Where is God?

by Gavin  

Where is God?

 

Another event-filled week in South Africa passes.  Violent N3 protests in KZN, sentencing and appeal in a racism case, petrol-bombing of a mining bus with tragic deaths, the demise of an admired liberation figure and a life lauded, a high profile court case on fraud and corruption with the prospect of a postponement and more appeals… God is thrown into the conversational mix by many, and we’ve seen church leaders appeal to Him for their particular flavour of preferred human justice. 

 

So where is God, and His justice in all these events?  How should we regard the workings of God when, as Job legitimately asked, “Why do the wicked live, reach old age, and grow mighty in power?” (Job 21:7, ESV).  How do we answer such a probing question, fuelled by the real events that one sees around us where justice is often seen to not prevail?

 

The Christian’s confidence lies in the long-term view!

 

Fret not yourself because of evildoers, and be not envious of the wicked, for the evil man has no future; the lamp of the wicked will be put out.” (Proverbs 24:19–20, ESV)

 

As Dr D.A. Carson writes on this text:

 

“The believer must take the long view. If we judge everything by who wins and who loses in the short span of our own lives, we will often be frustrated. But  God the Judge has the last word.”

 

So look long!  There will be a full and final reckoning before the judgement seat of the One who is infinitely just.

 

A PSALM OF ASAPH. Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind. Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment. Their eyes swell out through fatness; their hearts overflow with follies. They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression. They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue struts through the earth. Therefore his people turn back to them, and find no fault in them. And they say, “How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?” Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches. All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning. If I had said, “I will speak thus,” I would have betrayed the generation of your children. But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end. Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin. How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors! Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms. When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you. Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.” (Psalm 73, ESV)

 

Curse of the crown

by Gavin  

Curse of the crown

 

There are rich ironies embedded in the build-up to the cross.

 

Mark as he writes shows us the mocking of Jesus Christ all over the place!  Pilate, Chief Priests, Herod, Herod’s soldiers, Romans soldiers, and the people passing by at Golgotha where Jesus was crucified all revile Him. The whole spectrum of society mocked him as king… from the lowest to the highest, from the most powerful to the least, from the pagan foreign rulers to the ultra-religious Jews.

 

But you know the irony in all this?  What is the irony in the mocking and taunting and laughing at Jesus when they pour scorn on Him as King?  What have they missed as they laugh and joke??

 

Do not miss this… this is the crucial part of this whole story. Jesus was the King.  He is the King.  He will forever be the King. They mock Jesus as King but fail to see the majesty of Jesus as real King!

 

Part of that multi-phasic taunting was the mocking of Jesus as king by the Roman soldiers…

 

And the soldiers led him away inside the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters), and they called together the whole battalion. And they clothed him in a purple cloak, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on him.” (Mark 15:16–17, ESV)

 

The military force was overkill here.  The whole battalion – the local cohort – would have been 600 men, and it is they who gather here.  Pretty much all the off-duty soldiers gathered together to have some fun with this Jewish prisoner, who was known to be the supposed King of the Jews.

Their strategy was simple – if He was supposed to be king, then they’d treat Him as a king.  So they find a purple cloak – a symbol of royalty – and they put it on Jesus.  Then they find thorns, twist those twigs into a rough circle, and create a crown, and force it down on the head of Jesus.

 

And they began to salute him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they were striking his head with a reed and spitting on him and kneeling down in homage to him.” (Mark 15:18–19, ESV)

 

The whole thing is an act, a show, a time of sport for them, some fun Friday morning entertainment.

They get their few minutes of fun, at Jesus’ expense, by pretending He was a king, and pretending to honour Him and revere Him.

 

And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him.” (Mark 15:20, ESV)

 

They had no clue. For these pagan soldiers it was just a game, but their sadistic actions actually pointed to Christ as the sin-bearer, as the atoning sacrifice, the One through whom sin would be defeated.  The missed the true majesty of Christ even in their fake homage.  That mocking carried on right through to the cross.

 

But now, think about this… the crown of thorns was done primarily as an act of fake homage to the real King whom they did not see or acknowledge as King.  But is there a deeper level of significance here?  Track with me…

 

What was one of the signs of the Fall? 

 

And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.” (Genesis 3:17–18, ESV)

 

Thorns!  Thorns entered a good world because of sin.  Thorns and thistles are a marker of a sin-affected, sin-corrupted world that is longing for the final redemption.  In Eden, before Adam and Eve sinned, there were no thorns.  In the New Heaven and New Earth, with the effects of the Fall reversed, there will be no thorns.

 

So, we see Jesus Christ wearing a mock crown, designed to humiliate Him, but made out of plant material that was a result of, and in fact a sign of, mankind’s sin.  We see the Son of God going to the cross to deal with man’s sin wearing a crown made of one of the very signs that points to that sin.  Christ headed for the cross to defeat sin and overcome sin and atone for sin while wearing a deeply painful reminder of that sin.  Without even knowing the depths of what they were doing, these Roman soldiers thrust a sign of God’s curse on humanity onto the head of the Saviour who was about to suffer and die to redeem humanity.    In a very real and graphic way, the Sacrificial Lamb bore the sign of the curse even as He was led to be crucified on the cross,

 

The ironies are rich!

 

How does that enrich our reading of Galatians 3:13 as we approach Easter this year?

 

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—” (Galatians 3:13, ESV)

 

 

What's with the water jar?

by Gavin  

What's with the water jar?

 

It’s great to have good Bereans (Acts 17:11) in our services, who listen attentively to the sermons, and are willing to engage meaningfully on the content!  And even be prepared to challenge!

 

OK, so yesterday I preached Mark 14:12-21.  This a staggering and mind-blowing account of how a holy, righteous God uses human sinfulness to achieve His own good and wise purposes.  We learned that through two facets of this story: 1) Jesus’ total control over all the events, and 2) Judas’ total culpability for all the events

 

Those 2 facets of this account show us how a holy, righteous God uses human sinfulness to achieve His own good and wise purposes… a lesson that we need to heed today!

 

As we unpacked this, we saw that Jesus sent 2 disciples into the city.  We know from Luke 22 that these men are Peter and John… part of the inner circle.  Jesus says that they were to go into the city, into the frenzy, amidst hundreds of thousands of people, crushing crowds, animals, carts, dust, noise… Everyone was thinking Passover:  preparation, final arrangements, final shopping, and lambs to the slaughter…

 

And Jesus says that in the middle of that circus, a man with a water jar will meet them.

 

This is a taste of Cape Town in the next few weeks and months, but also what millions do across the globe each day – fetching and carrying water to their homes.

 

Get this – that was unusual, because typically the women did the water duties.  So, if that was the case it would have been pretty easy to identify the man with the water jar.  The point was well made to me after the service yesterday, and I concede that fully.

 

BUT male slaves were used to carry water as well, and with the Roman occupation there must have been lots of slaves conveying water to the barracks etc.

 

So then, what are the chances?  Even if they found a guy with a water jar, what are the chances it was the right guy, going to the right place? There was no communication, no set meeting point, no SMS, no pin drops on WhatsApp… they just had to go, and meet a random man with a water jar.

 

So, if it was unusual for men to carry the water, and that is Mark’s point, then we accept that in the providence of God, the paths of that man crossed with Peter and John at the place and time.  If there were many men carrying waters jars in the city, and they just happened to stumble across the right  man at the right place and right time, the same point holds true – it was all providentially arranged, and God’s plan and timetable to get His Son to be arrested, tried, tortured and crucified still worked out perfectly.

Help in Heaven!

by Gavin  

Help in Heaven!

 

We all know about “Help” buttons… if there is a problem in using a programme, click on the “Help” icon for information.  Help lines and call centers are everywhere and for everything – anything from severe life trauma, medical aid queries, insurance claims through to how to correctly wire your electronics to get them to work – help lines exist to render aid.

 

Why?  Because we need help, don’t we? As people things are often beyond us, and the expertise and intervention of others is necessary. People with more power, more skill, more insight, more money, and more ability are needed to guide, coach, assist, rectify and troubleshoot for us.  You’re probably done it many times this week already… calling someone to help with carrying the groceries, calling someone for help with dates you don’t know, calling a plumber for help with a burst water pipe, asking a sports coach to assist with improving at tennis or golf or bowls!

 

How much more spiritually? We live in a fallen world, as fallen, fallible, sinful people.  Our lives are in God’s hands.  Everything we have is from him…

 

Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all.” (1 Chronicles 29:11–12, ESV)

 

We have a total dependence on God in every way – for life, health, provision, protection, salvation, daily grace, wisdom etc.

 

To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens! Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maidservant to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, till he has mercy upon us.” (Psalm 123:1–2, ESV)

 

This is a picture of total dependency, total need!  God alone can help us as needy people.

 

Now, what has that got to do with Ascension Day and us gathering tonight to consider the fact that Jesus is back in heaven?  This whole “Help” thing sounds a little left-field, a little removed from the issue of Jesus going back to heaven, right?

 

Well, today is Ascension Day in the life of the church.  But what does it mean?  Is it important?  We kind of know about Christmas and Easter, but Ascension Day?  We can talk a little about the importance of Jesus’ birth and life and death and resurrection, but his ascension?  Hmmm… that often where the wheels fall off, don’t they?

 

Well, there are a number of key reasons why it is important:

  • Establishes Jesus as ultimate ruler over all things (King of Kings, Lord of Lord)
  • Makes possible all the promises about the coming of the Holy Spirit as the “another Advocate, Helper or Counselor”, just like Jesus.
  • Keeps us longing for His return as judge – He’s gone, but He is coming back!

 

But I want to consider just one key reason in this reflection.  “HELP!”  The matter of divine help for believers in Christ Jesus!  Help for Christians, help for needy, sinful and vulnerable Christians is just one of the great benefits the ascension brings to us… How?

 

I want to peg our focus in Hebrews 4 primarily.  Let’s have a look…

 

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14–16, ESV)

 

In Jesus “we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens.”  “Passed through the heavens” is ascension language.  The thought is that Jesus has gone right through to the supreme place – and that is back in heaven, with the Father.

 

“… After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,” (Hebrews 1:3, ESV)

 

See, after His death to save sinners, and resurrection that shattered the power of death, Jesus also passed through the heavens to be seated at the Father’s right hand.  That’s what the ascension accomplished. Jesus Christ is now is seated triumphantly at God’s right hand.

 

Christ reigns right now with all power given to him both in heaven and on earth. Nothing happens that Christ does not know of, and that He does not have authority over.  He reigns above all, and possess all power and sovereignty to achieve His purpose and to defend His church.    That’s hope building for the Christian!  But it should also be quite sobering for the rebellious sinner who rejects the authority of Christ.

 

And what does Jesus do there in heaven?  He intercedes for His people on the basis of his shed blood.

 

Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” (Romans 8:34, ESV)

 

Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:25, ESV)

 

See, Jesus is the Advocate for the believer, for the Christian – interceding for them.

 

So what?  How does all that help us, help me, help you?  What’s the result of this whole ascension and rule and right hand and intercession stuff?  Let’s go back to Hebrews 4, and see the development of the argument…

 

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16, ESV)

 

That’s huge!

 

Think of where we started… we’re weak, fallible, sinners with weak faith and creaking, groaning, aging bodies, living in a world of crime, pain and heartache.  And believers in Christ have a risen, ascended Christ in heaven who is our advocate, interceding for us.

And Christians are invited to come to His throne of grace – confidently – to find what?  Mercy and grace in our time of need!

 

  • So, whether we are battling cancer, bitterness, betrayal, pride, or discouragement, we can pray with confidence because of our ascended Lord who intercedes for us.
  • When we face trial and affliction and confusion and distress, we’re invited to pray to God through Christ, who is powerful and concerned for us.
  • When we are faced with issues too big, pain too deep and decisions too confusing, the ascended Christ guarantees mercy and grace in our time of need.
  • When Satan comes and tells us that real Christians don’t do and say things like what we do, or people point fingers and say, “Hah, look at you – what a hypocrite you are!” or our faith is rattled and our sense of assurance gets eroded, where is our confidence? In Him, interceding for us, and in the invitation to come through Him to find mercy and grace!

 

When temptation and lack of assurance comes, our confidence lies in Christ – His finished work, His resurrection and His ongoing intercessory work for us as our Advocate in heaven all the time.  As the wonderful hymn, “Before the Throne of God above” captures it:

 

When Satan tempts me to despair and tells me of the guilt within

Upward I look and see Him there, who made an end to all my sins.

Because the sinless Saviour died, my sinful soul is counted free

For God the just is satisfied, to look on Him and pardon me.

 

That is the significance and importance of the ascended Christ!  Be encouraged by that.

 

On this Ascension Day (40 days after the resurrection), take time to reflect on how Jesus’s ascension changed everything.  It provided his followers with power, grace, mercy, presence, gifts, and anticipation enabling them to advance his mission.  And through faith in Christ, that means YOU! 

 

There is present help and hope for the believer, for the Christian.  Why?  Because He is presently seated at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

 

But there is also future hope as well… this same Jesus will return earth to establish his kingdom in fullness and put his enemies under his feet.

 

Let those truths fuel hope and motivate even greater prayer as we face life in this fallen world!

Act like men

by Gavin  

Act like men

 

These reflections flow from very real issues that have surfaced in our church life and local community over the last week.  My focus in this blog is most particularly men, but I am acutely aware of very similar issues in the lives of many of the ladies too!  As our elders considered and prayed for our people last Saturday morning, the phrase, “Men in crisis” surfaced as a kind of summary statement.  If we take just a few samples to get a feel, our guys are facing issues like:

 

  • Decision making about jobs and finances and investments… “What do I do? How do I know that this path is right?”
  • How to live and function in a country with a economic rating downgrades, and loss of pension security.
  • Bereavement, having lost close family members
  • Health scares… this could be a new diagnosis of a problem, or situations with no real clarity as to the diagnoses, which fuels greater anxiety in families.
  • Health issues in a spouse or close family member, with concern as to the issues and the way ahead.
  • Parenting challenges, where spouse and kids need to be helped through deeply troubling waters as a result of living in a sin-affected world.
  • Work issues where oppressive corporate systems, harsh bosses and insecurity reigns daily.
  • Sexual temptations through visuals that are encountered and seen
  • Daily pressure of school and varsity, where academic demands and extra-murals combine in a fever-pitched frenzy of activities.

 

“Help!  Help me!  Say something to give me direction and hope!”

 

That is the cry – spoken and unspoken!

 

One man used words like these on Sunday as we chatted after the service: “Struggle.  Press on.  Run the race.  Fight.”  How true!  To that we could add, “Wrestle” and “endure” and “put to death” and “strive” and “toil” and “work.”  Those are the New Testament verbs that describe the Christian life.  It is not without biblical support that Bunyan created allegorical pictures like, “the slough of despond,” “Giant Despair” and “Valley of Humiliation” as images of life.  Why?  Because it is hard and confusing and uncertain!

 

And our men – and in fact, our people, live with those realities every single day.

 

What do we say as leaders?  What counsel should be offered pastorally?  What comfort and direction can be given, in the midst of the pain and the brokenness and the despair?

 

A few trite, throw-away comments don’t really cut it, do they?  Skim through the Bible, and pick a promise, and quickly apply it like a Band-Aid to a gaping wound? 

 

The space in this short reflection does not allow time to develop all the answers and solutions.  But suffice to say that we have God’s Word as a sure and steady guide, a resource of His gracious revelation to us that contains all we need for life and godliness.  The value of the ‘means of grace’ God has provided through the Word, prayer and Christian fellowship cannot be calculated.

 

This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.” (Psalm 119:50, ESV)

 

But then I stumbled across this verse yesterday, in the process of a combined admin/pastoral task I was doing – matching appropriate Bible verses to the new members at Randburg Baptist Church as we prepare to welcome them into membership…

 

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” (1 Corinthians 16:13–14, ESV)

 

Now, I get it – this is NOT just written to men, because the Corinthians church was a multi-gendered and multi-ethnic mix – that’s true.  But that is still a powerful challenge to men:  “…act like men.”

 

That is actually a single word in the original Greek: andrizomai.  It is a power-packed word.  It is a word that seeks to convey the issues of courage and maturity and strength.  The clever dudes who know their Bibles better that I, show how this verb is a frequent command in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament).  It is a word that is used in contexts to encourage people to act with courage and strength in obedience to the Lord, and with confidence in his power.  For example, soldiers would be told to andrizomai.   We see it used in texts like these:

 

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”” (Joshua 1:9, ESV)

 

And Joshua said to them, “Do not be afraid or dismayed; be strong and courageous. For thus the LORD will do to all your enemies against whom you fight.”” (Joshua 10:25, ESV);

 

“Then David said to Solomon his son, “Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the LORD God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the LORD is finished.” (1 Chronicles 28:20, ESV)

 

When David’s time to die drew near, he commanded Solomon his son, saying, “I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, and show yourself a man, and keep the charge of the LORD your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his rules, and his testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn, that the LORD may establish his word that he spoke concerning me, saying, ‘If your sons pay close attention to their way, to walk before me in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul, you shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’” (1 Kings 2:1–4, ESV)

 

Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!” (Psalm 27:14, ESV)

 

Men, life is hard and complex and perplexing.  As men who trust in Christ we’re called to serve Him faithfully, and to lead our wives, children, fellow believers and ministry areas with courage and diligence in the midst of a fallen world, filled with much pain.  Let’s not deny those realities, and the struggles we have.

 

But, while accepting that much has NOT been said here, can I exhort us all to heed the challenge of God to “be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong?”  Don’t give up!  Don’t get frozen into paralysis!  Resist the temptation to throw your hands up in the air and abandon hope!  For the sake of your own faith, your wife and children, others who look to you for guidance and support, the sake of the church and the cause of the gospel, stand firm!  Act like men!  Be strong!

 

Let’s do so relying on the rich support and fellowship that He graciously gives in local church settings, flawed and imperfect as that may be.  Let’s do so trusting in His great and precious promises that His grace is sufficient, that His power is made perfect in our weakness, that He will never leave us or forsake us and that heaven is indeed our ultimate home.

 

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