Be Ready, No one Knows the Time.

“Seasons – even as the world goes through seasons, which cycle one after another – you go through seasons – seasons of Spring filled with colour and renewal, Summer – the abundance of the life I give you, Autumn as your body weakens and you experience more on more loss like the autumn leaves that let go and tumble to the ground, then Winter as the winds bear down and it becomes cold outside – you have to turn more and more to Me who is your glowing hearth where you receive your warmth and sustenance. But there is a beautiful season waiting for you – the season your whole life has been aiming for – a season when all light and beauty will burst in on you as you experience My presence. So when it is cold and dark look ahead – there is a light, a light which is beckoning you – which is growing in intensity. No one knows when it will be but be ready for it to come at any time. Wait expectantly as I take your hand and lead you through the season you are in at the present towards that light”

As I approached Matthew 24, I had to set aside all the theological input I have had on this subject, the second coming of the Lord and the end times, so that I could come to it fresh so that Jesus could speak to me in the present. As a devotion I read it, listening to the main points that I felt Jesus was saying to me

I suppose it is one of our greatest desires to know what lies ahead in the future. Here we have a general picture of several things which help us understand what the Lord was saying as He taught the disciples. The first thing we should see that although this prophecy covers a long period of time but there is a dire prediction which lay in the near future. The destruction of the temple which happened in AD 70. It seems to me that even as Jesus prophesied that event which would happen soon it would be a demonstration of the accuracy of the rest of His prophecy.

The second thing is His general prophecy of what the gospel era was going to look like. Wars, famine, earthquakes, false Messiah’s, false prophets, multiplying lawlessness would be a reminder of one key fact – His return. So when we see these symptoms in the world our reaction should not be one of despair, but of acknowledgement that His prediction of the end of time is really true and we should be looking forward to that and especially be obedient to vs 14, to preach the gospel at every known opportunity.

This chapter calls us to rise up above the daily grind and bad news and see the vast panorama of God’s plan unfolding. It is also a warning that we are going through the time of tribulation. That the tribulation may escalate towards the end time is very difficult to measure, because we can never imagine the terrible tribulation that the early Christians experienced. There are many other times in history which have been extremely difficult. The tribulation has appeared to ebb and flow over time, yet we also, each one of us experience our personal tribulation, as we move on this path through the wilderness.

The one thing that this passage left me with was a sense of the urgency of Jesus’ message. look at vs 33 “He is near – at the door”. And the whole of the paragraph from vs 36 – 44, ending with these words: “This is why you also must be ready, because the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect”.

As many of our readers are already in their Autumn and Winter season, there is the wonderful comfort. Jesus is our goal and the end of our travail. He will come again. Whether we meet Him on the clouds or when He comes to fetch us. He is there at this very moment beside each one of u, caring for us, protecting us and ready to take us with Him. All we should be doing is keeping on the path He has laid out for us and look forward to His words, “Well done you good and faithful servant”.

May He bless you and make His face shine on you this coming week.

Learn from the Pharisees.

“It is so easy to feel full of joy and hope when you are on the Mountain top. It is also easy to look away from Jesus while you are up there. Down in the valley is often the place where you experience Me in a much close away, when the sun has grown dim and the way appears rough. Yet it is at those times that I can reveal my peace, strength, My very self to you. So be like the tree in Psalm one, planted by the water – the Living Water which represents Me and allow your roots to go deep down so you can continue to draw that Water of Life into your stem. It will give your stem stability. More than that it will flow out into the leaves and branches and bring forth fruit, the fruit of a fulfilling relationship with me – peace, hope, strength, compassion and much more. So take my hand as we walk together through the valley – remember, “Yet not I but through Christ in me”.

The tide of evil is gathering in Jerusalem, God’s city, against Jesus in Matthew ch 23. Yet in all this Jesus continues to show His compassion in His teaching and attitude. See esp vv 37,38.He is also reiterating the basic Christian message. v 11 “The greatest among you will be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

This message is totally counterintuitive and to highlight it, Matthew places it against the backdrop of His talk to the religious leaders, where one can see the real way of the world emphasized.

Just a word about the religious leaders. It is easy with hindsight for us to despise them, however they represented a very respected class of people in the Israeli community. The traits which Jesus points out that they are displaying are a representation of all the worldly traits that we find in our society today. Maybe not expressed in the same way, but nevertheless there, driving our modern society. So while we all join in with Jesus calling out, “Woe to you…” we should stop and look at what they were being accused of. As I read through this chapter several times this week I kept asking myself how much of each trait has been changed or removed from my life.

The main challenge to the these people was one of hypocrisy. Hypocrisy basically means operating behind a mask. Now I believe it is common cause that everyone of us operates behind a mask. We put on a mask when we face the world representing how we would like people to experience us. The question here seems to be, “How much of your life are you hiding behind the mask?”. In other words, “Is what the world sees the real you?” I had to ask myself, “Do the people see the real Ian when they meet me?” I will give an example. Can you be really nice to someone who you actually don’t like, when you stand in front of them, then share a juicy bit of gossip about them behind their backs when you meet someone else?

The Pharisees were demonstrating this in extreme. Showing a face to the world of purity and generosity towards God, while in reality they were filled with dead bones like a mausoleum on the inside. Nevertheless the challenge to us is to bring the inside to Jesus to cleanse it and be renewed so that we can represent Him with genuine love and compassion to others.

Another question that came to me was, “How much of my Christian life is driven by trying to obey the law?” We all have the seeds of that in us, which take over from time to time. It is demonstrated in the way we assume the gospel and live according to it.. That is why I keep reminding myself of this fact. My life in Christ arises from my relationship with Him. It is not driven by doing things to try and please Him.

Other things that spoke to me personally were: 1.How often do I put a burden on people I should help instead of making their burden lighter?

2.How much of my ministry and interaction with others has a modicum of self satisfaction because of the attention I get?

3.. Do I serve with an attitude that arises from humility.

4. And then a timely reminder of what Jesus’ priority was and still is and a challenge to continue be part of His program to seek and save those that are lost.

Why don’t you try and shift the picture of the Pharisees out of the way in your mind and allow Jesus to talk to you about all these attitudes? Have a blessed week.

Responding to His Call.

Singing, “Let the weight of Your glory fall on me.” Would I be able to take that from you? The weight of your glory? Feels it would crush me.

“Every moment you spend with Me is precious. It is precious to you because that is the closest you can come to all that is Good. But it is precious to Me as well. Every child of mine who receives My word and hears Me his precious to me. That is what I am working towards. That you first listen – with no preconceived agenda, no attention focused on how you should respond. Just waiting on Me and with Me. If you seek Me you will find Me – Blessed are those who hunger and thirst. That is the sound beginning of our relationship every day – leading to a life which is totally fulfilling. ‘If you believe – you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer’.“

In Ch 22 of Matthew, we see the continuing fencing between the Pharisees and the teachers of the law with Jesus, as they go on trying to discredit and trap Him. There is a lot of information in this section but underlying it remains the main theme, “Who is this Man?”, climaxing in the last paragraph with the revelation of the Messiah. And secondly, “How should we respond to Him?”

These religious men have clearly made up their minds that Jesus is an imposter and needs to be taken out, at all costs. There appears nothing He can do or say that will cause them to change their minds. Time and again they come back at Him to test Him eg v18, Their attitude is not one of genuinely seeking the truth, but of trying to prove Jesus is wrong.

Stop there now and think. How much of the world’s attitude today towards Jesus is made from a position of pre-judgement, for whatever reason. This holds for the total pagan who has written Jesus off to the modern religious leaders, who often have their own agendas and preconceived ideas. Beware for you and me, if we have prejudged and predicted in our own minds what Jesus is saying, you may not hear what He is really saying to you. Passages you know well may actually be holding much more for you if you don’t immediately apply your previous understanding to them instead of standing back and listening from scratch.

The parable of the wedding banquet is a deep well. Clearly Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees’ belief that they were the prime members of the real Israel. However they had not understood the nature and urgency of God’s invitation, preferring to do it their way rather than Jesus’ way. How many people believe that they will be part of His banquet without responding in the correct way to God’s call? Ignoring Him at first and later wanting to come on their own terms, without the wedding clothes of true repentance. This is of course, a beautiful view of God’s universal call and His effectual call. Everyone in the world is called, “God so loved the world“. However there are many who will not listen, the call is wasted on them.

The chapter and indeed the whole gospel almost reaches a climax in vv 34 – 39. Way back in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has already set God’s standard. 5:48 “Be perfect therefore as your Heavenly Father is perfect”. Echoes of the first of the 10 commandments: “You shall have no other God’s before me”. That command always seemed to say to me, “Don’t go and carve a little effigy and worship it”. However it is actually saying that you may not love and desire anything else in creation more than Yahweh himself. You are expected to give Him all your heart, soul and mind.

The positioning of this reminder just before Jesus’ crucifixion, should shine a bright light on that event, as we understand that His death came specifically because we cannot fulfil this in our own strength, as the whole of the Old Testament has shown us.

While one may be struck by these facts in the beginning, it is easy for them to become “old hat”, as it were. You know, everyone knows we cannot keep that standard, so we just accept the forgiveness Jesus has won for us and go on as usual. However Jesus’ death on the cross not only won forgiveness for our inability to be perfect, He also has given us a way forward to live closer and closer to God’s perfect standard. That is what the gospel is after all. We aim to follow Jesus in the power of His Spirit and when we fail, we repent and cast ourselves back on His grace and guiding power. We may never give up this aim and we may never take His grace and forgiveness for granted. After all it cost Him His life to win it for us.

So friends, what a call and a reminder to us of the path of the gospel for each of us every day. “Take up your cross daily and follow Me”, He said. This should never be a burden. It should be a delight as we walk with joy with Him every day. And keep our ears open to hear every word He is speaking to us as He draws us deeper into this love relationship He is offering everyone of us. May God bless you this coming week as you draw closer to Him. .

Faith and Obedience.

“Be still and know that the God of Abraham, the God of Jacob, the God of Isaac, the God of Jesus, the great I AM is here with you in this room. Allow that to sink into your mind and your consciousness. This is where faith starts – it starts in Me, in your understanding of Me, the revelation I have made of Myself to you. It is inextricably tied to what I have revealed to you through my word and my Spirit. Faith cannot be seen, it is abstract concept. The perception of how you see Me and how you respond to Me. It is nevertheless as real and necessary as the universe. Now this unseen idea is dynamic, it does not remain there dormant – it is demonstrated in the change that takes place as you respond to it. Real faith is visible – it is visible in the fruit of your life. That is why I use that picture often –. No fruit equals no faith. It does not work the other way around i.e. be obedient and try and produce fruit and you will get faith. That is legalism and the antithesis of faith.“

As we continue now with Matthew 21, describing events and teaching that takes place over a concentrated few days, often called “Holy week”. (Friends, I hope you read that chapter first. Meditate on it and ask Jesus to speak to you. Then you can turn to what I have heard Jesus say to me and deepen your understanding from that). There is much information here, which we will not all go into. The main theme of course remains “Who is this Man?” Revealed here as the ‘Unusual King’, the ‘Prophet’, the ‘One with ultimate authority’, ‘the Vineyard Owner’ and the ‘Stone the builders rejected’. Maybe you will see more. Running concurrently is the rising anger of the Pharisees as they perceive what His is claiming for Himself and how that will affect them and their positions in the community and their planning to kill Jesus..

I have spent some time this week meditating on another theme which comes to the fore here. The theme of faith. It is at its basic level a simple concept, yet as we study how the concept of faith is built out in a passage like this, one realizes that it is a dynamic concept and one which can and has often been misunderstood.

The story of the fig tree is clearly a picture of judgement. Judgement of the Old Israel’s disobedience, as demonstrated by what was happening in the temple and the attitude of the religious leaders. They were producing no fruit to show that they were following Yahweh. It is a prophetic word by Jesus about what is about to happen to Old Israel. So against that backdrop we have the little interchange at the end of that paragraph. vs 21 “If you have faith and do not doubt, you will be able ……”. vs 2 “If you believe, you will receive, whatever you ask in prayer”.

Now who would want to move a mountain? And in any case, why does Jesus use this example? What is going on here? Firstly the parable of moving a mountain must be understood in the light of Jesus’ general use of hyperbole to make a point. The point is, as I am sure you see, not about the mountain but about having faith. Having faith means you can accomplish the otherwise impossible and you can ask for anything, including the impossible and it will be done for you. Wow! No wonder some, who don’t understand this parable go overboard.

Key to understanding what Jesus is saying is: Faith, believing not doubting, is a feature of a relationship with God through Jesus. It is the way our relationship works. It starts with believing in the one Messiah and God His Father, for who He is and what He has come to do. Exactly what the main theme is here. When you are in that relationship, anything is possible. Anything, because God is omnipotent. Your requests, within that relationship, will be in direct line with what God’s plan is, for you and His kingdom. He will see that those requests are fulfilled. It is not about struggling with something and then suddenly remembering, “Oh why don’t I ask Jesus?” Or I think I need something, so I will trust God for it.

There is room for all that within the relationship situation, but our attitude needs to be growing in a continuing humble dependence on God, trusting He will work out His plan for you. He does care, deeply, but is not Father Christmas.

There is a second aspect to this teaching which is linked here to that on faith. Firstly in the parable of the two sons, who is commended? vs 31 He who did His father’s will. Notice Jesus links that with believing in the statement vv 31 and 32.

The next parable has a similar point. Who are the farmers that are commended? v 41, those that produced the fruit the Landowner had desired in the vineyard (true Israel). Teaching? Faith is invisible to the outsider, obedience is something you can see. Obedience which is linked to faith will always be demonstrated by fruit. Fruit is always the result of “doing the Father’s will”.

So this all relates back to the fig tree. The Old Israel, represented by all these religious dignitaries had no faith, they had no connection with God, therefore they were not doing His will and producing the fruit God required from His Nation. It is a teaching on the inextricable link that faith makes between us and God and how that is shown. The alternative results in God’s judgement. From the time of Adam, man has been wanting to do things his way and just giving a nod to God. The consequences of that attitude are dire. cf the fig tree dying, vs 41, “He will destroy those terrible men”. vs 43 “The kingdom of God will be taken away from them”.

As I meditated on all this, this week, I realized again that faith is a natural expression of the bond that ties us to Jesus. We don’t always feel the same amount of faith. We are human with emotional highs and lows. But God recognizes our desire and continued pursuing of a relationship with Him. He is busy building our faith all the time. This will undoubtedly be expressed in the fruit of our changed lives. No fruit = no faith. The only way to grow in faith is to continue working on our relationship with Jesus. Remember the simple words of the old hymn? “Trust and obey, there is no other way to be happy in Jesus , but to trust and obey.”

Welcome the Unusual King.

“As you have been singing about Me as the real king – consider what that means. What is the role of a good king? It is to rule over his subjects for their benefit – it demonstrates his authority over all – but an authority dedicated to the well-being of his subjects. Not lording, ordering but serving them and providing for them. Protecting them and through His rule, directing them so that they may live a productive, satisfying life of service to one another. Ultimately the true nature of My rule was demonstrated on the cross. An action which was wholly motivated by love and for the benefit of my subjects. The real king of Jerusalem is in need of nothing from his subjects, but simply desires to be loved in response to His love, demonstrated by the changed lives all those who have been invited into His kingdom. May your service be joyful and expectant as I empower you daily – my beloved subject.”

The nature of Jesus’ kingship in this world is demonstrated dramatically in the next few chapters of Matthew as he reaches the climax of His Gospel description. It is perhaps easy to overlook the drama that unfolds as we have read and heard it so often. So why don’t you read Matthew ch 21 again, expectantly. It is so concentrated that I am only going to chat about the first 17 vv..

Remember the greater context is still, “Who is this Man and what has He come to do?” The immediate context has been humility before Jesus and the need for Him to open our eyes to see and understand His teaching and actions. Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem for the final act in the drama of His life. He has already been recognized by the disciples as “The Messiah, the Son of God” way back in 16:16. The concept of Messiah, was of an invincible king coming to rescue the Jewish people from their bondage.

Imagine how incongruous the scene described in the first vv of the chapter is. The arrival of a king in those times would be heralded by him riding on a beautiful steed at the head of a huge procession. Jesus, riding alone on a donkey? Imagine at king Charles’ coronation, he comes into London, all alone riding on a battered Vespa scooter.

Yet the response of the crowd demonstrates that they do, somehow recognize Him as king. They welcome Him with shouts of praise and demonstration of cloaks and branches. Notice the effect of His entry in v 10, the whole city was shaken! Despite this response the crowd’s conclusion is, “This is the prophet Jesus”. (Either a reference to the local stories of Him or to the special Prophet mentioned in Deuteronomy)

His first action is to go to the Temple. Why there? Well, the temple was the place where people would go to meet with God. It represented His presence with them. Now what is interesting, is the quote that Jesus makes as He cleanses the temple. It comes from Isaiah 56. Why not read that chapter now? If you remember, the thrust of that Chapter is a view of God’s ultimate purpose: Salvation is central, represented by God giving His righteousness, but it is extended to all. To outcasts, eunuchs and foreigners. The only requirement was for them to join themselves to God’s covenant and demonstrate this by keeping His Sabbaths.

So as Jesus goes to the temple, He is reminding the people of how they have failed in their appreciation of God by denying Him and turning away from His covenant. They had also failed to represent God to all the outsiders and foreigners. Taking it a step further He is judging the temple and preparing the people for when it will become redundant because of their rejection of God and His covenant. His intention was that He would replace the temple with His own person through whom the people would meet with God the Father from then on.

Matthew then describes how the blind and lame come to Him after that and He accepts and heals them. At the end of that paragraph, we once again are reminded that it is the unprejudiced eyes of little children who would accept Him. 21:16.

The contrast is stark. The religious leaders don’t recognize Him and reject Him yet those who are open and humble do. Do you see the significance of this repeated theme?

Looking forward, it is only after His death that we have the final word on who He is, as the centurion exclaims in 27:54, “Surely he was the Son of God”.

One can understand their confusion and we still see much of that today. Ultimately it is only those whose eyes are opened supernaturally that can accept who He really is. There is a warning however, to me in all this. I should not ever put Jesus in a box and think I have the last word on Him. I should go out to meet Him every day expecting the unexpected and ready to glorify Him as I meet Him. At the same time, I need to remain as a little child setting aside preconceived ideas and humbling myself under His mighty hand.

As you run all these thoughts through your mind today, I hope you will be filled anew with excitement and anticipation for your relationship with this Man Jesus who in Himself was and is the mighty God.