Thought for March 31st. “YOU WILL BE WITH ME IN PARADISE”

Today’s readings.. Numbers14, Proverbs 10, Luke 23

    Today we read of Jesus on the Cross. “The chief priests and the rulers and the people” [Luke 23 v.13] opposed Pilate’s decision to release him so he gave in and “delivered Jesus over to their will.”   

Jesus is crucified between two criminals and one of these derides him saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us,” but the other rebukes him and says, “we are receiving the due reward for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong” [v.39,41] Then he makes a request to Jesus which, together with Jesus’ answer, is widely misunderstood.    

    “‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom’. And he (Jesus) said to him, ‘Truly I say to you today, you will be with me in paradise.’ “[v.42,43]  We have quoted exactly as in the Bible (ESV) with one little exception, we have put the comma after the word today instead of before it. The original Greek has no punctuation so translators use their own judgement as to how to punctuate the text when rendering it in English – or any other language; nearly all of them get it wrong in this case. 

    The question the criminal asked indicates he knew the teachings of Jesus but had turned to bad ways: maybe he learnt the prayer Jesus taught,  ”Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth …” [Matt.6 v.10]. Paradise is to be on earth.  The whole world will become the Garden of Eden when Jesus sets up God’s kingdom [Rev. 2 v,7, 25-27].

    It is obvious to the attentive reader that Jesus is not referring to heaven in making this promise; after he came out of the tomb he said to Mary Magdalene, “I have not yet ascended to the Father” [John 20 v.17].  The criminal re-established his relationship with Jesus and because of his faith he received this promise of a place in the paradise of God’s kingdom.  He had remarkable faith whereas all the disciples had lost theirs. 

    A closing thought is to note the mistake some make in saying that since the criminal was not baptised – baptism is not essential.  They forget that the meaning of baptism from then on was a symbol of the death and resurrection of Jesus as Paul makes plain in Romans 6 v. 3-8.  The whole world is to be a paradise!  What wonders await those who will be with Jesus at that time!  May we be there!  And how soon now?!   

Thoughts for March 30th. How strong is your faith?

Today’s readings.. Exodus 12&13, Proverbs 8&9, Luke 22

Can you imagine yourself as a member of the Israelites who miraculously escaped from Egypt?  

After seeing all the remarkable plagues, the wonder of crossing the Red Sea, then camping beside Mt. Sinai with the earth quaking, the clouds, the fire and the voice from the mountain!  After that the miraculous provision of manna, also quails, and the water from the rock. Then, the teamwork to build the tabernacle as a centre of worship, with the divine presence indicated by fire and cloud!  Next the great celebration of a ‘Passover’, one year and one month after leaving Egypt to celebrate their deliverance! 

Surely, if we had been part of all that, our confidence and anticipation of God’s power to lead us to the promised land would be very great.  Well might we be astonished at what we read today in Numbers!  Why did 10 of the 12 spies sent to explore the land, come back in such a negative frame of mind?  Although they said the land ‘flows with milk and honey and this is its fruit.”[13 v.27] They spoke against the two other spies who came back and had said, “Let us go up at once and occupy the land for we are well able to overcome it.” [v.30]  

But the 10 said “We are not able … for they are stronger than we are … all the people we saw in it are of great height … we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers” [v.31-33]

We are going to read of God’s anger with them because of this failure of faith after all the evidence they had experienced of his power surrounding them to their benefit.  

Let us examine all the evidence for our own faith.  How strong are our convictions in serving God?  

If difficulties arise will our faith falter?  Will we only follow in the way of faith, when all is easy and there are deliverances and blessings?   Recall that remarkable Psalm 139 we read recently, David wrote, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me … see if there be any grievous way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.” 

Next month we will read Moses’ final message to the people before he dies, “and you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these 40 years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not” [Deut.8 v.2]. It was a message to the next generation, for their parents had died during the 40 year journey.  

They had learnt their lesson the hard way!  How are we learning ours?    

Thought for March 29th. “FAINTING WITH FEAR”

Today’s readings.. Numbers 11, Proverbs 7, Luke 21

All my life we have read Luke ch. 21 and pondered its application to current events!  Included in our ‘pondering’  is to understand the length of a generation! “Seventy” seems to be a significant number in the Old Testament, it occurs 3 times in today’s ch. 11 in Numbers and Israel went into captivity for “seventy years.”   Tyre was judged for 70 years (Isaiah 23 v.15,17) and of course Israel was made to serve Babylon for “seventy years.” (Jeremiah 29 v.10; Daniel 9 v.2) From the birth of Jesus to the judgements on Jerusalem was a similar period. Psalm 90 tells us “The years of our life are seventy …” [v.10]

At the start of Luke 21 we see how the disciples are greatly concerned when Jesus says the Temple would be destroyed. “Teacher, when…” they ask “  [v.7]   “what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?”  Jesus says, “when you hear of wars … do not be terrified … the end will not be at once.” [v.9] 

Jesus then opens up a wide vision of the future.  He tells his disciples (and us) that “Nation will rise against nation … there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. But before all this … they will lay their hands on you … you will be brought before kings and governors … This will be your opportunity to bear witness.” [v.10,11]  It seems to us that this applies to ‘disciples’ of all ages – as history testifies.  Today this is surely very largely complete.

It is after this that  “… there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.” [v.11] Nothing we know of in history really fits this picture.  Verse 24 gives us a clear picture which indicates it is our days – a time when Jerusalem ceases to  “be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles” that then, “the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”  That is time, says Jesus, when there will be “distress of nations in perplexity” with ” people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world.” [v.25,26] 

These verses also imply there are physical events – but believers have puzzled whether Jesus is using symbolic or literal language!?  Maybe they are both!  For we also read in these verses that Jesus said that, “there will be signs in sun and moon and stars … the powers of the heavens will be shaken” and “the sea and the waves” will be “roaring.” 

Finally, there is a message to us in v.28, that we should not be “fainting with fear” but “when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”  That surely is a message for true believers in 2019 – and for whatever time remains, for it has been 70 years since Israel was re-established as a nation.

Thought for March 28th. “BIND THEM ON YOUR HEART”

Today’s readings… Numbers 10, Proverbs 6, Luke 20

            God’s word again directs our thoughts to the vital importance of our attitude of “heart” as the most vital thing in our thought processes.  We saw in Luke on Saturday that Jesus, “told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” [18 v.1] 

            Today in ch. 6 of Proverbs, Solomon’s son is told, “My son, keep your father’s commandment, and forsake not your mother’s teaching.  Bind them on your heart always …” When you walk, they will lead you; when you lie down, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk with you…. the reproofs of discipline are the way of life….  to preserve you …” [v.20-24]

            Our Heavenly Father’s commandments as revealed to us by His Son, are the ultimate guides to our lives, he was Solomon’s ultimate descendent, his father David’s spiritual “Son” .  We read on Saturday of how the blind man called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” [18 v.38] How much do the spiritually blind today need to cry this out!  But they are blind to this need – and it seems harder than ever to encourage them to “see.” 

            Oh, the wonder of the ‘vison’ for those who do see!  Let us make sure it is our vision.  In our Luke chapter 20 today we saw ‘in vision’ that the time is coming when “those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead … cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.” [v.35,36]

            Jesus ends his discourse with a remarkable statement! “Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.” [v.38]  The previous verse gives Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as examples of those who “live unto him.”  

            Peter’s comment springs to mind, he tells us “do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” [2 Peter 3 v.8] Those who are “beloved” and who “live to him” therefore take his words and “bind them on their heart” – and move into his perception of time!  Therefore, at the resurrection, it will be as though they have had a very brief “sleep,” indeed, they will have had no perception of the passage of time at all. So let us constantly encourage each other to “Bind” his word “on (y)our heart” – today – and every day – until the wonder of his coming. 

Thought for March 27th. “SERVANTS” and “CITIZENS”

Today’s readings… Numbers 8&9, Proverbs 5, Luke 19

  In our chapter in Luke today (19) We read that Jesus “proceeded to tell a parable … because they supposed that the Kingdom of God was to appear immediately. 

He said therefore, ‘A nobleman (Jesus) went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return.” [v.11,12] We know this parable well.  The nobleman calls “10 of his servants” and “gave them 10 minas and said to them, ‘engage in business till I come’ ”[v.13]  

    A mina coin is the equivalent of 3 months wages for a labourer and they each have the same amount.  When the time eventually comes for his return he calls his servants to him to ask how they have traded. Two examples are given, one has doubled his money and another has achieved a 50% increase.  Both are commended and given positions of authority. 

There is another that does nothing with the money, as a result he is called “a wicked servant” v.22]  All who put no value on the ‘word’ they have been given are seen by Jesus as “wicked.”  

    What we are inclined to overlook is that there is another class of people in the parable called “citizens.” [v.14] – they are there when he goes away and when he comes back.  They are not interested in working for the nobleman at all. The text says, “they hated him”[v.14]!  

It is the same Greek word as in Ch.14 v.26 where Jesus challengingly says that the one coming to him must have an attitude of “hate” toward all their nearest relatives “and even his own life” or “he cannot be my disciple.”

There is no place for the “lukewarm” (Rev.3 v.16) in our relationship with the nobleman.  These “citizens” send a “delegation” [v.14] saying they do not want him as their king! When he returns he counts them as “enemies.” 

    So the world is made up of 3 kinds of people.  Firstly those who are diligent and dedicated in their service to Christ: secondly those who accept his “money” but are not diligent, and thirdly, those who want nothing to do with the nobleman; they do with their lives whatever pleases them.  What a tragedy to be in the last class, “as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me.” [v.27]  

How soon now before the world witnesses this “slaughter”?  But let us finish on a positive note, let’s recall what we read about 4 weeks ago in 1 Cor. 4 v.5, “do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.”  

What will he “bring to light” about you and I and our work as “his servants”? Let us keep asking ourselves this question today – and make sure we get the right answer.

Thought for March 26th. “WHEN I WAS A SON …”

Today’s readings.. Numbers 7, proverbs 4, Luke 18

Solomon in today’s chapter in the Proverbs reflects on how his father taught him.  “When I was a son with my father … he taught me and said to me, Let your heart hold fast to my words; keep my commandments and live; get wisdom.”  [Proverbs 4 v.3-5]    Interesting word “insight” – the chapter started with, “Hear, O son a father’s instructions and be attentive, that you may gain insight” [v.1] 

Other modern versions render it as gaining “good sense” – looking “inside” a matter.   How do you do that?   How deeply do you think through decisions, weigh up all the pros and cons?  Where do you get your “scales” from so you can weigh up your decisions?   Do you consider God’s principles – or are you totally motivated by human desires?  

“Hear my son,” Solomon continues, “and accept my words that the years of your life may be many” [v.10]   He adds, “be attentive to my words …. Keep them within your heart … keep your heart with all diligence for from it flow the springs of life … ponder the path of your feet then all your ways will be sure” [v.20,21,23,26] 

So Solomon listened to his father David and before David died he appointed him king. [1 Kings 2 v.1-4].  It is likely too that Solomon was taught by his mother as most think that the reference to “King Lemuel” in Proverbs 31, is a code name for Solomon himself.  

But the tragedy is that Solomon in his old age failed to prepare his son Rehoboam for the kingship, nor is there any indication that he had a wife who played her part in training the next generation.  Remember, in drawing lessons from the Bible we are instructed just as much by the failures, as by the successes.   

So many take little notice of instructions and only look at them when they find what they have bought is not working properly, if at all.  But that approach is fatal in human relations, when they break down they are extremely difficult to repair.  

Of course, the relationship that matters above all else is our relationship with God and with His Son.  We call, or should call, God “Our Father”   Does our heart fully embrace the wonder of the fact that we are a Son (or a daughter) of the living, all seeing Creator of all that exists?  Reading His word every day is an essential part of developing that relationship to its wonderful fullness. .   

Thought for March 25th. “THE LORD BLESS YOU AND KEEP YOU”

Today’s readings.. Numbers 6, Proverbs 3, Luke 17

    We are reading in Numbers how the establishment of Israel as an organised nation is now complete.  It had been just over a year since they escaped from Egypt; the 10 commandments and other laws had been given, the tabernacle made and erected and is now ready for use. The priesthood has been appointed, led by Aaron. 

    Our chapter today (6) concludes in a very significant way.  “The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, ‘Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,

    The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”

    This was a very special blessing: they were about to celebrate the Passover of their deliverance a second time and then head for the promised land – the land promised to their forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 

     Read the words of this blessing again, encouraging words to stimulate positive thought that the LORD is with you.  It is a most interesting phrase to: “make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you”.  David makes reference to this no less than 7 times in his Psalms.  Moses, we know, “knew God face to face” [Deut.34 v.10,] a relationship specially created by their 40 days together on the mountain top.  

    Our heavenly Father seeks a personal relationship with us through His Son the Lord Jesus Christ.  Jesus said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” [John 14 v.9]  Jesus represented the Father who himself “dwells in unapproachable light, whom no-one has ever seen or can see.” [1 Tim. 6 v.16].      We normally sing these words in seeking the LORD’s blessing at a baptism.  They have intense meaning to illustrate the wonder of the relationship God invites us to have with him. 

We must remember them throughout our lives, being conscious of the way so many of the people of Israel failed to be conscious of them when they faced challenges in the wilderness – how well are we coping with our wilderness?

Thought for March 24th. ” … WATCHING OVER THE WAY OF HIS SAINTS”

Today’s readings.. Numbers 5, Proverbs 2, Luke 16

            The 2nd chapter of Proverbs is one of the most thought provoking in the entire book.  Meditate on the sequence of ‘ifs’ in the first 4 verses. “IF you receive my words … IF you call out for insight and … understanding …. IF you seek it like silver and search for it … then you will find …”   What will you find if you have tried to do this?  

The answer in v.5 is, “then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God.” That is, experience a state of awe in your mind as you start to grasp the enormity of what the Creator must be in his existence and actions!  This is far different from an academic understanding of the nature of God, even from a scriptural perspective.  

A truly seeking person must  develop “the knowledge of God,” that is, a knowing insight into what God is – it is ‘seeing’ and as a result possessing an overwhelming vision of  that which overwhelms normal human thinking.

    When the LORD first spoke to Job, after all Job’s reasoning with his friends, God says, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” [38 v.2] It is the “knowledge” Solomon is speaking of in our Proverbs reading. Job confesses, “I have uttered what I did not understand, things to wonderful for me, which I did not know … but now mine eye sees you” [42 v.3, 5] 

Notice how Paul expresses it; “having the eyes of our hearts enlightened that you may know …” [Eph. 1 v.18]   So, in our Proverbs chapter Solomon wants us to experience the awe of seeing God and then to be ready to grasp the relationship  we can have with God, as Job ultimately did!  

    We read “the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding … he is a shield to those who walk in integrity watching over the way of his saints” [v.6,8]

    So, if we seek in this way then “wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul”[v.10]; furthermore, “ … understanding will guard you, delivering you from the way of evil, from men (and women) of perverted speech … who rejoice in doing evil … who are devious in their ways.” [v.11-15].  

Today we encounter such people more than ever, also those who have no spiritual strength to fight off these influences,  so we need to be conscious every day that our Lord is “watching over the way of his saints” looking for them to find more and more of “the knowledge of God.”  

 Reading and meditating on God’s word every day lays the foundation for that consciousness.

Thought for March 23rd. “FOOLS DESPISE WISDOM & INSTRUCTION”

Today’s readings … Numbers 4, Proverbs 1, Luke 15  

     Today we start reading “the proverbs of Solomon” [v.1] and the key verse that jumps out at our eyes is “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” [v.7].  

    Our minds should be filled with awe as to all that God must be!! The plea of Solomon is, “”Hear my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching.” [v.8]  The acceptance and absorption into our minds of such teaching and instruction is like wearing “a graceful garland” – yet today how many parents are able and willing to teach true wisdom to their children?  If they are able and willing – their children are surrounded by counter influences – but the need for “wisdom and instruction” has never been greater.

      The message contains a strong warning about the ‘opposite’ to true wisdom, the attitude of those who have no time for God – so the blunt warning is made, “if sinners entice you do not consent” [v.10].  

Virtually no one thinks of themselves as being a ‘sinner’ these days, sin is an obsolete word!  But there is no middle course; the book of Proverbs makes this plain, if you are not on God’s side seeking his will and guidance in making your pathway in life, you are against him.  

    Wisdom is personified and “cries aloud” – at the same time “scoffers delight in their scoffing.” [v.20,22]  But ‘wisdom’ says, “If you turn at my reproof, behold I will pour out my spirit to you; I will make my words known to you” [v.23] and we can see that God’s Spirit has led to the Bible being written and preserved and our daily feeding on God’s word will guide our lives. 

    The chapter fittingly concludes, “the complacency of fools destroys them, but whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.” 

Thought for March 22nd. “WILL THOSE WHO ARE SAVED BE FEW?”

Today’s readings.. Numbers 3, Psalm 148-150, Luke 13-14.

Today’s chapters in Luke are full of challenging parables.  They really challenge us to understand and act on a particular message, what Jesus said when someone asked, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” [13 v.23] The question leads Jesus to talk about the “narrow door” [v.24].  We recall on another occasion he spoke about the “narrow gate” [Matt.7:13-14] when he said, “the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”  

Luke records Jesus as saying, “Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” [v.24]   Why will they not be able? Why does God not make it wide and easy?  Does he not want all people to be saved?   If the answer is “Yes” – we must ask ourselves, ‘ Saved – on whose terms?’  Ours or God’s? 

We may want to buy a house or a car?  Who sets the terms?   But salvation is so very different, a life changing difference! 

Jesus goes on to tell of a house, the door of which is “shut”!  Many are knocking and “saying, Lord, open to us, then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from. Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.” [v.25]

So because we hear Jesus preached about and read God’s Bible, and even share in a communion meal, can we ask for the right to come in this house?  But the text continues with Jesus once again saying, “But he will say, ‘I tell you I do not know where you come from.” [v.26,27]  He implies, they never had a relationship with him.

In Luke 14, we also read today, there is a situation where, they reclined with Jesus at a meal table, and someone said, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God” [14 v.15].   We then read how Jesus commented on those who had (to them) more important things to do in their lives than to come to God’s banquet.  

They gave first place to being involved with their family and businesses!   It is far from “easy” to be a true follower of Jesus.  No one will “deserve” to be in his kingdom; it will only be by grace!  And who deserves his grace? But that is another subject!