Sunday, 13 August 2017

Where to look


Recently I read in a book that while we can only make sense of life by looking backwards we have to face it by looking forwards. I suppose the author was saying that by looking back we can see where we have come from. However, the author did not say that there was any confidence coming from looking forwards. All was uncertain in that regard.

No doubt, we can appreciate to some extent what the person meant. Yet a Christian would not share that outlook completely. After all, a Christian has another direction to look in addition to looking backwards and forwards. The Christian can also look up and express trust in the God who is leading him through life. Moreover, the God in whom he is trusting is not silent, but speaks clearly in his Word, the Bible, about the past, the present and the future.

For that author, the future was not really able to affect the present apart from taking some steps to deal with possible crises and to anticipate the effects of growing old. No doubt, that is common sense. Yet if that is all the future can give to us, then it is sad. There is not an awareness of real hope coming from that view of the future. The individual had no other world to live for, apart from the one that was going to end with death.

Today, we gather to worship God through Jesus and by the activity of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and minds. We do so with a strong hope about the future that affects us profoundly and enables us to anticipate it with longing and love. Through Jesus, and the triumph of his resurrection, we know that a better world is coming, and of which the presence of the Spirit in our hearts is the divine down-payment. One day, sooner than ever before, the new heavens and the new earth will be here. The longer the past gets, the better the outlook for those who live for a better world, indeed for the best possible world of glory in the presence of the Lord.

Life often means how we view the past, the present and the future. In our past, we have failures; in our present, we have weaknesses; and regarding our future, we probably have fears. Thinking only about them will diminish our faith unless we look at each through what Jesus has done, is doing and will yet do. His sacrifice on the cross means we can be forgiven our sins (not just from the past, but all of them), he is present with us by the Holy Spirit, and he is preparing a place for us to be with him for ever. So we can make sense of life by looking ahead to what is guaranteed for God’s people, both in this life and in the next, which is all connected to the presence of the Lord.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Thoughts for heavenly citizens

In Revelation 17:1–19:5, a prolonged description is given of Babylon, not the ancient city, but what it represents in Revelation, the city of fallen man as opposed to the heavenly city. How should we respond to the description because it is connected to much of what we see around us?

Babylon is condemned because she tried to take the place of God. She aimed to offer security, satisfaction, success and stability, things which only God can provide. Instead she produced danger, disappointment, failure and instability. We see that everywhere in the world. Promises that never materialise. Hopes that are dashed. Problems that are unsolved. Humans, even when functioning together, can never be God.

God tells his people in 18:4 to have nothing to do with Babylon. Since he is not describing a literal city the exit he mentions is not a physical one. Instead, it is a spiritual refusal to participate in the lifestyle advocated by the city of man. Here is a reminder that believers are to be different from those who do not serve God. 

What is our hope as we live in the city of man and watch people making war with the King? Our confidence is based on the abilities of Jesus to defeat all his opponents. Everyone who tries to defeat the kingdom of Jesus will be defeated by him. Whatever intrigue there may be between the beast, the kings and Babylon, they cannot defeat Jesus even if at times they treat his people with great cruelty.

The consolation that we can take from this description of Babylon is that the names of those it attacks are written in the book of life from the foundation of the world (17:8). We are told in chapter 5 of this book that the book of life is in the hand of the King and he is ruling to ensure that his people will be brought to glory. Because he is the King, he works all things (not just the little number things that happen to each person) together for the good of his people. Let his enemies attack, he will prosper.

Where is this all going to end? The answer to that question is with Jesus leading the praise of his people (19:5). Those who have been redeemed, whether great or small in this life, will hear the call from the Chief Musician, the Leader of the heavenly song, to participate together in a great song of praise that ascribes all the glory for their victory to God. Of course, that is not the end, but the beginning. The end of the earthly city, but not of the heavenly. Now all its citizens are together, and ahead for them is glory, with Jesus.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Knowing Jesus and his joy

The Lord’s Day is an obvious day for thinking about aspects of the experience of Jesus, our Saviour. Every detail concerning him is precious to us. There are many matters about him that we will think about today, whether in private at home or in public in church or elsewhere.

We live in a world often marked by disappointments, frustrations and sadnesses, and sometimes we are prone to think that this is the only world that there is. Yet there is another world, invisible to us, yet very real and while we cannot touch it, it can reach us. The other world is heaven, and it touches us through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

In that other world Jesus is central. If we could see him we would see one who is full of joy. During his time on earth he was the man of sorrows. This does not mean that he never experienced joy. Yet he looked forward to the joy of heaven. The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus endured the cross because of the joy that was before him.

On the Day of Pentecost, Peter preached a sermon in which he mentioned that David the Psalmist wrote about the joy that Jesus anticipated would be his after his resurrection (Acts 2:28). This joy would be his in the presence of the Father, which means he would experience it after his ascension to heaven. What are some of the features of his joy?

There is the joy connected to his exaltation when he was anointed with the oil of gladness (Heb. 1:9). This anointing was given him by the Father as a response to the successful work completed on the cross. Given that the Father has infinite resources then the joy bestowed is boundless and endless. The joy is the presence of the Spirit in the activities of the exalted Son.

One of those activities is the function of instruction. Jesus, now exalted, is the teacher of his church and he teaches his people joyfully through the agency of the Holy Spirit who takes of the resources of Jesus and bestows them on his people. There is a sense in which the church is the largest school in the world, even if many of its pupils are enjoying higher education in heaven. It is certainly the happiest school because of the presence of the Teacher. Through the ministry of the Spirit, Jesus is present to teach his people and he delights to inform them of the plan of salvation.

Another of his functions is that of invitation. Even as Paul says in Ephesians 3, Jesus by his Spirit through his servants preaches peace throughout the world. He is the peace-bringer as well as the peacemaker on the cross. As king, he comes to sinful rebels with the offer of pardon and invites all who hear, or read, about it to come to him by faith. His invitations are often expressions of power and many throughout the world will experience it today for the first time.


Today, the Lord’s Day, we have the opportunity of knowing the Saviour’s joy as he instructs us about his grace and invites us to experience the riches connected to it.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Life in heaven

Sometimes my mind goes back to Christians I knew when I was young and who have long left this world. I know that they are in heaven, in the presence of God. I know that their souls are now perfect in holiness, that they cannot sin again, and they are fit for the presence of God in glory.

Recently, I have been preaching through the Book of Revelation. Difficult may be the word that comes to your mind, but actually the word that comes to mine is encouraging, and one reason for it being a very encouraging book is the many references it makes to heaven. 

Paul, in Colossians 3, instructed his readers to set their affections on things above, where Christ is, which is an exhortation to think about heaven. The apostle does not suggest that this task is only for those who are intellectually qualified for elevated thinking, although his words indicate the task is suitable for all who are spiritual.

So the exhortation by Paul and the pictures in Revelation and the recollections of my past led me to reflect on heaven. Since I had reached Revelation 14, verse 13 of that chapter pointed out to me what my old contacts, and numerous others, are doing now in heaven.

'And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labours, for their deeds follow them!”'

We are not told who the first speaker is, so I don't think it is profitable to try and guess. He states a beatitude, and since it is only conscious people who can enjoy a blessing his beatitude tells me that those in heaven are fully alert. They are not like what we often are, half asleep. Being fully alert continually means that they can take in details of their surroundings in heaven, and in particular they are conscious of Jesus. So those I once knew are interacting with the Saviour.

The first speaker also tells us that believers who have died are totally secure because they have died 'in the Lord'. They discovered the reality of the heavenly security when they died because, for them, death became the door into the presence of Jesus. They died in him and so found themselves with him. And it only took about a second of time. The phrase 'in the Lord', as we know, stresses the permanent union between believers and Jesus. For them, not only is it permanent, it is enhanced.

Then the Holy Spirit speaks about what is happening to them. I suspect he speaks about their experience because he is the one who enables them to enjoy it. He enables them to rest, which is not a reference to inactivity, but to peace inwardly and externally. There they are completely comfortable, at home, enjoying the presence of God and experiencing divine provision continually.

Moreover they keep being reminded of things they did on earth - their works follow them. While here, they prayed and laboured for the kingdom. Now they enjoy the consequences. They prayed for me and numerous others and from heaven they have a better vantage point for seeing the outcome of their activities on earth. Those actions, which are having such effects, they did not boast about when they were here. Very likely, they forgot about most of them very quickly, but the heavenly Recorder remembers them and ensures that such labours will bring about glory for him and comfort for them.

Life in heaven, the place of fellowship and fulfilment. Often in this life, the fellowship was broken and the hopes frustrated. Not over there - the life is very different. We should be thankful for the ways God arranges for his people to think about heaven. And all this will take place before the resurrection to glory.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Priority of love

Recently I started reading Hugh Binning’s book Christian Love. Binning was a Scottish minister in the seventeenth century and although he was only twenty-six when he died he had made a big impression on religious and political leaders. His short book highlights the importance of believers living lives of love with one another, as indicated by the command of Jesus that they should do so, and by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13.

I was impressed by this statement by Binning: ‘Unity in judgment is very needful for the well-being of Christians; but Christ’s last words persuade this, that unity in affection is more essential and fundamental; this is the badge he left to his disciples; if we cast away this upon every different apprehension of mind, we disown our Master, and disclaim his token and badge.’

Regarding Paul’s exhortation to the Colossians that they should ‘put on charity [love], which is the bond of perfection,’ Binning observes the contrast between Paul’s estimation and what was taking place in Binning’s time – ‘an agreement in the conception of any, poor, petty controversial matter of the times is made the badge of Christianity’ and is elevated above the various items Paul connects to love in his verses in Colossians. I don’t know what agreement Binning was referring to, but clearly he thought it was not a real expression of Christian love.

Instead, for Binning, love ‘is the sweet result of the united force of all graces; it is the very head and heart of the new man, which we are invited to put on: “Above all, put on charity.”’ Such love is compassionate, affected by the troubles faced by others, concerned about those who are ignorant and out of the way, and marked by humility. In contrast to pride, this love has a meek heart which shows itself in gentleness and kindness. Because such love is humble and meek, it ‘is the most durable, enduring, long-suffering thing in the world’. And the outcome is peace.

Binning lived in very difficult times politically and ecclesiastically. Inevitably the uncertainty affected Christians in Scotland. But their circumstances were not very different from that faced by first-century Christians. Paul’s concern for his readers was that they increase in love, which would ensure Christian maturity. We too live in difficult times politically and ecclesiastically. Our response must be that of Paul and of Binning – keep growing in Christian love.