Fulfilment and the Law.

Sitting here with the darkness of load-shedding surrounding me, I contemplate:

“Thank you Lord that you have not only promised you will be here to meet me – but that you were here first and have actually invited me to come and join you. Thank you Lord that your promise, “If you seek me you will find me, if you seek me with all your heart”, came true for me many years ago – You did not force me into a relationship, you wooed me like a lover. Then you lavished me with your grace – i.e. Yourself, whom John described as Grace upon Grace (John 1:14b) – you gave me Yourself. Like a huge light up in the heavens you lit up and changed my life – dispelling darkness and bringing light and hope into the darkest places. Yes, as I set out on the path to follow You I discovered what it meant to take up my cross – often experiencing rejection because of You but also because of just living in a fallen world. And so I meet with You this morning against the backdrop of load shedding and so much evil and negativity in a world trying to make it on its own, but secure in the knowledge that You make all things work together for the good of those who love You and are called by Your name – and the promise that nothing can separate me from your love!”

Back to Matthew ch 4, as Jesus moves to Galilee, He starts His public ministry. His main activity and purpose is revealed in 4:17. “He began to preach, ‘Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near'”. We are shown His authority as He calls men and they simply follow Him. As He preaches, He is also busy healing the sick and driving out demons. This activity has often been explained as a demonstration of His compassion. However there is more to it, with the theme “Who is this man?” in mind. His healings demonstrated His unique, supernatural power and they are also a sign of His purpose and power showing the first steps in His mission of reversing the curse, which underlies all sickness.

The “Sermon on the Mount”, in the next 3 chapters expands His message and reveals what it means to be part of the Kingdom He is calling the people to repent and join, as it were.

There is plenty of food in this section, but as this is not intended to be a detailed commentary, I will move to my reading of today: 5:17-20. Here again He is emphasizing the theme of “fulfilment”. We have seen this word used several times up to now eg 3:15, 4:14 and now in 5:17. Understand clearly, He is not setting aside the law but fulfilling it. What does that mean?

The purpose of the whole of the Old Testament (“law and the prophets”) is to prepare the world for the coming of God’s Messiah, which would be the tipping point of history. The sacrificial and ceremonial laws were giving understanding to Jesus’ mission. They were there to help us understand what His role would be in restoring our relationship with his Father. He fulfilled both the role of high priest as well as the sacrifice and we can only truly understand that in the light of the OT. However since He has come, He has opened the way through His death on the cross, so these are no longer relevant. The Sabbath pointed to the ultimate rest He is offering everyone whom He invites to come to Him (Matt 11:28). The weary and the burdened.

On the other hand He has given a deeper and wider understanding of the moral law. It was never intended to be just a minimal, legalistic obedience to the letter of the law, but that is what it became for most people and still is today for many. Instead we will see Him explaining in the next vv that the law can only be truly obeyed if the heart is changed – “repent“. Hence adultery does not happen when the physical act starts, it starts with the lustful thoughts, long before that. Ultimately the change of heart that’s necessary to truly live this life, is at the center of the work of regeneration when we receive the Holy Spirit. We see it beautifully summarized in Gal 5:14, “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.'” This is what was meant when the New Covenant was announced “I will write the law on their hearts”. Jer 1:33.

I hear the words gasped out but clearly heard on the cross, “It is finished!” ‘Tetelestai’ – it has been accomplished, He has completed His mission of fulfilling what the OT was looking forward to.

I am overcome with joy. This ‘One”, the most important figure in history, has actually desired a relationship and a quiet moment with me. I am totally humbled. It is not necessary to find a ‘humble and contrite spirit’ (Isaiah 66:2b), His presence and His love washes over me in waves of joy, that darkness, no matter how deep could ever hide. I am humbled and overawed.

Fulfilment and Satan’s Attack.

“Yet not I but through Christ in me”, I have been singing.

“I have said, ‘True worship comes from a humble and contrite heart’ – it is necessary to humble your will and realize that for our relationship to work you must understand and live, from the heart, that statement, ‘yet not I but through Christ in me’. To be able to do that you must submit your will to Me. I will put the desire in your heart – but you must make the decision, an ongoing decision, to submit your will to me. Only then can you truly live in the full benefit of my presence and power. Your will is far stronger than you think – that is why I told my disciples that they must take up their cross to follow me – putting to death their own selfish desires and submitting to Me. This is the only true way to the abundant life, the real joy of a relationship and having fellowship with me. That is why I keep testing you – keep your eyes on Me then and keep reminding yourself yet not I but Christ in me. This is the only true way to the abundant life, the real joy of a relationship and having fellowship with me. That is why I keep testing you – keep your eyes on Me then and keep reminding yourself, “Yet not I but through Christ in me”.

I have reached Ch 4 in Matthew. Up to now I have again been struck by the continuity of this gospel with the OT scriptures. Picking up the theme of fulfilment through a number of quotations. Not only have their been direct quotations, but the pictures repeated from the experience of Israel, God’s own son reflect on this. His True Son, for instance, escaped to Egypt and then returned to Israel. Reminiscent of the first Exodus

I have also been reminded of Satan’s ferocious attack on the Messiah as He makes His appearance, represented by Herod’s desire to eliminate Him causing him to kill all the babies of a certain age. So here in ch 4 Jesus takes on Satan, face to face, as it were. We need to see this attack against the background of God’s identification of Jesus identity. The main question of the gospel looms large in the background. “Who is this man?”

Notice that is the challenge Satan makes to Jesus twice in 4:3 and 5.”If you are the Son of God,”‘ he repeats twice. The temptation to Jesus is that He should prove who He is. His reaction underlies the often discussed philosophical question, “Can you prove there is a God?” There is often the challenge to us to want to produce concrete proof. However Jesus resists this and basically states, “Believe what the word of God says”. Obviously this takes a step of faith and that is exactly what God wants.

So we too are constantly confronted by tests (temptations, same word) initiated by the Spirit. Notice this confrontation between Jesus and Satan was an initiative of the Spirit cf v 1. Underlying those tests is constantly the question, can you really trust God? Underlying that question again is, “Do you really believe that Jesus is the Son of God?” Each time you trust Jesus and He arranges a way out of your test 1 Cor 10:13b, your faith is strengthened. It is interesting that at the end of the Lord’s prayer where Jesus asked, “Do not lead me into temptation”, is is followed by “Deliver us from the Evil one”.

While we are always reminded that Jesus parried the thrusts of Satan with the word which is the sword of the Spirit. However notice how subtly Satan uses a scriptural reference to try and mislead Jesus 4:8 b. This is a strong warning to us to be careful how we handle the scriptures. Much heresy and division in the church has happened because people mishandle the word, not sticking to the basic principles of reading it.

The third challenge to Jesus brings a promise from Satan that underlies so much of the wrong in the world. “If you worship me, I will give you all things”. How many people, in an effort to gain, “all things” don’t end up worshiping the devil by following his lead and his way to get them? Gaining “all things” from a scriptural perspective starts by, “first seeking His righteousness and His kingdom” and then the promise is that He will give you all you need (Mat 6:33). Peter speaks of God supplying “all we need for life and godliness” 2 Peter 1:3.

God’s purpose in creating man is focused on His desire and our responsibility to make worshiping Him the most important part of our lives. I was strongly challenged by his passage to beware again of Satan’s ploy to get us to lose trust in Jesus and look for worldly (his) ways to solve and guide our lives. The way to counteract that is to continually focus our hearts on God. I was reminded again yesterday that it is from the heart that our desires arise, not the mind. May my heart be focused on Jesus and walled off from Satan’s tempting offers. It is timely to remind ourselves that the great adversary, Satan, although mortally wounded is still very active around us.

Now I am going to continue reading Matthew and gaining as much as possible from it. Why don’t you read along and we will touch sides again next Wednesday?

True Worship.

I have been singing, “help me trust you more and more. Help me give my whole heart to you”.

“ Your focus has been on trusting Me for the path ahead into the future. Your focus is on the journey over the river Jordan to the ultimate celebration of victory and a table set for you and a myriad of others. Now you want to trust me more and more. Look back – look back at my history with my people and you. See that shining light – it is so bright it’s soars into the sky and can be seen from everywhere. Look what it is lighting up – the moment of victory – on an old ugly cross in Israel – on my Son calling out, “My God my God why have you forsaken me?” That is a moment in history which has been documented. Now let your trust start there – place your feet on that Rock of certainty and look forward with that as your launching pad and come and follow Me, take up your cross, put to death all self-reliance and doubts and let us walk together into the future, towards the New Jerusalem.”

We come now to he end of this long prophetic book, Isaiah. There has been a great amount of input, much of which has been repeated in various ways for further emphasis and clarification. Ch 66 gathers together a few of these themes.

Of greatest significance, Jehovah speaks about Himself. Which reminds us that He has been and is and will be the center of everything. Firstly He reminds us that, as much as He gave the instructions to build a temple which would symbolize His presence, no building can hold Him. The entire universe is His footstool. (vs 1) a good reminder of what He has said earlier that His ways are far higher than our ways. We cannot put Him in a box to suit our understanding.

Secondly. He can do the most amazing acts in an instant. (vv 8,9). As much as a baby is born in a few minutes, so He can make a nation in the same time.

Thirdly. While much of this passage is devoted to reminding the reader of His judgement against all who do not worship Him. He will treat Israel (all His people) like a mother treats a son (v 12,14). Giving comfort and bringing great joy.

But fourthly, the most telling statement comes in v 23. It will remind you of Philippians ch 2. In the end all mankind will worship Him. For all eternity.

Most of the rest of the chapter is a reminder of the repeated statements that there are two kinds of people. There are those who are deemed to be acceptable to God. Who are going to spend all eternity with Him. They are variously described as, “humble and submissive in spirit” v 2 “Who tremble at His word”. vs 2 and 5. And then there is the all-encompassing word in vs 23; “Those who worship Him.” What a wonderful summary of the true followers of Jehovah, who later are taken into His family through the work of the “Suffering Servant” on the cross. He also makes it clear that His invitation to be part of His kingdom extends to everyone.

Then comes the jarring note. The note which so many of us tend to skip over as we read. That is the description of those who reject God. Apart from those who openly rebel against God, now as elsewhere in the book, He singles those out who say they are worshiping Him, yet are consorting with all the the pagans. It seems to me as I reflect on this that this is perhaps one of the main issues in Christianity today. The many who claim to be followers of Christ, but their hearts have not been converted. Their worship is only superficial and does not indicate a changed heart. It speaks volumes that the last verse of this book describes the fate of all who reject God.

In this weeks weekend Burger was an interview, a whole page with an ex-dominie, who has just published a book. “The bad news of the gospel”. He describes himself as an agnostic. The reason, according to him that he cannot accept Christianity is that we are called to believe that far more people will go to hell rather than heaven. It seems to me, denying what is a major theme of the bible will not change it. At the same time this should be a major spur for all of us to share the gospel with as many people as we can.

For those of you who are persevering with me and my blog, I am starting to read the gospel of Matthew. It connects very much with the Old Testament and much of what Isaiah has written about, giving a New Covenant understanding to it.

The Messianic Age.

I have been singing, “Bless the lord oh my soul – the sun comes up there is a new day dawning”.

“ Ian just stop and reflect on what you have just been singing. You rely on the fact that there will be a new day dawning, the sun will come up. That reflects the rhythm of my creation, my whole creation functions according to a rhythm that I have built into it– everyone accepts it without thinking. But my rhythm is like my heartbeat – it is fixed, it is powerful. Nothing can change it. When there are storms and drought people run around calling out for mercy, but these are only small evidences of what happens when I draw back my rhythm. So be comforted because you are held fast in me, in Jesus within that rhythm. You are not like a small twig in a raging torrent being swept along – you are a son firmly held to my breast – feeling and living out the rhythm of my heart beats for you and for my whole creation.”

We come to an interesting passage today, Isaiah 65:17-25, as we near the end of Isaiah. This passage describing a new creation – new heavens and a new earth resonates with Revelation 21:1 ff. Yet there is a false note. Although people are promised a long life, without the sound of weeping there still appears to be a limit to it.

So I stand back and see 65:23 b, which seems to be the key verse. These people are under God’s blessing, the curse has been removed. So this is a look ahead in prophetic fashion of the Messianic age. An age which was introduced with the death of Jesus when He took the curse upon Himself, but will only be fully realized when He comes again. The prophet has not been shown the dividing line. We have already entered the Messianic age, yet we are mainly experiencing the spiritual aspect of it. We have been blessed because of Jesus taking the curse on our behalf. We have received every spiritual aspect of that blessing (Ephesians 1:3), but we are still living in a fallen world.

What is pictured here in a physical sense still awaits us when we pass over the spiritual Jordan into the final Promised Land. What a prospect and how closely it resonates with the picture in Revelation. In the meantime we should continue to appreciate every aspect of God’s creation as He has given it to us at this time.

One aspect of this Messianic Age which stood out for me is in 63:24, describing the benefit of God’s blessing, “Even before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking, I will hear”. This is a refreshing reminder of the value and meaning of prayer and has echoes of Matt 6:8, “your father knows what you need before you ask”. It shows that behind the scenes God does not need to be informed of our needs and desires, yet He invites us to engage with Him in a conversation about our lives and what is happening to us. This is the wonder of having a relationship with the Creator of the whole universe who knows everything, including what is still going to happen.

As you speak to Him, no doubt He will be steering your will into line with His. Prov 16:3 says “Commit to the Lord whatever you do (or your way) and your plans will succeed”. Many people think they can plan and just before they go ahead to carry them out they throw out, “I commit this to the Lord” and that means He will see that they succeed. The Hebrew construct of this verse is “if you lay your way alongside the Lord’s way, then your plan will succeed”. Thus while we pray, the Lord helps us to turn our way over to His guiding hand that His way may supplant it. Then it will be that He answers while you are still speaking.

As my prayer life continues to grow, I still find it so easy to fall into habitual patterns and rotes. Repeating in various ways what I have already asked. I need to constantly remind myself that I am having an active interaction with God who invented the idea of conversation, and based His will clearly on paper, in His word.

Prayer Prepares Us.

Singing, ”The Ancient of Days; none before me, none beyond me, all of time in my hands”.

“ Your vision of me encompassing everything that is – is correct. I am everywhere, there is no part of anything that exists that is separate from Me. Even in the darkest sinful corners I am there. Even when I choose to withdraw my manifest Presence, because of sin, I am still there. Just the awareness of Me has been removed. And all the time I am working in judgement and redemption as my central aim to grow My kingdom into a bride worthy of Me. Enjoy My creation as much as you can and continue to see it as a gift from Me, but understand this world is only a faint reflection of what is to come, so live to the fullest of My presence, be aware of what you are experiencing continually in this light, knowing that I am there – actively participating in every aspect of your life”

In our reading of Isaiah we are approaching the end, with its magnificent prophecy of what is still to come. The focus, is still on the “Suffering Servant” and His role in dealing with God’s vengeance. See the vital question in 63:1 “Who is this coming from Edom….?” But how are the people of Israel experiencing this, in the light of their state of exile? This is revealed in the prayer from 63:15 – 64:12. Here they pour out their hearts to God. Let us see what we can learn from this for our own prayer-life. Just remember we need to first see how the people of that time understood these words, then we can see how we can apply them to ourselves, now that Messiah has come.

The overriding feeling they have is that Yahweh has abandoned them That He has withdrawn from them. They feel that they no longer belong, even Abraham has abandoned them . 63:15,16. Very revealing is the fact that they sense their abandonment has come as a result of their sin, however they accuse Yahweh of causing them to sin. vs 17. “Why Yahweh do you make us stray from your ways? You harden our hearts so we do not fear you”.

His absence is “proved” by the fact that they have lost their land. The land that was Promised as part of His Covenant.

So they cry out “return”(vs17), “if only you would tear open the heavens and come down” (64:1). Then its as if this cry brings them to remember times past and who Yahweh really is. Times past, when He did awesome works and the mountains shook when He came down. Reference to the exodus and the giving of the covenant.

This memory brings a serious reflection and conclusion. They are all unclean, their iniquities carrying them along like the wind. And God? He is the Potter and they are clay, made by Him. What hope is there?

The only hope lies in that figure of 63:1. The One coming with crimson garments. The only One who is powerful to save! Wow!

How do we read this prayer, this side of the gospel? Firstly there is the time-honored message of Christianity. Jesus has come as the Vindicator and Redeemer. We are equally lost without Him. In fact Paul uses this language of the universal sinfulness of man, to show how much we all need to be saved, clearly in Romans 3. We all need that. It is only in recognizing our need that we can fully appreciate God’s Provision in His Son.

But what about blaming God for our sin? His hardening. It is a universal tendency for man to justify his sin, in some way or another. Are you justifying something you actually know that is wrong? The bible does speak of God hardening hearts, even of those who are saved. There is a sense in which God turns away from someone who continually sins. However the rest of the story is that He is ever seeking our repentance and our true heart. Remember the 99 sheep, He leaves to find the one who is lost?

So what do we do when God seems far away? Firstly one can call out openly how you feel. It is also very important to remind ourselves of God’s past acts. What is told in the bible and what He has done in our own lives. Remembering His continual promise that He will never leave you nor forsake you.

Then, also we should remember that sin separates us from God, it is always good to make sure you do not harbour some hidden or even open sin which you need to repent from.

Finally, feeling that God is not near, does not mean He has left. Remember to rely on what the word says and not your feelings. I find spending time just sitting at His feet and listening to Him is most helpful and singing worship songs reminds me of all the old and sure truths.

So friends, maybe you have seen something you feel important in this passage, especially something I have not mentioned. Why not share it with us? In the end the important thing to remember is that prayer is that point of connection between us and our Heavenly Father, through His Son and with the help of the Spirit. I keep on reminding myself not to make new rules which will inhibit my free association with My Glorious Father.