Sunday, 5 April 2020

Adopted by God

What does it mean to be adopted by God?

Russ Moore writes of the occasion when he and his wife adopted two boys from an orphanage in Russia.

“When Maria and I first walked into the orphanage, where we were led to the boys the Russian courts had picked out for us to adopt, we almost vomited in reaction to the stench and squalor of the place.  The boys were in cribs in the dark lying in their own waste.  Leaving them at the end of the day was painful, but leaving them the final day before going home to wait for the paperwork to go through was the hardest thing either of us had ever done.  Walking out of the room, to prepare for the plane ride home, Maria and I could hear Maxim calling out for us and falling down and convulsing in tears.

“When Maria and I, at long last, received the call that the legal process was over, and we returned to Russia to pick up our new sons, we found that their transition from orphanage to family was more difficult than we had supposed.  We dressed the boys in outfits our parents had brought for them.  My mother-in-law gathered some wild flowers growing between cracks in the pavement outside the orphanage.  We nodded our thanks to the orphanage personnel, and walked out into the sunlight, to the terror of the two boys.  They had never seen the sun.  They had never felt the wind.  They had never heard the sound of a car door shutting, or the sensation of being carried along at one hundred miles-an-hour down a Russian road.

“I noticed that they were shaking and reaching back to the orphanage in the distance.  I whispered to Sergei, ‘… that place is a pit.  If only you knew what is waiting for you:  home with mummy and a daddy who love you, grandparents and great-grandparents and cousins and playmates, and McDonalds’ Happy Meals.  But all they knew was the orphanage they had come from, and it was squalid.  They had no other reference point.

“We knew the boys had acclimatised to our home—that they trusted us—when they stopped hiding food in their high chairs.  They knew there would be another meal coming.  They wouldn’t have to fight over scraps.  This was the new norm …

But I still remember those little hands reaching for the orphanage, and I see myself there.”

Adoption is a beautiful thing.  At its best it originates in the in the heart of people who simply want to pour out love.  It transforms the lives of the broken and vulnerable.  It is a reality that is offered to each of us.  For God is an adopting God.  This idea of adoption gives us the deepest insight into the nature of God’s love.

Don’t just think of the orphanage, but think of the prison

The Bible presents a very bleak picture of what our lives were before God rescued us.  We were lost but Jesus found us.  We were slaves to sin and Christ has set us free.  We were without hope in the world and now we have a future.  We were condemned but our Saviour took our punishment upon his shoulders.  We were morally-bankrupt and our debt has been paid.  We were in the dark and the Son of God has brought us into the sunshine.  We were blinded by the devil but now we can see the beauty of the gospel.  We were children of wrath but now we are the beloved of our heavenly Father.


Don’t just think of Jesus coming to rescue us from the orphanage.  Think of him coming out into the wilderness, bursting into the courtroom, barging into the prison, paying our debt and placing his light giving-hands over our cloudy eyes.  Think of God sending his Son from his home in heaven to experience the rejection, mocking, torture and agony of the cross in order that we could become a part of his Father’s family.

Don’t just think of the lovely child but of the hostile rebel

When our friend Jenny Miller was talking about adopting her daughter, Nisha, she spoke of how there was an immediate bond between them.  She said that it seemed as if Nisha had chosen them as much as they had chosen Nisha.  They loved Nisha because she is so lovely and she responded with delight to their love.

However, the book of Romans tells us that when Christ came for us, we were hostile towards him (Romans 8:7).  John’s gospel tells us that when Jesus entered the world people refused to come into the light because their deeds were evil (John 3:19).  We did not seek him, we did not deserve him, and we did not want him (Romans 3:11-18).  But God would not leave us be. 

‘I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me.  To a nation that did not call on my name, I said, “Here I am, here I am”’ (65:1).  Love initially travelled only one way.  Then the Holy Spirit broke our resistance.  God gave us a new heart with new affections.  We love him because he first loved us (1 John (1 John 4:19).  His kindness melted our hatred (Romans 2:4).  The great Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon, once said, ‘we moved not towards the Lord, but the Lord towards us … The offended God himself, in infinite compassion broke the silence and came forth to bless his enemies.’ 

Don’t just think of being free from guilt but think of being loved by the Father

God could have simply cancelled our debt and freed us from the prison of our guilt.  That would have been abundant mercy and marvellous grace.  He could have said, ‘I have done all this for you, now go on your way.’  But he wanted more.  The father didn’t want the prodigal to return as a hired man.  He wanted to have a son.  ‘God sent his Son … so that we might receive adoption as sons’ (Galatians 4:4-5).  J. I. Packer writes, ‘In adoption, God takes us into his family and fellowship—he establishes us as his children and heirs.  Closeness, affection and generosity are at the heart of the relationship.  To be right with God the Judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father is greater’.

Galatians tells us that in Christ there is neither male nor female because we are one in Christ (3:28).  So why does the Bible keep saying son rather than son or daughter?  In the ancient world the son was the privileged one.  It doesn’t matter if you are a woman or a man for all the privileges of a son are yours.  Indeed, you are an heir with Christ (Galatians 4:7).   

This fact that we are an heir with Christ reveals a wonderful truth about our adoption.  In the ancient world the inheritance always passed to a male child.  If there was no son then a son was adapted so that inheritance could be passed on.  But take note of the fact that the Father did not need to adopt us, for he already has a Son.  He did not need to adopt anyone.  He did not need to adopt rebels like us.  He was not lonely.  His life was not empty.  This adoption speaks volumes about his gracious heart.


‘Unless you’re assured that God loves you, it’s pretty hard to do anything in the Christian life’ (John Miller).  Think of the security that comes when we realise that God is our adopting Father.  ‘For if while we were his enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life’ (Romans 5:10).  In other words, having gone to the effort of adopting us, he is determined that he will never let us go.  As J. I. Packer writes, ‘for only bad fathers throw their children out of the family, even under provocation; and God is not a bad father, but a good one’ (Packer).  Your security with him is rooted in his loving commitment to you.  In him, you have nothing to fear.  In him, you are secure.  ‘For I am convinced that neither life nor death, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).

Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Hosea 9: Homeward bound

Hosea 9: Homeward bound

What is your ideal home like?  I am not talking of the building but the atmosphere.  A place where you feel secure.  A place where you know that you are loved.   Many homes are ruined by conflict, but not your ideal home.  Your ideal home place where you can rest your head at peace.  It is a place of safety.

In the beginning God gave humankind the most amazing home, Eden.  Adam and Eve were at peace with God and each other.  But they fell for the devil’s lie and thought that they would be freer without God.  That is a lie we believe every time we sin.  Yet this supposed freedom simply leads to pain, conflict and regret.

Adam and Eve were exiled from the garden of Eden and humanity has never been the same since.  When Cain murdered his brother Abel, God says ‘you will be a restless wanderer on earth’ (Genesis 4:12).  Isn’t that how we feel at times?  We lack the sense of security that can only be found in the best of homes.

Yet God was so kind.  He made a promise to Abram, whose people were idol worshippers.  He shows Abraham Canaan and says, ‘to your offspring I will give this land’ (Genesis 12;7).  He is going to rescue a people and give them a new home.  They will inhabit a land flowing with milk and honey.

This journey to the promised land is a long one.  First, Abraham’s people end up in slavery in Egypt.  There they cry out to God, who remembers his promise.  In the Exodus, God leads them out of slavery and Egypt.  God brings them to Mount Sinai where they become a nation.  A generation later, Joshua leads them into Canaan—God fights for the people and they drive out most of its inhabitants.

However, just before they had entered the promised land, God had spoken to the people through Moses.  His words are recorded in the book of Deuteronomy.  Deuteronomy promised blessings if they obeyed and curses if they disobeyed.  If they rebelled against him, he would reverse the Exodus and send them into exile.  At the end of chapter eight Hosea warns, ‘now he will remember their iniquity and punish their sins; they shall return to Egypt’ (8:13).   

God warns us because he loves us (9:1-5)

It is harvest time.  It’s been a good harvest.  The people are rejoicing.  But Hosea comes along and tries to spoil the party.  Do not rejoice, Israel, do not be jubilant like the other nations.  For you have been unfaithful [literally ‘you have played the whore’] to you own God; you love the wages of a prostitute at every threshing floor (9:1). 

Israel had cheated on God as they went off and worshipped the Canaanite fertility god called Baal.  Baal was a god of sex and stuff.  In Baalism, you slept with temple prostitutes to encourage him to make the land fertile.  Baalism is alive and well today, as we forget God and simply lust and shop.

Hosea warns the people that their future harvests are going to look very different from this one.  Threshing floors and winepresses will not feed the people; the new wine will fail them.  They will not remain in the LORD’s land; Ephraim [another name for Israel], will return to Egypt, and eat unclean food in Assyria (2-3).

The curse of Deuteronomy is about to be enacted.  The Exodus is about to be reversed.  The Assyrians are going to conquer them, and it will be as if they are going to back to Egypt and into slavery.  Their harvest festivals will them seem like funerals.

Who wants to hear from a prophet of doom like Hosea in the middle of their harvest celebrations?  When life is good, people do not want to be told that they are eternally lost without Jesus.  When life is full, people do not want to hear that our existence is meaningless without Jesus.  When life is fun, people do not want to be told that there is a terrible day of judgement to be faced in the future. 

No one loved people more than Jesus did.  Yet Jesus spoke about the reality of hell more than we do.  The reason he did so was because he did not want people to go there.  He knows that if we reject God throughout our lives then ultimately God will be right to reject us.  He knows that our sin, if left undealt with, will take us to a place of unimaginable and unending suffering.  He warns us, because he loves us’ (Rico Tice).  Somehow, we have to find the opportunity to warn our friends and family of the danger they are in.  It may not be a welcome message!

God warns us so that we can repent (7-9)

The prophet is a fool; the man of the spirit is mad (7b).  It is not entirely clear whether these are the people’s words about Hosea, are these are Hosea’s words about the false prophets that Israel listen to.  Either way one thing is clear: they pay no attention to what Hosea is saying.

Tragically the people are in great danger.  A watchman was meant to keep a lookout for invading forces, but they will not listen to those who warn them of judgement.  The enemy that is coming is God himself.  It is God who will punish their sins (9b).  But what a strange enemy he is!  He refuses to maunch a surprise attack.  He continually warns of his coming, because he wants us to turn to him, repent and find mercy.

We pray that God would bring people to their senses (10-17)

These people had once been God’s delight.  Like grapes in the wilderness, I found Israel (10a).  But soon everything had gone wrong.  At Baal Peor (10b, see Numbers 25) the king of Moab had sent Moabite women to seduce the men of Israel and involve them in the worship of Baal.  The men were only too glad to oblige, and the resulting judgement left twenty-four thousand Israelites dead.  What is going to happen now that Israel is again worshipping Baal?  Had they not realised that God takes our sin seriously?

Hosea tells them that there is going to be a dreadful judgement.  The glory of Ephraim [another word for Israel] is its children.  The shame of Israel is their worship of Baal.  Now there will be no more glory.  There will be no more birth, pregnancy or conception (11).  Those who are born will be slaughtered (12-13).  Even if they bear children, I will slay their offspring (16).  This is not the kind of God that people feel comfortable with today.  Our God is love is also a God of judgement. 

Look at Hosea’s prayer in verse fourteen: Give them, Lord—what you will give them?  Hosea is asking God to send them adversity.  Why would he do that?  He asks for adversity to come upon them because this might cause them to repent.  When our loved ones don’t know God, we pray for them.  We want life to go well with them, but more importantly we want them to know Him.  We pray, ‘Lord, do whatever it takes to bring them to their senses, even if that means that they have to end up in the pigsty.’  It would be better for them to suffer for a while now if it turns them to God, than suffer for an eternity later!

Because of their wickedness in Gilgal, I hated them there … (15).  This idea of hate must be seen in light of God’s unrelenting love displayed in this book.  It is a Hebrew way of saying that he was rejecting them in order that they might seek him.  Gilgal was where the people had made Saul their king.  Their motivation for wanting such a king was to be like the other nations.  They were rejecting God as their king (1 Samuel 8:7).

Gilgal reminds us of the human story.  People simply refuse to live under God’s loving rule.  Ever since Adam and Eve we have sought our freedom elsewhere.  The consequence is that we live restless and unfulfilled lives in the present and then we spend an eternity exiled from his heaven.

God had found Israel in the wilderness.  There he had loved them, prospered them and given them the land.  But they had not loved Him.  Their lack of love was shown in their repeated disobedience.  Now, they are going to back into the wilderness.  My God will reject them because they have not obeyed him; they will be wanderers among the nations (17).

Conclusion—this is not the end of the story!

Gosh!  This is not an easy chapter of the Bible.  Perhaps you think that you would have been better off staying in bed this morning.  But don’t despair.  The good news is that this chapter does not mark the end of the story.  Jesus promises us a better future.

Jesus was the one person who worshipped God as he should.  Jesus is the one person who was faithful.  Jesus is the one person who deserves the blessings promised in Deuteronomy.  But instead he took upon himself its curses.  The apostle Paul explains, ‘Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written cursed is anyone who is hanged on a tree’ (Galatians 3:13).  The curses of Deuteronomy had warned of exile, and Christ was exiled from the love of the Father on that cross where he cried out, ‘my God, my God why have you forsaken me?’ (Mark 15:24).  The dreadful judgements that we read of in this chapter actually find their fulfilment in the punishment of Jesus on the cross.  As he takes our sin and gives us his goodness, we become worthy to live in the promised land.

So, gather up your best thoughts of home.  This is the future that awaits you if you are in Christ.  You may suffer in this life, but you are homeward bound.  The apostle Peter writes, ‘In keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness’ (2 Peter 3:1).  One day our sense of displacement will be over.  Even now, Jesus offers us rest for our weary souls.   

One final thought, if we are heading to a better home, is it not foolish to spend all our dreams on this brief life?  Go to your city dump and you will see the remains of people’s dreams.  All those products that people looked to for fulfilment that are now considered rubbish.  Today’s purchases will soon end up in tomorrow’s bins.  So why do we think that they can satisfy?  Today’s successes will soon be forgotten.  Death will separate us from every satisfaction, other than those that we have found in Christ.  He will be the greatest joy of our eternal home!

Sunday, 29 March 2020

Hosea 8: How do you know you love God?

He called himself ‘my own kind of Christian’.  John loved to go to church.  He really enjoyed the music.  His best friends were Christians.  He took great comfort from praying.  He even had amazing encounters with God where he felt that God had given him words to share with other people. 

But there was another side to John’s life.  He did things that he wouldn’t have wanted his pastor to know about.  In fact, if you saw the way he behaved at the weekend you would never have known that he loved Jesus.  One thing he hated was when anyone would challenge his behaviour.  ‘Mind your own business’.  ‘It’s my life to live my way’.  ‘Don’t judge me’.

Then he died.  And Jesus judged him.  He said to Jesus, ‘Lord, Lord.’  Jesus said to him, ‘I never knew you.  Away from me you evildoer’.  He hadn’t taken seriously the warning of Jesus that ‘not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven”’ (Matthew 7:21).

At the core of Christianity is love for God

What is wrong with the people that people that Hosea is addressing?  Their fundamental problem is that they don’t love God!

‘Put the trumpet to your lips …’ (8:1a).  God tells Hosea to sound the trumpet to warn the people of Israel that judgement is coming.  An eagle is hanging over them waiting to swoop on its prey.  In their case this eagle is the Assyrian army which God is going to let invade their nation and carry people into exile.  They have sown to the wind and they are about to reap the whirlwind (13).  They gave their hearts to the Baals, a fertility cult that promised a good harvest, but they are about to reap a harvest of judgment.  The truth was that they did not love God (4:1b). 

These people may have been surprised that God was not pleased with them.  They think that they know God.  ‘Israel cries out to me, “Our God, we acknowledge you …”’ (2a).  ‘They offer sacrifices as gifts to me’ but ‘the LORD is not pleased with them’ (13).  They think that they are in relationship with God, but they aren’t. 

They would have enjoyed gathering for praise services, as long as they didn’t think about what they are singing.  They are not being transformed by God.

 If you love God, you will listen to his word

Because they don’t love God they don’t listen to his word.  ‘I wrote to them many things of my law, but they regarded them as something foreign’ (12).  God has spoken to us, he has shown us how to live, he has diagnosed our problem and he has pointed us to the solution, but people don’t listen.  They think it is something foreign—something not for them.

There is a danger for all of us that we begin to forget God and ignore his word.   How do you respond to the commands of Scripture?  Jesus says, ‘be merciful’ (Luke 6:36), are you?  Is your home a fortress to keep people away, or do you show hospitality to one another without grumbling (1 Peter 4:9)?  Do you know that God told Israel to love immigrants (Deuteronomy 10:19), or are you borderline racist?  Are you seeking to love your enemies (Matthew 5:44)?  Are you making efforts to flee sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 6:18)?  Do you contribute to the needs of God’s people (Romans 12:13)?  Do you ask God to help you forgive as you have been forgiven?  Are you pursuing righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfast and gentleness (1 Timothy 6:11)?

If you take God’s word seriously you will see that we are not as we ought to be.  Indeed, the apostle John tells us that if we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8).  But those who have been born again grieve when they do evil and make it their ambition to grow more like Jesus.  The Christian is someone who is afraid to sin because he does not want to break the heart of his heavenly Father.  The Christian is someone who longs to be holy because he loves to bring the Father pleasure.  Is that you?  What measures are you taking to be holy?

Their refusal to love God and listen to his word is shown that they sought leaders that God had not given them (4).  At this stage in their history there was a serios of bloody coups.  They didn’t want God to be their king.  That’s why they ignored his word.

Those who love God seek to put him above all else.

The person who loves God listens to his word and they also seek to put God before everything else.  With their silver and gold, they made idols for their own destruction (4).  An idol is anything that is more important to you than God.  An idol is anything you serve before you serve God.  Finish this sentence,   We might not be tempted to worship before a golden calf, but we may worship, money, popularity or success.  Notice that these idols bring about destruction.  Put other things, even good things, before God and it will hurt you.  Put your family before God, and you will demand of them what they can’t deliver.  You will resent you children when they can’t perform.  Put love before God, and you will hurt the one you love, you demand that they make you feel whole, and you will drive them away.

However, God is not like an idol.  Putting him first will bless and enrich your life.  If you want to love people better, love him more than them.  His love will make you more loving.  If you want your spouse to love you more, tell them to love God more than you.


So, you come to me and tell me that you are own type of Christian.  You do things your way.  You make up your own rules.  You live life as you please.  You might claim that I am being judgemental, but I have to warn you.  If you refuse to listen to God’s word, don’t want to change and make Jesus in your own image then it may mean that you don’t know God.

But if you come to me and tell me that you are frustrated that you are not what you want to be, I may be encouraged.  The Christian struggles with sin, but they want to become more like Jesus.  The Christian knows the pull of idols, but they want to put Jesus first.  The Christian knows that their love for Jesus is weak, and they want to love Jesus more.

So, if the refusal to listen to God’s word and serve Christ as our king is a love problem, then how do we grow in love for God?  Look to the cross.  This is how we know what love is: Christ died for us (1 John 3:16).  Pray that the Holy Spirit would magnify this love (Ephesians 3:16-21).  They we will find that we want to obey God’s commands and obey the one who loves us without measure.     

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Revelation 4-5 'God is control of history'

The writer, G. K. Chesterton, once wrote that it is better to live in the valley than on the mountain top.  On the mountain top we look down and everything seems small, but in the valley, we look up and we feel small.  Studying Revelation makes us feel small as we see the magnificence of our eternal God.  It gives us the right perspective to live by!

The readers of Revelation, in the Roman province of Asia Minor, and John, who receives this revelation, need to see the mountain of God.  They were being put under pressure by the Emperor Domition, who was a cruel man who burned Christians at the stake, threw them to lions and tied them between two wild horses so that they would be torn in two. 

So, God gives John a glimpse behind the scenes.  Things are not as they seem.  Whatever your current situation, remember that there is an unseen reality.  It may not seem like it, but God is on the throne.

What an invitation John receives!  After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven!  And the first voice, which I heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this”’ (4:1).  John is being invited to take a look at the command centre of all history.  Do you want a look?

It is not the Caesar who reigns, our God reigns (4)

John sees one seated on a throne.  The idea of the throne is at the centre of this chapter (mentioned fourteen times) and of the whole book of Revelation (mentioned forty-six times).  Our God reigns. 

But who is this God who controls history? 

He is beautiful—he had the appearance of jasper and ruby (3a).  God has a beauty that glows.  It glows out of his character.  It is inner beauty. 

He is merciful—around his throne is a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald (3b).  The rainbow is a reminder of the promise God made to humankind after the Genesis flood.  Even though people were wicked, God promised that he would not send another flood to wipe them out.  There is a lot in the book of revelation about judgement, but we don’t understand the nature of our God if we don’t see that he longs to show people mercy. 

He is gracious—there are twenty-four elders surrounding the throne, they are sitting on thrones, dressed in white and have crowns on their heads (4).  These twenty-four elders probably represent all of God’s people.  The number twenty-four is thought to be made from the twelve tribes of the Old Testament and the Twelve apostles of the new.  They are washed in white because their sins have been cleansed.  The only people that God accepts as his people are sinful people, but he does not leave us in our sin.  He washes us in the blood of the lamb (Revelation 7:14).  They have crowns on their heads, because although in our natural state we can do nothing to please God, in grace God gives us a new heart to live for him and he sees every little thing we do for him and he stores up heavenly reward.  We have thrones in heaven for in some way that goes beyond my understanding, we will reign with him (Revelation 20:6).

He is just—from the throne comes thunder and lightening (5).  If God did not judge wickedness, he would not be a good God.  If he looked at human wickedness and was not angered, he would neither be holy nor loving.  He would simply be indifferent.  He would look at the wrong done against you and simply shrug his shoulders and say, ‘so what’.  In our hearts we know that we want a God of justice.  Who of us, as a child didn’t scream, ‘it’s not fair!’?  We are wired for justice to be done.  We are rightly angry when judges pass down sentences that are overly lenient.  The only problem with our thirst for justice to be done, is that it causes us to confront the wickedness that we see in our own heart.  We will see the answer to that in the next chapter.

He is perfect—there are these four creatures around the throne.  Each has a different face, and each face speaks of a different characteristic of God.  The face of a lion speaks of royalty—our God is the King of all kings.  The face of the Ox speaks of strength—and this mighty God has done battle to rescue us from the slavery of sin.  The face of man speaks of wisdom—his great wisdom being shown through the cross of Christ.  The face of the eagle shows his ability to react swiftly. 

The four living creatures cry out day and night, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come’ (8).  The twenty-four elders lay their crowns before his throne and say: ‘You are worthy our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created, and have their being’ (11).

They cast their crowns before them.  Who are we to think anything of ourselves when we think of the God of the universe?  By his will you were created and have their being—who are people to say that God is irrelevant, he is the one who gives us our every breath? 

I want my friends to come to Jesus because I believe that life is meaningless without him.  I want my friends to come to Jesus because I don’t want them to experience the punishment our sins deserve.  We should also want to see them come to Jesus because we long for them to praise God as they ought.          Jesus taught us to pray, ‘your will be done on earth as it is in heaven’.  In heaven people delight to praise God, we long to see that replicated on earth.

Just one more thing to notice before we move on to chapter five.  Notice that there is a sea of glass, like crystal.  When is a sea as still as glass?  When all is quite and still.  Down on earth God’s people were facing many storms, but in heaven all is calm.  Our life may be up in the air, but God is in control.  You may be hated for your faith, but God has not fallen off his throne.  You may be going through turmoil, but God can be trusted.

Caesar is not Lord, Jesus is Lord (5)

The focus of chapter five is on a lamb and a scroll with seven seals.  This scroll is a legal document.  It is full, having been written on both sides.  This is God’s will for the world written down.  In chapter six and seven, as each seal is opened and more of the scroll is read, events take place in the world.  This scroll contains God’s plan for the salvation and judgement of the world. 

But there is a problem!  There is no-one worthy to break the scrolls and open the scroll.  Does this mean God’s will for the world will not come to be?  What will happen to God’s plan of salvation and judgement?  John begins to weep.  But then one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep!  See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has triumphed.  He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals’ (5).

The lion of the tribe of Judah refers to a prophecy made in Genesis, when Jacob spoke over his son Judah and said, ‘the sceptre will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his’ (Genesis 49:10).  Jesus was the promised king from the tribe of Judah, like king David, but he is not only a descendant of the great king, but he is the root of David—he is the one David called Lord (Matthew 22:45).

John looks to see a lion and instead he saw a lamb.  Then I saw a lamb looking like it was slain, standing at the centre of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders (6).  The title of lamb for Jesus is mentioned twenty-eight times in Revelation.  Jesus is the Passover lamb whose blood was shed to rescue his people from slavery.  He is the one of whom John said, ‘behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.’  He is the suffering servant spoken of in Isaiah 53, who was led like a lamb to the slaughter.  He is the lamb spoken of by the prophet Jeremiah, who said, ‘I had been like a gentle lamb led to the laughter’ (Jeremiah 11:19).

This lamb, Jesus, is looking like it had been slain.  We are going to spend all eternity thinking of how Jesus suffered and died for us on the cross.  This is an unusual lamb—he has seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent into all the earth (6).  Jesus will execute God’s plan for all of history with complete knowledge (as seen through those eyes) and endowed with the Holy Spirit.

Look at the golden bowls of incense that the elders are holding.  These are the prayers of God’s people.  What an incentive to praise and pray our God.  When we cry out to him in love it produces an aroma in heaven!

The four living creatures and the twenty four elders sing: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll, and open its seals, because you were slain and with your blood your purchased for God people from every tribe and language and people and nation.  You made them a kingdom of priests to serve our God and they will reign on earth’ (9-10).  I once heard a church minster complain about ‘bloody songs’, he didn’t like all those old hymns about the blood of the lamb.  But we praise the lamb who was slain.

Then the elders are surrounded by a multitude of angels that no one could count, and they are saying: ‘Worthy is the lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise’ (12).  Then John heard every creature in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying, ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb, be praise and honour and glory and power for ever and ever!’  The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshipped!’

Before we wrap us, just one final thing to note about chapter five.  Jesus is the object of worship.  That is significant.  In the last chapter of Revelation John gets caught up in wonder at all that he has seen.  He falls down to worship the angel who was delivering this message to him.  The angel says, ‘Don’t do that!  I am a fellow servant...Worship God!’ (Revelation 22:9).  The Jehovah’s Witnesses say that Jesus was not God, but the archangel Michael.  Only God is to be worshipped.  Jesus is worshipped in heaven.  Jesus is God the Son the second person of what we call the Trinity.


When life feels like chaos, we must place ourselves in the valley and see the mountain.  We must see that we are small, and that God is big.  We must see that the sea is calm in heaven.  The lamb has been his slain, and so God has taken care of our biggest fears around dead, sin and hell.  Jesus is on control and he has proven his trustworthiness.

That is what John needed to hear as he worked in the quarries on the island of Patmos, where he had been exiled for his faith, in his old age.  That is what the churches in Asia Minor needed to remember, as the suffered under the rue of Domition.  This is what we need to remember, no matter what we are facing.    

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

I, Patrick, a sinner

There are plenty of legends about Saint Patrick, and many of them have little foundation in reality.  Patrick did not banish the snakes from Ireland and the suggestion that he used the shamrock to explain the Trinity dates to hundreds of years after his life.  However, we do have two Latin works that are generally accepted as being written by Patrick himself: his Confession (a spiritual biography) and his letter to Coroticus (giving out to this minor king for killing and capturing Christians).  Both these works begin with the words, ‘I, Patrick, a sinner.’  He writes in the fifth-century.

Humble Orthodoxy
As I read these words, ‘I, Patrick, a sinner’, I am struck by out of touch he is with post-modern Ireland.  We are a people who shout, ‘I am a good person,’ even though Jesus says that all sorts of evil flow from our hearts.  Our identity is in self-righteousness, so we are quick to protest, ‘who are you to judge me?’  Yet the Bible says that even our good deeds are stained with pride and self-obsession.  Patrick knows himself better than most.  Don’t we regularly fail our own standards, yet alone the standards of a perfectly holy God?
But just because Patrick knows himself to be a sinner this does not mean that he is insecure about his standing before God.  He talks about God’s mercy, comfort and protection.  He says that God treated him as a good father would treat a son.  You see Patrick had a real encounter with God that changed his life.
Patrick grew up in Roman Britain, somewhere between modern Carlisle and Bristol.  His father was some sort of Christian minister.  But like many children brought up in Christian homes, Patrick turned away from the faith of his parents.  Then a shocking event took place in his life.  He was about sixteen years old when he was captured by Irish pirates and taken to Ireland as a slave.  There he looked after animals for six years.  And there, ‘the Lord opened the sense of my unbelief that I might at last remember my sins and be converted with all my heart to the Lord my God.’
Druidism, with its worship of the sun, was the religion of Ireland at that time.  But Patrick affirmed his faith in the Trinity.  In fact, he writes, ‘there is no other God, nor ever was, nor will be.’  Again, he is out of step with modern Ireland.  He might be judged today as being intolerant.  He doesn’t say, ‘whatever you believe is fine for you.’  He doesn’t think all beliefs are valid.  He doesn’t see faith as a merely private matter.  He believed in the Jesus who said, ‘I am the way the truth and the life, no-one comes to the father but by me.’  
Radical Life
Patrick’s conversion experience led to radical living.  As he worked in the fields he prayed and prayed.  He grew in his love and reverence towards God.  He mentions visions that he experienced.  In a dream he was told that he would soon return home.  It prompted him to walk a long distance until he found a ship.  Having been refused passage on that ship he turned and walked away, praying.  Before he had ended his prayer, he heard on the sailors shouting, ‘come, hurry, we shall take you on in good faith; make friends with us in whatever way you like.’  His heart’s desire for those pagan sailors was that they would come to faith in Jesus.  
After three days they reached land, and then for twenty-eight days they travelled through deserted country.  They lacked food, and hunger began to overcome them.  The captain said to Patrick, ‘tell me, Christian: you say that your God is great and all-powerful; why, then, do you not pray for us?  As you can see, we are suffering from hunger; it is unlikely indeed that we shall ever see a human being again.’  
Patrick replied, full of confidence, ‘be truly converted with all your heart to the Lord my God, because nothing is impossible for Him, that this day He may send you food on your way until you be satisfied; for His abundance is everywhere.’  Suddenly a herd of pigs appeared on the road before their eyes.  They killed the pigs and ate their fill.
A number of years later he was in Britain with his people when one night he had a vison.  In that vision a man called Victoricus was coming to him from Ireland with countless letters.  Victoricus gave him a letter which began, ‘The voice of the Irish.’  At the same time his mind was brought to the west coast, and the people were crying out, ‘We ask thee, boy, come and walk amongst us once more.’  This led to Patrick becoming one of histories great missionaries and to the conversion of thousands.
Patrick’s faith was not just shown in the spectacular, it was proved with ordinary grace.  He was betrayed by a friend with whom he had confided about some sin that he had committed when he was fifteen years old.  Yet, he is loving towards his betrayer, ‘I am sorry for my dearest friend’.  After mentioning some of the trouble that his friend got him into who, he exclaims, ‘enough of this.’  He will not go on dwelling on the hurt that was caused to him but will seek to forgive as he has been forgiven.  Sometimes it is harder to honour God in the ordinary life of living among mean people, than it is to lay down our life in the bigger tasks that God gives us.
Motivated by thankfulness and love
‘I came to Ireland to preach the gospel,’ Patrick writes.  He challenges all of his readers that we ‘ought to fish well and diligently.’  Our lives lived on this island should focus on the task of sharing our faith in Christ.  One of the things that is noticeable about this culture is that we love stories.  Ask people what they know of this country’s patron saint.  Think back to how God showed you that he is real and that he forgives self-righteous people love us.  Pray, and expect God to answer.  Listen for his voice, especially as we study the book that he has given us.
Patrick didn’t want to leave his parents.  He had to ignore discouraging voices who said behind his back: ‘why does this fellow throw himself into danger among enemies who have no knowledge of God?’  But he was motivated by the seriousness of the call.  ‘I never had any reason except the Gospel and its promises why I should ever return from whom once before I barely escaped.’  ‘I must make known the gift of God and everlasting consolation, without fear and frankly I must spread everywhere the name of God …’
Patrick was motivated by love.  The love he experienced in God caused him to love those he met.  We love because God first loved us.  He also had a deep sense of gratitude.  In fact, he was grateful in all situations.  He speaks of his ‘desire of thanksgiving.’  He says, ‘I give unwearied thanks to God.’  Seven times in in short Confession he exclaims, ‘thanks be to God.’
Conclusion—Ireland needs Saint Patricks
Why has God placed you in Ireland?  Maybe you grew up here.  Maybe, like Patrick, you grew up elsewhere.  God has you here for a purpose.  We are a land of atheists, agnostics, new-age spirituality, Muslims, Hindus and everything else—precious people made in the image of God and loved by Him.   ‘The church’ may have let you down, but Jesus is very different from so much that has done in the name of religion.  He satisfies in a way that our next purchase cannot.  He confronts our self-righteousness and says, ‘I have died for the sins of my people,’ including the sin of pride.  
Like Patrick, we should tell the story of what God is doing in our life.  Like Patrick, we can live lives of prayer and expectant faith.  Like Patrick, we’re to be thankful in all circumstances, forgive those who have betrayed us, and keep going even when other discourage us.  Like Patrick, we are be motivated by love, and convinced that knowing the one and only God is the most important need of all on this island.