Monday, 13 June 2011

Continue in My Word

Christ asked, ‘Who do men say that I the Son of Man am?’ (Matt. 16:15) There were numerous opinions doing the rounds about Jesus’ origin. The answers ranged from a prophet to a genuine descendant of King David. When Simon was challenged his answer was inspired, You are the Anointed One, the Son of the living God.’ He discovered Jesus to be (as we do) the rightful heir to the throne of Israel, the King of the eternal heaven and earth restored under God; the Messiah: uniquely endorsed by every true prophet, by signs, wonders and His ultimate resurrection through the Holy Spirit.

In spite of teachings that contemporaries found unpalatable and incompatible with their world view, Peter held on. He declared ‘Lord to whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life.’ (John 6:68)

‘If you hold to my teaching, then are you my disciples’ (John 8:31)

Christ’s Great Commission of discipleship (Matt. 28:19) is undergirded by holding to Christ’s teachings in the face of modern distortions and hostile traditions and cultural norms from all quarters. We need to maintain a consistent thoughtful challenge to a spiritually reckless society in church, at work and at home. For instance, Christ opposed form and ritual when it became repetitive, obstructive and unhelpful to ordinary outsiders and externalised. He challenged self-promoting civic-mindedness. He challenged the cultural distractions that drew inordinate time and attention away from thoughtful reflection upon God. The scripture was His defence against error.

An angry exchange with the Pharisees followed his display of God’s amnesty towards the publicly shamed adulteress.

In that exchange, Jesus also explained what freedom really is, ‘Every who sins is a slave to sin, Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.’ (John 8:34, 35). Sin is enslavement, dragging us back to the imprisonment of our senses and short-term satisfaction. Under the power of sin, we cannot choose, for it is not so much self-rule, as addiction and self-delusion. Freedom is to escape the slavery of sin, rather than accept deception. There’s no middle ground, we either surrender to God’s yearning for our exclusive devotion, or await dispossession after a life enslaved to the double-minded pursuit of worldly advancement (i.e. Mammon). Neither permits a rival. Since Christ is the eternal Son, He can share His permanent status in God’s household, ending the perpetual empty cycle of earthly accumulation and the distortions caused by godless policies, attractions and notions at every turn, however strongly-held.

So, our Great Commission is really to expose the deceits of our era with gospel truth before our society completely disintegrates. It’s a call to declare to the world, by judicious word and example, the completeness of Jesus as the cure for our futile man-made distractions: the credit-crazed retail madness, the domestic property shrine-building, the techno-latry, the constant binges on food and alcohol and the lure of irresponsible relationships. It is not simply to win converts at truth’s expense.

It is to follow Christ in climbing His mountain of progressive freedom from worldly accumulation, self-promotion and distraction. So, wherever we are now, however far from the summit, however fearful of that path, let’s promise to keep hold of each other’s hands and start that journey today.

For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (2 Cor. 4:6)

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Not by the will of man

Imagine yourself to be a zealous Hebrew. You’ve memorized much of the Torah. It’s pronouncements against wrongdoing have stirred up a deep sense of outrage over constant injustices and the irreverence towards God in your society. You see the weak trampled upon and the poor exploited. Is nothing sacred anymore? You realise that even the tribal leaders are turning a blind eye to moral disintegration and brutality. As in today’s society, some are even worshipping worldly ideals (idols) and consulting thoroughly misguided spiritual leaders. Old habits, especially bad ones, die hard.

You’ve not been sleeping well: you have a recurring nightmare that the hostile border skirmishes with a neighbouring race will escalate into all-out war. In each vision, your people are ravaged by massacres, famine and disease. You see them colonised by that same heathen nation. It seems to be an omen of impending punishment for defection from God. So you decide to ask for an audience with the elders. You are going to warn them, speaking up for justice and speaking up for God.

In preparation for your meeting the council of elders, you spend time meditating upon the Torah and you come across these words:

‘But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death…If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.’ (Deut. 18:20,22).

No other religion in the world has held its spokesmen to a higher penalty for the mistaken predictions. That’s why Jesus’ total fulfilment of these true prophecies about the Messiah is so crucial.

The dilemma that you now face is one that every true prophet of Jehovah has faced. Are the visions and nightmares from yourself, or God? How do you speak forth that message when that transcendentally pure God, who has promised to demonstrate His power in the universe by predicting the fate of civilisations, has also pronounced the death penalty on those who misrepresent Him. One mistake and you’re toast.

The scriptures are a record of Israel’s history and the messages of those prophets who stood the test of time. It was not merely enough to produce a vague long-range forecast of how history would unfold. In the short-term, prophets predicted events that could be verified by their contemporaries and they had to do so with unerring accuracy. The biblical record that we now have is of those prophets whose words survived under that constant threat of the death penalty.

Micaiah was such a prophet. He declared God’s word to Ahab, the heretic king of Israel, who had forged an alliance with Jehoshaphat, the King of Judah, to fight the Arameans in the battle of Ramoth-Gilead. (1 Kings 22)

Before the battle, Ahab consulted prophets loyal to him and they emphatically claimed that God would prosper his forces in battle. Even today, we find that our spiritual leaders infuse their speeches with political partisanship, sexually deviant ethics and misguided nationalist zeal, rather than divine insight. In spite of our society’s godless backdrop of irreverence and mindless overindulgence, they say, ‘we’re fine, we’ll do well and God will bless our exploits everywhere’. False prophets!

Quite sensibly, Jehoshaphat wanted to consult a genuine prophet beforehand, so reluctantly, Ahab summoned Micaiah. After being warned en route to predict victory, Micaiah sarcastically chimed in initially with the false prophets. He then declared the horrible truth of God’s judgment, Ahab’s inexorable deception by lying spirits:

Then Micaiah answered, “I saw all Israel scattered on the hills like sheep without a shepherd, and the Lord said, ‘These people have no master. Let each one go home in peace.’ The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “Didn’t I tell you that he never prophesies anything good about me, but only bad?”

Micaiah continued, “Therefore hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne with all the host of heaven standing around him on his right and on his left. And the Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab into attacking Ramoth Gilead and going to his death there?’

“One suggested this, and another that. Finally, a spirit came forward, stood before the Lord and said, ‘I will entice him.’ “‘By what means?’ the Lord asked.

“‘I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouths of all his prophets,’ he said.

“‘You will succeed in enticing him,’ said the Lord. ‘Go and do it.’

“So now the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouths of all these prophets of yours. The Lord has decreed disaster for you.” (1 Kings 22:17 – 23)

Given the dire consequences of false prophecy, Micaiah endorsed the prediction with his life:

Micaiah declared, “If you ever return safely, the Lord has not spoken through me.” Then he added, “Mark my words, all you people!”

In the description of the ensuing battle, Ahab tried to escape his fate by disguising himself, while insisting that Jehoshaphat wore his regalia. The king of Aram’s chief strategy was to target Ahab for assassination. So, initially, the Aramean charioteers pursued Jehoshaphat in his regal attire, mistaking him for Ahab. Eventually, they gave up chase realising their mistake…

So, it might be nice to end this story now, asking you to discover for yourself whether Ahab escaped in disguise and then had Micaiah executed on his return.

Let’s just say that’s why Peter declared: For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.’ (2 Peter 1:21) Remember that when you read your Bible.


‘But someone drew his bow at random and hit the king of Israel between the sections of his armour. The king told his chariot driver, “Wheel around and get me out of the fighting. I’ve been wounded.” All day long the battle raged, and the king was propped up in his chariot facing the Arameans. The blood from his wound ran onto the floor of the chariot, and that evening he died.’ (1 Kings 22:34,35)

Why fight God or His word, when He can bend any chain of innumerable random events, even altering the flight of a stray arrow, if necessary, to defeat the shrewdness of His enemies?