonition and grace, usually through some other person.
Jacob wanted both the blessing and the birthright from his father, even though he was the second son and therefore not entitled. He riled his brother, Esau and had to run away. He met up with his uncle Laban; they were obviously from the same gene pool for they were caught up in a battle of wits as they struggled against each other with much deception and trickery. Finally Jacob had to run away from his uncle as well. Caught between the proverbial rock and hard place, Jacob wrestled with God. Indeed, his struggle had always been with God and God’s call upon his life. But now instead of running away, he hangs on – “I will not let you go until you bless me” he says to God. And God blesses him. In his brokenness before God he becomes honest about himself and his need for God. And God changes Jacob’s name to Israel: from “the one who deceives” to “the one who struggles with God”, and God changes His own name to “The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”. Notice that the Lord continues to use Jacob’s old name …. He is the God of self-seeking sinners but His desire is to bless them with grace into a new life and being.
I praise God for that, for I still fail often, and remain a self-seeking sinner, but in Christ He has given me grace to overcome. His promise is ever before me and it is mine every time I lean on Him. His grace is sufficient for all my failures in this world and when my time on this earth is over I will have His grace in all its fullness.
Blessed be His name forever and ever. Amen.