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The Amplified Bible's rendering of Acts 2:32, the NIV translation of which informs the title of this blog, reads:
"Let the whole house of Israel recognise beyond all doubt and acknowledge assuredly that God has made Him both Lord and Christ (the Messiah) – this Jesus you crucified."
These words were written by Luke around 62 years after Jesus had been crucified. Luke did not meet Jesus personally, on Earth, but there is good evidence that he was a travelling companion and friend of Paul. In his letter to the Colossians, 4:14, Paul sends greetings to the Christian community of Colossae, Phrygia (Asia Minor), from Luke:
"Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings."
Luke's Gospel is synoptic, meaning it 'sees the same' (optic - see, syn - same) as Matthew's and Mark's. He certainly was familiar with Mark's Gospel but the extent to which he had read or relied on Matthew's - or, whether Luke ever read Matthew's Gospel - is a point for debate.
But what is not debatable is Luke's faith. Or that he was a medical doctor and so, a man of high intelligence, great literacy and used to exercising deductive reasoning in order to problem solve - much as the great theologian and erstwhile 'Pharisee of Pharisees', Paul, was a fierce intellect and 'rationalist' by nature and training. According to R.C Sproul, Pastor, Theologian and Writer:
"Paul was a man who had the equivalent of two PhDs in theology by the time he was 21 years of age."
We can only imagine the quality and rigour of the discussions these two men had about Jesus, the significance of the Crucifixion and Resurrection and the nature of Salvation, that contributed to their transformational Books in the New Testament (NT). Paul is the author of 13 books - around 30% - of the NT. But Luke's Gospel as well as The Book of Acts makes him, by volume, the author of a greater proportion of the NT than that authored by Paul. Between them, then, these two men are responsible for most of what we know about the dissemination of Christ's Word to the gentile and the strategies to effect the Great Commission, following Jesus' resurrection. And, of course, Paul did meet Jesus, in person, very pointedly and dramatically, on the Damascene Road (Acts 9, 22 and 26).
In addition to his credibility as an eye witness to Jesus' resurrection, Paul was also the contemporary of a great many people - Apostles - who actually saw and associated with Jesus, post crucifixion, so he had no trouble writing:
"He was seen by over five hundred people at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present" (1 Corinthians 15:6). (my bold)
And, when Paul writes:
"For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for ours sins, according to the Scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day, according to the Scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:3,4). (my bold)
there is no reason to doubt his word.
Luke would have relied on Paul's testimony as well as many of those who were also his contemporaries, and were repeatedly relating their experiences of Jesus, 'post-death'.
Paul's very life is a testament to the veracity of his writings, of course. There is no other rational explanation for why he transformed - instantly - from extremist, zealous, Christian-persecuting Pharisee, entitled to the privileges of status and wealth his station bestowed, to itinerant tent-maker and evangelist, certain to pay with his life for his love of Jesus:
"For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." (Philippians 1:21)
Luke was with Paul, in Rome, at the time leading up to Paul's execution. This, Paul confirms when writing his second letter to Timothy:
"Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry" (2 Timothy 4:11)
And how intense, yet anointed, must have been their exchanges, then! How very clear and precise must Paul's rendering of his faith have been to Luke - how absolutely credible - as Paul's execution loomed.
That Paul's faith strengthened and did not wane, as he experienced the brutality of his final Roman prison sentence and awaited death, is very clear, in his encouragement to the disheartened Timothy, whom Paul loved as a son. In 2 Timothy, Paul's very last writing of any kind, he urges:
"So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God." (2 Timothy 1:8)
Luke lived to be about 84 years old and is widely believed to have died in a region of Greece called Boeotia. He is thought to have written Acts between 80-90 AD, around 13 years after Paul's death. He chose to begin his account with the words:
"In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God." (Acts 1: 1-3)
And there follows a most precise and often first-hand, witnessed account, of the miracles, hardships and unfailing conviction that characterised the life of Paul and other early evangelists, in the first few decades following Jesus' death and resurrection.
In a website article called ' The Eyewitness Testimony That’ll Make You Never Doubt the Resurrection Again' published by CBN News.com, 4.1.18, by Paul Strand, Strand quotes and refers to the work of an Apologist called Josh McDowell, author of 'New Evidence That Demands a Verdict' (pub Jan 18):
"McDowell explained, "They [the apostles] said after He was crucified and buried, He was raised from the dead and for 40 days — not 40 hours, not four days — for 40 days, they lived with Him and walked with Him, with overwhelming proof that He'd been raised from the dead."
McDowell concluded, "If the Resurrection was a lie, they had to know it. And if they knew it, then you'd have to say here were these men who not only died for a lie, but they knew it was a lie. I challenge you to find others in history who that's true of. It's not."
It seems fitting that, as we approach Easter 2019, Christians reflect anew on the seminal, crucial truth at the heart of our faith. That Jesus is alive and very well. He is the Messiah. Luke's words, quoted at the top of this blog are not lies. I, for one, pray for a Damascene-like, heart-jolting, permanently convicting revelation of this fact - beyond head-knowledge and unquestioning belief.
The "whole house of Israel" is exhorted to reflect with us, on the assertion that caused a Pharisee of the highest order - who could have recited the Torah, and was intimately familiar with the Book of Isaiah (see Romans (9:20-33) - to declare:
"What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ." (Philippians 3:8)
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(Image courtesy of the Natural History Museum)
There are at least twenty years between the Books of Exodus and Deuteronomy, and Joshua, and perhaps, as many as sixty. Which is worth bearing in mind when we consider the following verses:
Exodus 23:28: And I will send hornets before you which will drive out the Hivite, Cannaanite, and Hittite before you
Deuteronomy 7:20: Moreover the Lord your God will send the hornet among them until those who are left and hide themselves from you are destroyed.
Joshua 24:12:I sent the hornet before you which drove the two kings of the Amorites out before you
We see how the tense alters, from God's own promise to use nasty stinging insects as weapons against the Hebrews' enemies, and Moses' confirmation of this promise, and, finally, Joshua's affirmation that it was fulfilled , decades later.
I had never really considered these verses carefully before now; how God marshalled clouds of hornets to expel whole people from their land, in order that the Israelites might enter into His promise for their establishment after Egyptian slavery.
The reason for deployment of this deadly weapon of mass destruction was, in all likelihood, because at the time, the Israelites did not have enough men to rout the mighty Amorites and other tribes, themselves. Which brings me on to the next fascinating point regarding this story. God's immaculate timing - again.
In my last post, I wrote about how God is faithful and what He promises comes to pass, provided we, too are faithful to Him and do not lose His blessing. Here, in these three early Books of the Bible, we witness how this was always so.
When God promised hornets in Exodus, to enable a speedy acquisition of the Promised Land, the Israelites were probably relieved - that they would not have to fight for possession of their inheritance. After all, this was only a few months after their liberation from the Egyptians and they were tired and hardly warrior types.
It was also before the sorry incident involving their idolatry of the golden calf.
The infidelity of God's people, in spite of all He had done for them, and so soon after their miraculous deliverance from slavery, delayed their blessing by forty years.
In Exodus 32, we read of how the people betray their God and "...have corrupted themselves"(7) and "...turned aside quickly out of the way [which I] commanded them." (8) Because Moses was gone for a few weeks, discoursing with God on Mount Sinai, the Israelites decided to make a golden calf and dance around it idolatrously. Sometimes, we do really daft things that are hard to explain afterwards ...
None the less, though it took about thirty-nine years and nine months longer than necessary, God honours His promise to establish the Israelites in their own land and Joshua, Moses' posthumous replacement as their leader, relates the many astounding ways in which God remained faithful to this "stiff necked" people:
Joshua 23:14 "…not one thing has failed of all the good things which the Lord your God promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one thing of them has failed."
And indeed, in God's own words, via Joshua, this deliverance and favour were always part of His plan for His people:
Joshua 24:5 I sent Moses and Aaron
And, the hornets, though obliged to 'wait in the wings' for decades more than originally planned, played their part at last, in assisting the Israelites to assume their birth- right, as God reminds the people, through Joshua :
Joshua 24:12: "I sent the hornet before you which drove the two kings of the Amorites out before you"
Though fulfilment of God's plan for His people was delayed, it was always going to be in His timing. We read in Exodus that the deployment of hornets would be a 'wave' strategy:
29: "I will not drive them out from before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the wild beasts multiply against you
30 Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased and are numerous enough to take possession of the land."
Because the tribes that occupy the territory promised to the Israelites are multitudinous and mighty (the Amorites remain redoubtable foes to Israel for hundreds of years), and so that the Hebrews appreciate and take responsibility for the land, God will plague the present occupants with hornets in a series of perfectly timed assaults. "Little by little" He intended to drive out the tribes , so that the Israelites had time to reproduce, to the point where there are enough of them to tend the land, protect themselves from beasts and people and maintain possession.
It is an excellent plan; it allows for the natural growth and establishment of a population, while, all the time, the Hebrews are protected. In Joshua 23:10, we read the astounding promise of God to His wayward people:
Joshua 23:10 One man of you shall put to flight a thousand. For it is the Lord your God Who fights for you, as He promised you.
So,while the population grows and strengthens, it will have supernatural strength - as well as swarms of hornets - to sustain it against enemies.
And, God's original promise comes to pass - because God is faithful and not a man that He should lie (Numbers 23:19) - even when we stumble and err spectacularly in our fidelity to Him:
Joshua 24:13: I have given you a land for which you did not labour and cities you did not build.
When we consider these scriptures, we see a pattern of love and fidelity that is constant throughout the Bible; a schematic that is immutable, of God's unchanging love for us. He cannot cease to love us, though we often do our best to prevent it. Though we damn ourselves by deserting Him, He will love us and it will break His heart.
Personally, I prefer to be watchful - to "fear the Lord and serve Him in truth" (Josh 24:14) and if I mess up (which I certainly will), I pray the Holy Spirit tips me off, before I stray too far from God's protection and the blessings that attend it.
I really need to be on the right side of those hornets ...
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According to Wikipedia, Ezekiel was:
"a priest living in exile in the city of Babylon between 593 and 571 BC"
Yet, it is in Ezekiel 17:22-24, that we find the awe inspiring prophecy:
22 “‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will take a shoot from the very top of a cedar and plant it; I will break off a tender sprig from its topmost shoots and plant it on a high and lofty mountain. 23 On the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it; it will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar. Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches. 24 All the trees of the forest will know that I the Lord bring down the tall tree and make the low tree grow tall. I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish.
‘I the Lord have spoken, and I will do it.’”
It is no more awe-inspiring than Isaiah 53:2, of course, in which the advent of Jesus is foretold, about 800 years before He arrived in human form:
"He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground."
But what never ceases to amaze me, is the accuracy and consistency and faithfulness of God's Word. Isaiah's 'tender shoot out of dry ground' is the image used again by God, 300 years later, via Ezekiel, to denote Christ, in the "tender sprig...on a high and lofty mountain." And in every one of the Old Testament verses that prophesy Jesus, He is referred to as a root or branch or shoot - from the Tree of Life itself, of course.
In a sermon he delivered called 'Christ the Tree of Life', the notable CH Spurgeon (1834-92) talks of the Tree of Life that was plundered in the Garden of Eden:
"But here we translate the metaphor; we do not understand that tree to be literal. We believe our Lord Jesus Christ to be none other than that tree of life, whose leaves are for the healing of the nations. We can scarcely conceive of any other interpretation, as this seems to us to be so full of meaning, and to afford us such unspeakable satisfaction."
Ezekiel 17:22-4 and Isaiah 53:2, as well as Isaiah 11:1-10, Jer 23:5 and Zech 3:8 were, of course, among those scriptural verses prophesying Christ, that terrified Herod 'the Great'. They are the reason why he ordered the Slaughter of the Innocents, when it was revealed to him that a child had been born in Bethlehem of Judea, who would be Israel's King. But Herod's heart was incapable of understanding the difference between the sovereignty of Heaven and that of Earth, and assumed himself to be in opposition to the will of Israel's God, who would "bring down the tall tree and make the low tree grow tall." And, as Proverbs 23:7 states:
"For as he thinks in his heart, so is he."
Spirit-filled Christians are very familiar with the 'pictures' and metaphors and similes that inform the prophecies and words of knowledge brought to them by their brothers and sisters. It is true that we see through a glass darkly and perceive only dimly what is revealed to us, and our prophecies must be weighed. But when we convey what we believe is God's heart, in pictures and images, we are speaking in a long-established spiritual language. The sprig flourishing on mountainous terrain must have confused many who heard Ezekiel's words. (Let's be honest, a great deal of what Ezekiel did and said would have been puzzling) but, as always, those whose hearts were not hardened and who had 'ears to hear 'would have been most attentive to this exiled prophet's promise of redemption - and Israel's release from Babylonian fealty.
Which brings me to another well-explored point; God's promises will be fulfilled - there is no doubt about it - but the timing is His. In fact, King Cyrus ended the Jewish exile in 538 BC, when he commissioned the rebuilding of the Temple, a mere three decades or so after Ezekiel's chapter 17 prophecy, above. But the Messiah, to whom the prophecy applied, would not come for centuries - until Israel was re-established and the people flourishing again- albeit in thrall to yet another conqueror - Rome. But this time, the conqueror was also an occupier, who feared renewed Jewish potency. And this time, the Roman Empire reached from the southern borders of Scotland to North Africa - a ready conduit for the Gospel to begin its journey to the ends of the Earth.
And, when He did come, He was indeed tender. A tiny baby born in the usual way, to a teenager. And when He did come, He was certainly planted in rocky terrain. According to Wikipedia, "Bethlehem is situated on the southern portion in the Judean Mountains." and Nazareth, where Jesus grew up and began His ministry, "is located in the north of the country at the most southerly points of the Lebanon mountain range, about 25 km west from the Sea of Galilee" and Galilee, on whose shores and waters Jesus performed so many miracles, " is a region in northern Israel. The term Galilee traditionally refers to the mountainous part, divided into Upper Galilee ... and Lower Galilee."
And so we see that it certainly did come to pass that an almighty King - and tender shoot - was planted in rocky terrain but, in spite of the hostility of its environment, became more splendid than any other tree or king and remains, to this day, a refuge for "Birds of every kind" - all the peoples of the world, in perpetuity, who seek its shelter . As Spurgeon, said, "whose leaves are for the healing of the nations."
The allegorical prophetic, direct from God or from Jesus' own mouth, marries perfectly with the literal truth. Always. And the absolute reliability of God's Word is evidenced in His prophecies, though we may not always live to see them, or see them manifested as quickly as we would like.
Many of us have received prophetic words to which we cling, though time passes without apparent fulfilment of those promises. And of course, there is the ultimate promise, delivered to us by Jesus Himself, through John, in Revelation 3:5:
"The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels."
Oh, Lord, help us wait! Please help us trust that all Your promises, through Your Son, Jesus, are 'Yes and Amen' ,and that Your timing is so much better than ours. Help us to trust, also, that You always support us in the waiting, with encouragement and good things - if we will only be faithful to You.
Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered— how fleeting my life is. You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand. My entire lifetime is just a moment to you; at best, each of us is but a breath.”
(Psalm 39:4-7)
And yet:
"He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also, along with Him, freely give us all things?"
(Romans 8:32)
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Even if we are incredibly blessed, with unfailingly marvellous marriages, wholesome, successful and rewarding careers; abundant, good friends and children who adore us unconditionally, there are going to be times when we feel alone and upset. And, when illness or tragedy strikes, it can send us in a dark spiral to 'life below the surface', deep in our hurting hearts and souls, that no one else can access. No one, that is, apart from God.
The Bible is full of people who, in spite of being anointed, appointed and vaunted by God, are subject to 'The heartache and the thousand natural shocks /That flesh is heir to" (Hamlet). Imagine how profoundly heart-breaking it must have been for David, when Absalom, his son, openly rebelled against him. For about five years, Absalom schemed and bided his time, keeping David 'sweet,' until he had amassed enough followers to stage an open rebellion against his father:
"Whenever anyone would come to Absalom and start bowing down, he would reach out and hug and kiss them. 6 That’s how he treated everyone from Israel who brought a complaint to the king. Soon everyone in Israel liked Absalom better than they liked David.
7 Four years later... He took two hundred men from Jerusalem with him, but they had no idea what he was going to do. ..More and more people were joining Absalom and supporting his plot. Meanwhile, Absalom had secretly sent some messengers to the northern tribes of Israel. The messengers told everyone, “When you hear the sound of the trumpets, you must shout, ‘Absalom now rules as king in Hebron!’” (2 Samuel 15:5-12)
Absalom's vengeance against his father was doubtless rooted in David's inability to forgive him, initially, for murdering Amnon, another of David's sons. Amnon had raped his half-sister, Tamar. Tamar was Absalom's full sister by Maacah, a wife of David.
But, after about 5 years, David did forgive Absalom; brought him back to Jerusalem from Geshur, his mother's country, where he had been living in exile, and reinstated him as his son and heir. Amnon's murder meant that Absalom was next in line to the throne, but … David had been told, prophetically, that Solomon, not Absalom, would succeed him as King, and Absalom was aware of this prophecy.
Unable or unwilling to see how he himself contributed to the fulfilling of this prophecy, Absalom proceeded to plan a coup. What takes a few words to write though, is a summary of what must have been the most abject sorrow, resentment, anger, jealousy, hatred and grief on the part of both Absalom and David, over several years. And what of the harrowing grief of the hapless and mightily abused Tamar?
Even Paul and Peter were not immune to quarrels and falling out with people on whom they had relied and with whom they had been close. Paul clearly learned what it was to be humbled; the 'Pharisee of Pharisees' became a tentmaker and was often beaten, hungry and imprisoned. But he seems to have retained the 'wiring' that made him a fearsome and brilliant theologian, not used to being gain-said. Here, he recounts, rather self-righteously, a dispute he had with Peter about circumcision:
"But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong. 12 When he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile believers, who were not circumcised. But afterward, when some friends of James came, Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore. He was afraid of criticism from these people who insisted on the necessity of circumcision. 13 As a result, other Jewish believers followed Peter’s hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy."(Galatians 2:11-13)
And later, Paul fell out with Barnabas, as we read in Acts 15:36-40:
"Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” 37 Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, 38 but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. 39 They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord."
There's a world of pain in the sentence, 'They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company." Paul and Barnabas were very close and there is nothing in scripture to indicate that they ever met up again. Although, there does seem to have been some heartfelt reconciliation, at least, as in 2 Tim 4:11, Paul instructs Timothy: “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministering” and Paul warmly commends Barnabas' ministry as one deserving of financial support (1 Cor 9:6) In the heat of the moment, however, these two great friends reached a destructive impasse that cannot be said to be to Paul's credit. We, though, may learn and take encouragement from it; our mistakes, however costly, need not be the end of the story, and can be footnotes, rather than highlights.
We are just flesh and blood. Even when we are saved, we have to continue to wrestle with our souls and the temptation to fight our corners, defend our rights, seek justice before mercy and plain old lose our tempers. Families experience 'melt downs' all the time; marriages go through bad patches and even fail; friends fall out and people betray each other. And there is nothing we can do to make people forgive us, or love us or sympathise with us or see our point of view, if they don't want to.
Jesus knew what it was to be alone, deserted by friends, in His greatest hour of need, just before He was arrested and crucified. Unimaginable:
"Then everyone deserted him and fled." (Mark 14:50)
And He forgave totally and graciously. It is likely that it was not just the Romans, Pharisees and Sadducees whom Jesus had in mind, when he cried out, on the cross:
"Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." (Luke 23:34)
There is a beautiful old hymn called 'Cornerstone' , written by Edward Mote in 1834, and it has a verse that reads:
"My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name"
We may not trust even 'the sweetest frame'. If there is one thing certain in this life - as well as death and taxes - it is that, even those dearest to you will let you down now and again, and we will fail to live up to other people's expectations, if only occasionally. Occasionally, suffering will come and undermine our faith and well-being, perhaps even to the point that we lose all taste for life, or get angry when we read scriptures like Jeremiah 29:11:
"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
But, in such times, as Christians, we can take solace in knowing that we serve a God who softens hearts and loves unity. What we cannot repair ourselves, He can address gently, with time, if our hearts are penitent and hopeful and fight to love, rather than resent.
And, sometimes, the best we can do is the opposite to that we are inclined to do! God will honour that, because He can work in the humility of a heart that is struggling to process anger, and wait for wisdom, rather than submitting to the tumult of righteous or vengeful clamour. Easier said than done - I know! But a quiet walk and faithful meditation on a scripture such as:
"The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still." (Exodus 14:14)
works wonders.
And sure, people may choose to pursue courses against or away from us and God will not interfere with their free will, if they are so determined. But, if we are faithful to God, and keep taking our hurt to Jesus, we can be sure that, one day, somehow, all will become clear and even the most obdurate or tragic divide will be healed. And, He will never leave us nor forsake us. He has promised that.
“Therefore know that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments."
(Deuteronomy 7:9 )
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"He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" Romans 8:32
God sent a flesh manifestation of Himself, so that we could shed the blood flowing through His veins, and so, be saved from the penalty of having rejected Him in the first place.
The mystery is astounding.
We need to go back to Leviticus:
"For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.’" (Leviticus 17:11)
and back to Hebrews 10:5:
"You have made ready a body for Me"
It was necessary for God to make a body for Jesus, so that it could contain blood; blood that 'makes atonement for our souls' not its own; the sinlessness of Christ's body and soul was the very 'ingredient' that distinguished this extraordinary blood from all other blood and made it, alone, worthy to be a sacrifice for us, before God.
I can only reflect, in silence, on the truth of these words, with no more understanding of them than the Romans had, who hammered nails into Jesus' hands and feet:
"Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."" (Luke 23:34)
I'm going to just sit for a while, in the stable where He was born of an ordinary young girl and marvel at the mystery of it all - as she most certainly did. I, like Mary, can only darkly perceive its profundity.
This tiny baby, struggling to make sense of His new environment and becoming aware of His first hunger pangs, is a necessary sacrifice to atone for my sins. He is destined to die an appalling death for the sake of all human kind. For my sake. He has come expressly to fulfil scripture with which He was familiar before this incarnation in flesh; scripture which was written in the past tense, hundreds of years before His birth, because time is irrelevant to 'I Am':
"But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed." (Isaiah 53:5)
And, when the time is right, the extreme stress His body experiences in Gethsemane will cause His skin capillaries to erupt; the blood that sustains His life will seep with sweat through the pores of His skin. The blood that is pumped by His traumatised heart, will pour from torn and shredded flesh, run down His face and body and seep around the nails hammered into His hands and feet. At last, He will succumb to agony and suffocation.
That is what needs to happen to this child, if I am not to be eternally separated from my God:
"For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance--now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant." (Hebrews 9:15)
In Isaiah 9:6, and particularly at this time of year, we read:
"For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given"
There's the lamb. There's the sacrifice. And we raised the knife, while God turned His face away and did not spare His only son. For our sakes. Because nothing else would come close to enabling our redemption, so far and resolutely had we strayed.
"It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. 5 Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:
“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; 6 with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. 7 Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll— I have come to do your will, my God.’” (Hebrews 10:4-7)
This Christmas, I shall endeavour to reflect on this most astounding of gifts. I shall try and begin to appreciate the ridiculous mercy and generosity that moved my God to entrust His son to a simple virgin's womb, and watch her deliver Him in a stable. And I shall try and fathom - just a little - the outrageous love God has for me - and all people equally - that He would do this thing, in order that we have the chance to spend eternity in His presence, because He delights in us; because He rejoices over us with singing, as He promised:
"The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing." (Zephanaiah 3:17)
Hosannah in the highest! Venite, adoramus!
"Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests." (Luke 2:14)
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At the Last Supper, Jesus commands His disciples to eat of His flesh and drink His blood. Doctor Ralph F. Wilson, Evangelical Christian, retired Pastor, Doctor of Ministry and Director of Joyful Heart Renewal Ministries, comments as follows on Jesus' confusing but uncompromising directive, "The metaphor was so vivid, so extreme, in fact, that it caused an uproar. Many "disciples" left and no longer followed Jesus." Indeed, in John 6:52, those around Him began to get rather upset and angered by their Rabbi's outlandish and apparently cannibalistic turns of phrase:
"Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, "How can this man give us His flesh to eat?"" John 6:52
"From that time on, many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him."(John 6:66)
But Jesus does not explain Himself! He takes no pains to elucidate to these people why it is that He is suddenly advocating a practice that is bound to outrage and disgust them. He knows full well that if they believe that He means they should literally swallow His blood, they are likely to believe He is a fraud, and cannot possibly the Messiah. It is a huge risk. None the less, Jesus remains adamant and becomes even more uncompromising:
"53Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day."" (John 6: 53-55)
A number of things occur to me when I consider the Last Supper and how confusing it must have been for many. One of them is, I am expected to be obedient and trusting, even when I cannot possibly understand what God is asking of me or why He might ask it.
In the end, God did not allow Abraham to spill Isaac's blood; Jesus did not cut Himself and fill a cup with his blood then require people to drink it. Obviously, there is something profoundly spiritual going on, that our flesh cannot perceive, and to which we are being required to consent, trustingly.
In Acts 10, Peter has a vision in which God shows him a range of unclean animals that would definitely not yield kosher meat, yet says:
“Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” (Acts 10:13)
Peter, steadfast Jew as he is, is horrified. I imagine his abhorrence was on a par with that of those who had walked out on Jesus at the Last Supper. He retorts to God's instruction:
“Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” (Acts 10:14)
But, just as Jesus was uncompromising and did not feel the need to launch into a hermeneutical discourse on how He was updating an old covenant, and blood was central to it in some radically new way, God does not comfort Peter ,or put his mind at rest about eating 'unclean' meat. Just as Jesus did when He urged the drinking of His blood, the Father repeats the injunction to Peter, to revise his views on what is clean:
" The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (Acts 10:15)
In fact, as far as we know, Peter didn't actually have to eat a lizard to prove his fealty to a 'new order' . What he did have to do, that very day, was bring the Gospel to a Roman gentile named Cornelius, whose house Peter would have been unwilling to enter before his vision, on grounds it, too, would have been 'unclean'.
My limited understanding is that there is a revolution taking place at the time of Jesus' death and resurrection, that is exploding the prejudices and cultural limits of His chosen people. I suspect it was vital, in order that they could take the Gospels 'to the ends of the earth'. The traditions and taboos that marked them as distinctly and elitely Jewish, had become 'bars' it seems, to evangelising gentiles. And Jesus' had come to save humankind, not just the Jews. These contraindicative laws to world evangelism included circumcision, which Paul denounced as unnecessary for salvation, following the Resurrection:
""But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong. 12 When he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile believers, who were not circumcised. But afterward, when some friends of James came, Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore. He was afraid of criticism from these people who insisted on the necessity of circumcision. "" (Galatians 2:11-12)
This radical New Covenant is about getting the Jewish followers of Christ to go spiritually 'viral'; it is as if God has been incubating His Gospel throughout the Old Testament and when Jesus' blood is shed, there is a spiritual 'outbreak' of such momentum, that it explodes all flesh boundaries. The Jewish laws and rules that kept the Jews 'immune' from others - that were observed prophylactically before the Resurrection, are now barriers to the spreading of the Gospel. Now, nothing and no one, is unclean; nothing is necessarily kosher. Spiritual contamination is no longer a risk for the Jews who are saved by Jesus. Even circumcision is a spiritual affair! :
"For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, and true circumcision is not something visible in the flesh. 29 On the contrary, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart—by the Spirit, not the letter.That man’s praise is not from men but from God." (Romans 2:28-29)
So, at the Last Supper, when Jesus said:
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." "(John 6:54
His words were deliberately, unapologetically and precisely counter to God's Old Testament law, established in Leviticus, via Moses:
""And if any native Israelite or foreigner living among you eats or drinks blood in any form, I will turn against that person and cut him off from the community of your people,"" ( Leviticus 17:10)
""You must never eat or drink blood""(Leviticus 17:12)
It is no wonder so many Jewish 'disciples' left Jesus that day. What He was saying was tantamount to heresy. They must have thought the Pharisees were right, after all, to seek the demise of this strange Rabbi. I imagine a few of those who left Jesus during the Last Supper, were baying for His blood a few hours later.
As for me, I have no greater understanding of the precise significance of blood, than Peter seemed to have at the Last Supper; what is it in blood that can save the soul? But, like Peter, I know and trust that the God who sent His son to bleed for me possesses the only safe hands to which I can entrust my soul.
After He had pronounced that, without consumption of His blood, no person could hope for salvation, and many had left Him in disgust, Jesus addresses His remaining Disciples:
""So Jesus asked the Twelve, “Do you want to leave too?”"( John 6:67)
And to his credit, it is Peter who speaks for them, though he must have been as frightened as he was on the evening he stepped out of that boat to meet Jesus on the sea of Galilee:
"Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life.…"" (John 6:68)
What he said, Lord.
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Hebrews 10, I find astounding. Certain verses of it summarise, concisely and powerfully, why Jesus was born upon the Earth and why He consented to die, in a way that would maximise the shedding of His blood. God, His father, was weary of animal sacrifice that just could not redeem His people from the depths of the iniquity and the recidivism that was destroying them:
"...every [human] priest stands [at his altar of service] ministering daily, offering the same sacrifices over and over again..." (Hebrews 10:11) (Amp)
I guess, simply put, people had got into the habit of glibly saying sorry, then doing it again; they sinned, sacrificed a goat, then sinned again. As long as they didn't run out of goats - or sheep or bulls or doves, depending on their means to raise or purchase livestock - they felt they could buy impunity and appease God.
I can't get my head around how disrespectful this is to God, their Father, and their deliverer from slavery. It makes Him no better than any pagan god to which people made blood sacrifices, in the hope that this would buy them favour, good fortune or a good harvest. The implication, in Hebrews 10, is that the hearts and souls of the people were disconnected from the slaughter of the beasts they bought and left at the Temple to be killed by priests. Sacrifice had become a meaningless 'tribute' - a ritual before a distant idol.
And how holy and sacred was the slaughter of hundreds of animals every day, as far as the priests were concerned? The Temple must have been more like an abattoir than a place of worship; weary priests sloshing about in blood and animal excrement - the whole place stinking and much too hot; the noise of bleating, lowing, calling animals and birds, deafening. Not very dignified or 'priestly' and it must have been hard work. It seems that, from reading Hebrews 10, there was no relationship between God and His beloved people, even symbolised by the repeated shedding of animal blood. God loved as He had always done, but the love was not reciprocated:
"You hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied correctly about you: 8‘These people honour Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. 9They worship Me in vain;" (Matthew 15:8)
It reminds me a little of the ritualistic confessions I had to attend as a child, growing up in an Irish Catholic context; particularly when I attended a convent boarding school in Tipperary, Eire, in the mid 1970's. Each Saturday, I was ushered into a dark box to speak my sins into a grille, behind which a Priest sat and listened, then absolved me of the sins I would return to confess in a week's time. I could not, it seemed, refrain from behaving deceitfully (meeting boys in secret) having nasty thoughts about the nuns who taught and (over) disciplined me, and I often had angry thoughts about my parents (who had consigned me to boarding school). Sometimes, I even made up stuff, to have something different to say - or just something to say - in Confession! Still, if I confessed my venial sins, even in a bored way to a bored priest, I'd be sure to go to Heaven if Sister Rosario actually killed me during the ensuing week. Jesus was just a figure, hanging from a wooden cross at intervals on the convent walls and school corridors. I understood nothing of His crucifixion. I was never required to read a Bible and certainly didn't own one. I was required to attend Mass every morning, though, and remain awake through a sacrament about which I understood nothing - the 'transubstantiation' of bread and wine into Jesus' body and blood .
The point is, I doubt whether my enforced, insincere and ritualistic accounting of my repeated sins, to a priest I feared, as if he was the bogeyman, had any real significance before God.
In Hebrews 10:4 and 5, we read:
"4...the blood of bulls and goats is powerless to take sins away 5 Hence, when He [Christ] entered into the world, He said, Sacrifices and offerings You have not desired, but instead You have made ready a body for Me [to offer]" (Amp.)
The writer goes on:
"8...You have neither desired, nor have You taken delight in sacrifices...all of which are offered according to the Law - 9 He then went on to say, Behold [here] I am, coming to do Your will. Thus He does away with and annuls the first (former) order...so that He might inaugurate and establish the second (latter) order. [Ps 40:6-8]" (Amp)
Wow. There could not be a clearer exposition, relying on Jesus' own words, of the reasons why Christians celebrate Christmas and Easter. Jesus, the ultimate Lamb, was intended to replace, for all time, any sacrificial animal for the atonement of sin. Further, the shedding of His blood would be an eternal payment for the sins of all men and women who would ever believe in its salvific power.
And whilst these words might accelerate our heartrates and move us to worship - which responses are right and fitting - the mystery of why the shedding of blood was ever a 'thing' remains.
In Hebrews 9:22, we read:
“Nearly all things are cleansed with blood according to the Law, and unless blood is poured out no forgiveness takes place.”— Hebrews 9:22.
I read these words and accept them. I believe them. But I do not understand them. I know that life is in the blood:
"For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.’" (Leviticus 17:11)
My understanding of God's mysteries is an impossibility while I live on Earth. For now, I must believe and accept that I do not live on bread alone, ""...but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" (Matthew 4:4.) And so, I feed hungrily and digest, without knowing whereof I eat - just as the Jews devoured manna in the desert (Exodus). I know it will sustain me.
Next time: Drinking blood? A very new covenant!
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Jordan Ring's book 'Volcanic Momentum' is a revelation - as is he! This is a truly useful and excellently conceived guide to breaking out of ordinariness, inertia and helplessness and taking meaningful steps towards achievable dream realisation. The prose style is beautifully clear, the advice and suggestions always respectful and rooted in empathy born of personal experience and given the author's relative youth, there is an astounding wisdom and maturity informing his work - and a real humility which is never affected and never undermining of his justified confidence in his own ability - and his fitness to encourage others.
Jordan's vivid Christian faith is resonant throughout this book and frequently, directly referenced. The section entitled 'Oh, Captain, My Captain!' where he advocates that we have in mind a role model or inspirational figure, when we are self-motivating, is very moving and, I found, personally galvanising. Jordan's role model is, resoundingly, Jesus.
This is the sort of book that, as you are reading it, you want to share with the people who are most important to you. It is a motivating and galvanising 'must read'. Well done, Jordan - and thank you!'
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It is the most natural thing in the world to get angry with God when things go wrong. Atheists do it all the time. Richard Dawkins has made a career of being angry with a God in whom he does not believe.
And for Christians? Well, to take an extreme hypothetical situation, if our faith in God were absolute and all-eclipsing, we would not mourn our dead. So focussed on Heaven and our transient, alien status on Earth would we be, that death would simply be a welcome portal into the eternal life we are promised; the gateway to the promised land, and we would rejoice that someone we loved had made it home – perhaps without having to travel for very long.
In time, such sentiments may begin to colour maturing grief but I don’t know any Christians – even very mature Church Leaders – who would not be devastated by bereavement of a close family member. And I suspect that even the most devoted and faithful would experience anger against God at some level, if the loss were of a child or a spouse.
If we are in a relationship with a loving God, then, as is the case with all relationships, if He appears to let us down or allow disappointment or grief, then it is faithful and very human to be annoyed with Him. Why? Because it is not rational to be annoyed with something you don’t think is there. (cf first paragraph)
An easy analogy is an earthly father-child relationship, temporarily weakened because the father has made a decision to work abroad or sell the family home. That ‘arbitrary’ decision impacts massively on the child’s life; the child has no control over or say in a decision that will potentially devastate him or her - sundering friendships, generating massive anxiety at the thought of starting a new school, leaving behind everything that is familiar. Not fair. And dad’s to blame. The child might even doubt the father’s love, that he can do such a thing, knowing the consequences for his family. But, if the relationship was normal and loving up to the point of the change in circumstances, the angry, grieving child will know she or he is loved and that, whatever the father’s heart is in this, it is true. The child will know, beneath the protests and anger, that his or her welfare will have been a paramount concern in the decision to move or relocate. This might provoke even more incredulity at the final decision but eventually, it is likely to be a source of solace. In time, the upheaval may well be highly beneficial in ways the child simply cannot imagine in his or her initial grief.
This scenario is not analogous with the trauma of bereavement. We’d have to look to the crucifixion for that. But it serves to delineate how stuff happens when Christians least expect it or against our wishes and prayers. And, when it does, it is a natural process of a genuine, loving relationship, to feel angry with the more powerful party in the relationship; the one who could have prevented heartache or trauma, who could, in an instant, stop the bad things from happening.
I believe that, in the initial shock of drastically altered circumstances, it is not helpful for Christians to tell their hurting brothers and sisters that God has a plan and this is part of it. That may be helpful later, when the storm has lulled and such truths do not sound like patronising and unsympathetic platitudes. In the midst of disappointment or shock, when the known world is being splintered and dissected, as if by a tornado that won’t move on, it is appropriate to just hold hands with the person whose life is being dismantled, and weather the storm with them, wishing it was not there.
When Elijah wished for death because he could not understand how God could leave him vulnerable to the murderous Jezebel, he accused God of betraying him, in effect. Twice, he says:
“I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts, for the Israelites have forsaken Your covenant, thrown down Your altars and killed Your prophets…”
He is clearly furious with a God he does not dare to confront head on. Look at the language, the repetition of the possessive determiner ‘Your’ and the third person formalisation of his address to his friend and saviour, ‘the Lord God of Hosts’, to whom he is speaking directly! The exchange is similar to one spouses might have, with one aggrieved party on the verge of screaming his or her fury and sense of betrayal at the other, but not quite daring to go that far, for fear of the damage that might ensue. So, the passion is subdued in expressions loaded with hurt and accusation. The subtext is ‘I did so much for YOU and this is how you repay me?’ Elijah even says:
“It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life;” (1 Kings 19:4)
‘Possible translation? ‘Just kill me – you may as well; what you have done is tantamount to death for me in any case.’
God does not shout back. He does not get angry. Instead, He walks with Elijah until Elijah can go no further. When, exhausted and profoundly depressed, the prophet collapses and sinks into sleep, God sends an angel to guard him and, when Elijah awakes, there is food for him:
“He looked, and behold, there was a cake baked on the coals, and a bottle of water at his head. “ (1 Kings 19: 6)
Does Elijah instantly praise God and become penitent for his ungracious behaviour, his forgetfulness of the great love he knows God has always borne him? No. He eats sullenly and goes back to sleep:
“And he ate and drank and lay down again.”
It’s hard not to find parallels with a sullen and unforgiving child nursing a grudge against a parent.
Eventually, with great gentleness, the angel awakens Elijah once more, and says tenderly:
“Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.” (1 Kings 19:7)
God, through kindness and practical help, sympathises with Elijah’s distress and does not attempt to dispel it or rebuke him. It is not an indication that Elijah has abandoned God or lost his faith; it is, rather, an understandable human response to wildly difficult and abruptly changing circumstances. God simply supports His friend through it.
God does this with Jonah, Moses, Gideon, David, Job – men of great faith who experience great distress and, in their humanity, become depressed, or angry with God, because they know He is omnipotent and could deliver them in an instant.
It’s too easy to become self-condemnatory when we blame the God we serve for the difficulties we face. He understands. And our Christian brothers and sisters would do well to understand too, and curb their prayers to ones of humble supplication or pleas for mercy for their suffering siblings. Or else, be silent, and simply lay bread before them for the journey that is presently too great to be endured. Further down the road, when they are stronger, perhaps it will be apt to ask, gently:
“What are you doing here?” (1Kings 19:13)
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Two of the most striking verses in the Bible, I think, are these:
“If Your presence does not go with us,” Moses replied, “do not lead us up from here. 16For how then can it be known that Your people and I have found favour in Your sight, unless You go with us? How else will we be distinguished from all the other people on the face of the earth?”… (Exodus 33:15-16)
"For I was ashamed to request of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy along the way, because we had told the king, The hand of our God is upon all them for good who seek Him, but His power and His wrath are against all those who forsake Him." (Ezra 8:22)
I love these verses and find them thrilling because they testify so strongly -and humanly - to a relationship with God, the world's creator, in which our choices and words and actions have consequences and influence - just as in any important relationship.
In the first instance, above, God is fed up with the treacherous, grumbling, stiff-necked Jews who, in spite of repeated and spectacularly miraculous signs that He was with them, serially betrayed His trust and were callously disloyal. Just as anyone would be in such circumstances, God, intensely hurt, considers abandoning them:
"Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you …" (Exodus 33:3)
Exodus 33 follows hard upon the verses in which we read about the Jews' worshipping of the golden calf, which idolatry was a very "great sin" (32:11) God never the less tells Moses to take the people to the land He promised them:"I will give it" (33:1). And, what is more, He will send an angel before them to drive their enemies from this land "flowing with milk and honey". But - and this is heart-breaking - God tells Moses that He, Himself, will not go with the Hebrews any further, "lest I destroy you on the way" for they are "a stiff-necked people"(33:3)
How intensely sad. God's evident grief and pain here echo that expressed in other, later, harrowing Biblical verses, such as:
"1I revealed Myself to those who did not ask for Me; I was found by those who did not seek Me. I said: “Here I am! Here I am!” to a nation that did not call My name. 2All day long I have held out My hands to an obstinate people, who walk in the wrong path, who follow their own imaginations... "(Isaiah 65:1-2)
God revealed to Moses that His nature is love, graciousness and compassion (Exodus 34:6) but also, He is a just and awesome God, who cannot but punish unrepentant wickedness:
"... maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished..." (Exodus 34:7)
Clearly, however, God will go out of His way to avoid having to punish even the most grievous of sins. He would rather leave the Hebrews to an angel and relinquish the joy of watching them assume their (undeserved) inheritance, than risk being moved to destructive wrath by accompanying them further. This is a Father's heart. This is the heart of the Prodigal's father - allowing his wayward son to squander his undeserved inheritance, far from home, yet watchful, daily for the son's penitent return. This is unassailable, barely comprehensible love.
Moses, God's true friend, understood this. And Moses was not about to watch God retreat in a state of agonised rejection, and leave this unruly people in the hands of a single warrior angel and an exhausted, ageing leader. Neither was he about to lose his closest and most trustworthy friend. After all, even Aaron - Moses' own brother and God's High Priest - had proven treacherous to Moses, as well as God.
And so, Moses dares to reason with God in a desperate, very human manner, persuading the creator of the universe that if He doesn't continue to accompany them, he's not going either and also, had God considered that if He's not with them, people will say there is no truth in the Hebrews' claim that they are His chosen people? You can hear and imagine the desperation and terror in Moses' voice - everything he had striven and lived for to this moment depended on God's response.
"Is it not in Your going with us, so that we are distinguished … from all the other people on the face of the earth?" (Exodus 33:16)
And, because God sees the "loving-kindness and mercy" (33:17) in Moses' heart, He capitulates instantly and says:
"...I will do this thing..." (Exodus 33:17)
and more than this, our amazing God adds:
"...I will be gracious, and show mercy and loving kindness on whom I will show mercy and loving kindness." (33:19)
What relief, joy and renewed faith must have flooded Moses' heart in that moment!
There is no haughtiness or pride in God's apparent change of heart; it is entire. There is instantaneous forgiveness, love and compassion, because one man's heart was moved, in love, to supplication. We get the impression that God just wants to asked. And in the instant Moses 'prevailed' with God (though we cannot know the mystery of this apparent occurrence), how many thousands were saved on what would otherwise have been an even more perilous journey?
Hundreds of years later, in around 500 BC, the Prophet and Priest, Ezra, was very fearful, on setting out on his own journey from Babylon to Jerusalem, to encourage the remnant in their rebuilding of the Temple, destroyed decades earlier by Nebuchadnezzar. Ezra was entrusted with great riches and a letter of approval from King Artaxerxes, to support the rebuilding, and he was also travelling with many men who were Heads of Jewish households, and their families. The journey would be a 900 mile, 4 month one from Babylon to Jerusalem and fraught with difficulties. There was huge regional enmity against the Jews and much fear from other Kings, of the former Jewish might that had made David and Solomon great. Once far from Artaxerxes' army, who knew what violence might be perpetrated against this exodus from Babylon?
However, Ezra quelled his very human misgivings and, like Moses, realised that his leadership and great responsibility were commissions from God first and Artaxerxes, second. For this reason, he resisted the temptation to ask the King for an armed guard; if God was with them, what could come against them? (Romans 8:31) And so, he wrote these very human words (also quoted above) that honestly convey the struggle he had, to trust God wholly, given his circumstances:
"For I was ashamed to request of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy along the way, because we had told the king, The hand of our God is upon all them for good who seek Him, but His power and His wrath are against all those who forsake Him." (Ezra 22)
And, of course, when Ezra fell to his knees in worship, and supplication that God would strengthen and be close to him, God immediately answered and honoured his faith:
"...He heard our entreaty" (Ezra 8:23)
Both Moses and Ezra knew that without God, they were weak and vulnerable. With Him, they were invincible. And what was more, it was vital that they acted as though God was with them, so that the rest of the world might know they were favoured and also seek the protection and love of this God.
How much closer - even than breath - is this astounding God to each of us, since He allowed His only son to shed His blood, that He might save us from the logical corollary of our rebellion? With the death and resurrection of Jesus, God bought the world yet more time. He postponed the judgement that must come because it is impossible to save those who choose to remain prodigal.
Let those of us who walk with God continue to beseech His mercy for ourselves, and those others, whom He loves as well as He loves us; that the day finally comes when, even far off - perhaps barely able to walk - they appear, putting one foot in front of the other, on their journey home to a waiting, compassionate and instantly forgiving Father.
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