LEGION

LEGION. Mark chapter 5 v 1-20.

This is a strange and fascinating story of a madman and a herd of pigs. The location is easily established. There is only one place on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee where there is a rocky outcrop going steeply down into the Sea. Tourists can visit the exact location today. The meeting with Legion follows after the calming of the storm on the Lake. Jesus recognised that it had been Satan who stirred up the storm and he demanded that the storm cease. This was an attempt by Satan to drown Jesus and the Disciples and so frustrate the work of God. Jesus was alert to the attack and exercised control over the powers of darkness when He calmed the storm. The area is a predominantly Gentile area.

There are five lessons.
Lesson One. This was no chance meeting. Jesus came ashore at the very point where He would meet this man. His mission was to rescue the man from the power of Satan. The man had an unclean spirit. The demons in Legion could not prevent the man from meeting with Jesus. God allows evil for His purposes and the situation is never beyond His control. Jesus came to seek and save the lost. Legion was well and truly lost. The demonic web had been wound very tightly around the spirit, soul and body of Legion. Satan was in control of Legion. He was the worst case encountered by Jesus in His three-year public ministry. What did the Disciples think? Were they having a good look at the boat and judging the distance? Did they feel afraid? But Jesus was in control of the situation. In a strange way the man was religious. He fell at the feet of Jesus and worshipped Him. In all his torment he was calling out for help. If Jesus can solve the problem for Legion, He can solve any problem. Nothing is too hard for the Lord. The passage invites a believer to take his problem to Jesus.

Jesus took the initiative, just as His Father had done in Egypt. He saw their oppression and resolved to do something about it. The Hebrews had no hope of escape. God took the initiative just as he did in sending Jesus to die for the sins of the World. There is no other way for a man to be reconciled to God but by the cross of Jesus. Ezekiel ch 34 v 11. “I, I myself will lead my sheep.” Jesus confronted the enemy head-on. A believer must face the challenge facing him today and not run away from it.

Jesus asked his name. Jesus is interested in people. God knew all about Legion. Jer ch 1 v 5. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” People say: “It is the drink talking.” 95% of crimes are committed under the influence of alcohol. The demons asked Jesus: “What have you to do with me, Jesus?” The demons knew whom Jesus was and that He had authority over them. Anger on the part of the demons is a sign of a spiritual power trying to frighten a man and intimidate him. Name the demons. Jesus knew the demons. He had created them as angels before they rebelled against His Father. The demons asked Jesus to send them into the pigs and not to send them to the abyss. Jesus did as they requested, thereby demonstrating that He was in control of the situation.

v 2. Legion approached Jesus. Legion was a non-believer in Jesus living in a Gentile region. Legion had supernatural strength. He was exceptionally strong. No one could hold him with chains. Everyone was petrified of Legion. The local road had become a no-go area. What was behind the supernatural strength? The strength manifests itself to protect the demonic kingdom within the person, to give powers to the host who uses the demons to give him power and influence.

Legion lived among the graveyards. Demons and death go together – hence the graveyard. There would be a bed for the night, if the stone at the entrance to the tomb had been rolled away. The people of that area believed in an after-life and brought food to the graveyards for the deceased. Legion would be able to eat regularly every morning. For many involved in the occult there is a strong compulsion to visit graveyards, to lie on the tombs at night or even lie on the grave of a freshly buried corpse. What appears to be happening in that event is that demons from those who have died are attempting to transfer to new homes, and the demons inside a living person are trying to attract new demonic powers in order to enhance their power and further demonise their host. So as a result there were many demons living inside Legion. Some writers picture demons like bats. How could there be many bat-like beings inside Legion? It is better to think of demons like germs. After a cut infections can enter the body. The indication from the story is that the man was highly demonised and that his original demons had successfully attracted a huge number of evil spirits, many of which would have come from the dead who had been buried in the tombs. The more demonised a person is, the greater the control by demonic powers and the greater the supernatural strength, which can be displayed through the victim’s body. The local people almost certainly did not understand that any more then most people today, including some believers.

Legion cut and bruised himself with stones drawing blood. When a person cuts himself, it is a sign of demonic activity. It is not natural. Eph ch 5 v 29. 1 Kings ch 18 v 28-29. Elijah watched the prophets of Baal cutting themselves. It was part of the Baal worship. The demons within a person demand blood Exodus ch 20 v 5 says that one of the consequences of idolatry is that the sins of the fathers are visited on the children. Demons can travel down the family line affecting future generations. Perhaps Legion was the descendent of someone who was a worshipper of Baal. If so, then as a result he was forced, against his will, to fulfil the rituals of a form of worship that was probably foreign to him. For some who cut themselves it is a means of masking intense emotional pain, which cannot easily be fought. The physical pain caused by cutting themselves is a focus for pain, which distracts from the real source of the emotional hurt inside. Freemasons are worshippers of Jabulon – three gods – the middle one being Baal. How many today are abusing their bodies – with nicotine, alcohol, drugs and over-eating and tattoos.

Legion had been naked. Luke ch 8 v 27. People who are mentally deranged very often lose all sense of personal modesty. It is not unusual for patients in mental hospitals to wander about naked by preference, giving staff problems when visitors arrive. Many of the rituals of witchcraft and Satanism are carried out by participants who are naked. Many of them include sexual acts and perversions as part of the initiation ceremonies and the ongoing practices of the covens. Nudity, under demonic direction is part of a way of life. In the past twenty years the World has become progressively less self-conscious and nakedness on beaches, in films, on television and in print has progressed at an astonishing speed. Nudist camps and nudist sun-bathing are on the increase. It may be that ancestors, who have been involved in the occult, are affected by spirits, which make the person want to remove their clothing. As soon as sin entered the World nakedness has always been associated with sin. Satan has always wanted to destroy and pervert everything, which God created. Satan’s perversion of the flesh leads to lust. Satan’s character has been implanted in fallen man and the capacity for lust has become part of man’s fallen nature. Satan and his demons encourage nakedness and pornography because it encourages lust, which like all sin is a form of rebellion against God. There is an explosion of pornography in the present day.

Lesson Two. It seems that people had tried hard to control Legion. Perhaps they had tried to educate Legion and integrate him into society. They may have intentionally attempted to help him but Legion was stubborn and refused to accept their advice. Today there are young gang members wandering the streets of most cities, bullying and intimidating people, pushing drugs and ignoring all the advice of parents, teachers and government. There is an education system, there are welfare benefits, counsellors, charities and social workers. Millions are spent by governments in an attempt to solve the problems. Yet there are more and more people like Legion, enslaved by evil spirits and bent on self-destruction. One soul conquered by Satan can cause a lot of harm to others. That is the way Satan likes it. Many in large housing estates live in a socially terrified World, afraid to go out at night in the dark. More that half of primary children in Britain choose not to walk to School. Their parents are afraid for the safely of their children. In many cities Satan is in control. When a society believes that it has it all together and claims that there is no God, it is bent on self-destruction. Nation after nation looks to solve its problems by throwing more money at the problems but the leaders cannot see that the problems are actually getting worse. Many nations are very like Legion – controlled by Satan and disintegrating into moral and financial chaos. The permissive society of the 1960s simple surrendered to lust – lust for money, lust for fame and lust for sexual experience. Jesus was intolerant of evil. Yet today people – including believers – are encouraged to be tolerant of every point of view.

Lesson Three. The grace of God brought Legion to sit at the feet of Jesus in his right mind. He was no longer naked, restless or raging. Where did Jesus get the clothes from for Legion? How did Jesus get clothes when He rose from the dead? Jesus said: “I only do what I see my Father doing.” God met the needs of Adam and Eve and provided clothes for them to cover their nakedness. Did Jesus do the same for Legion? How long did Jesus spend with Legion? Probably 3 hours. At least enough time for the man who owned the pigs to go to town and come back with the people from the town.

Lesson Four. The response of the townspeople is most interesting. They came to see for themselves and to find out the facts of what had happened. Legion was healed and the Sea of Galilee was full of dead pigs. As they arrived at the scene they might have thought of asking Jesus to heal others in the neighbourhood. They could have asked Jesus to teach them about God. Instead they asked Jesus to leave. They saw a miracle but asked Jesus to leave. Jesus was demonstrating to the people that one person is of more value that 2,000 pigs. Today man is in danger of putting animal rights before people. Save the whales – but what about the seven million of babies aborted in Britain since 1967? Man is the pinnacle of God’s creation. Kick the kids and stroke the cat. There is something wrong when a person spends more time with a pet than with other people. There is a contrast between the people who had money and were in danger of losing it and the woman with bleeding who had lost all her money to the doctors and had nothing left to lose.

The townspeople were guilty. They were biblically illiterate and knew that they should have done for this man what Jesus had done. Jesus showed them up. Darkness enfolded them and they asked Jesus to leave. It seems that they were as afraid of Legion in his healed condition was they were previously. The people preferred the value of the pigs to the health of the man. They loved money more than people. Jesus had been teaching people on the other side of the Lake: “Your heart will always be where your riches are.” Nothing could have been clearer in this instance. The value of the pigs was more important that the health of Legion. Jesus left. He never forces Himself on anyone but left the people to their own devices. He lovingly invites people everywhere to move from the duty of religion to the joy of a personal relationship. People today, who gradually drift away from Church, are making the very same decision as the people in the story. They weighed the costs and made their choice. They had freedom to do that. Indeed Jesus advises them to do that very thing.

Lesson Five. Legion wanted to be a full time servant of Jesus. He wanted to follow Jesus. Jesus sent him home to witness to his own people as to what God had done in his life. Legion wanted to join the Disciples. As Jesus was getting into the boat to depart Legion begged Jesus that he might go with Him. Legion wanted to be in full-time service. Mark ch 5 v 19-20. After being rescued Legion was not taught and made a disciple to any great extent. Jesus must have spent three hours with him. On one occasion Paul taught in one town for two years. There is such a lot to learn. Legion was sent away into a pagan region with a testimony and little else. Maybe God would put him in touch with other believers in that area. What was Legion to do to earn a living after being healed? The passage does not say. But God is Jehovah Jireh. The Lord who provides.

Surely every believer should be in full-time service. What of John on the Island of Patmos.
How many cold, wet, shivering nights did John endure on Patmos? How often was he soaked to the bone by the Mediterranean’s storms? Did he even have shelter, or a change of clothes? How many colds and diseases did he have to battle? What kind of diet did he have? Maybe a few bags of rice? Did he have to ration it, knowing it would last only so long until the prison boat returned? Was he forced to catch snakes or lizards to supplement his meagre food?
By anyone’s standard, John was a failure. Many believers today would look at him and say, “What a waste. Why would God allow one of the most anointed men of all time to be isolated this way? Why would he allow a devoted disciple to be exposed to the elements in a prison camp and nearly starve? Did John ask God for deliverance? Later John wrote that Jesus said: ‘Whatsoever you shall ask the Father in my name, He will give it to you…ask, and you will receive’ (John 16:23-24). Where was John’s faith?”
Many Church leaders today would measure John by the current standard of success: he had no congregation, no church building, no money to rent or buy a structure. He had no vehicle to travel in, no house, no decent suit to preach in. He had no ministry agenda, no outreach to the community, no plan to win nations. Leaders today would quickly write him off, saying, “This man has nothing. Why was he called to ministry in the first place?”
It was not on a mountain-top but in a prison camp that Jesus came to John. On that very first Sabbath on Patmos, John started a church. He called it The Church of “I, JOHN.” He wrote, “I, John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ…was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day” (Rev ch 1 v 9-10). John was saying: “Yes, I’m shut off from civilization. But I have a church. And I minister to the Lord here. I have no brother or sister to join me. But I am in the Spirit.” Something incredible happened to John after his first few days on Patmos. He made a decision that impacted the entire church world for eternity. Simply put, John died to all his own plans and thoughts of ministry.
As far as John knew, his exile on Patmos was his final lot. He probably thought, “I may be stranded here for life. But I am not going to lose the fire of God. Even if it is only me here, I am going to worship the Lord. I may have no congregation, no fellowship with brothers or sisters. But I am going to walk in the Spirit. And I am going to give myself to seeking the face of God. Now I have time to get to know Him as I never have before.” John sought the Lord fully in his isolation. He moved in the Spirit. And he gave himself as a living sacrifice. John was in full-time ministry. It was full-time in the sense that John had God all to himself.
On Patmos there was no need for fund-raising, slogans or hype. There was no need to compete with other ministers or erect a bigger church building. There was no one around to praise John or to congratulate him. His life was reduced to a single focus, a single ministry: Jesus Christ alone. That is all John had. He said in essence, “That is all I will ever need: prayer, worship and communion with the Lord.”

Full-time ministry does not simply mean pastoring a church. Nor does it mean travelling as an evangelist or holding revival meetings. Full-time ministry is not determined by a diploma, or a certificate from a Bible College, or ordination from Church officials. In fact, you can pastor a large, successful church and still not be in full-time ministry. You can preach hundreds of messages and reach crowds of thousands. But none of these things makes you a full-time minister in God’s eyes.

There are many Legions in the world today but still only one Jesus. He is still sovereign over the nations and sovereign over Satan and his demons. Why is one saved or healed and not the others there? That remains a mystery. Today each believer is part of the body of Christ. The same Holy Spirit who empowered Jesus is available to empower each believer. There is a big World with many like Legion hurting and crying out for help. Legion was delivered and set off into full-time ministry in his area. This story challenges each believer. “Are you in full-time ministry for Jesus Christ?”

Advertisements

Depart from me.

DEPART FROM ME. Mat ch 25 v 14-30. Hebrews ch 6 v 4-8.

Every day which passes takes believers one day nearer that moment when they will stand before Jesus in judgement. There will be no discussion. There will be no mistakes. There will be appeals tribunal. There will be no one to speak for them. There will be no second chance. Each believer will stand all alone. There will be two doors open – one into Heaven and the other into Hell. Jesus said: “It is appointed for a man to die once and then the judgement.” To some Jesus will say: “Well done good and faithful servant.” To others He will say: “Depart from me. I never knew you.”

There are two conflicting statements by Jesus.
John ch 6 v 37. “He who comes to me I shall never cast out.”
Mat ch 7 v 21-23. “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven but he who does the will of my Father who is in Heaven. On that day many will say to me ‘Lord, Lord did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name? And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.”
Jesus concludes with these solemn words: “Depart from me you evildoers, I never knew you.”

In Mat ch 25 v 28 it says that when Jesus was finished the crowds were amazed at His teaching. No wonder they were amazed. No one in the history of the World has ever spoken like Jesus. These people were privileged to hear Jesus speak in person. The verses in Mat ch 7 are troubling verses. So is the verse in Mat ch 25 v 41: “Depart from me, you cursed into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels.” It is clear from the Bible that while some men clearly knew about Jesus they did not know Jesus personally. On these occasions Jesus told people to depart because they never knew Him. These passages leave a question in the mind of those who hear them or read them. The question is this: “Might Jesus one day say that to me?” How can a man be absolutely sure that Jesus will never cast him out? If Jesus were to say that to a man on Judgement Day then he will be going to Hell. It is a very serious thing for Jesus to have said. These are not passages, which can be read quickly without serious thought.

William Barclay said: “When mankind loses sight of the Second Coming of Jesus, he slides downhill morally and spiritually.” Isaiah ch 45 v 23. Isaiah says that all men will kneel before the judgement seat of Christ. How can all human beings who have ever lived be there at the same time? God created time for mankind. God created the sun and moon and seasons. Living in time is all that human beings on Earth have ever known. A man probably looked at his watch several times already this day to make sure that he was on time. It is difficult to imagine living where there is no time. It is as if a man lives in a time bubble or zone. When he dies he will leave the time zone and enter eternity. In that sense everyone who has ever lived and has left the time zone has arrived in eternity at the same time – only there is no time in eternity. So if that is true a man’s parents who have already died have not been waiting for him to arrive. He will arrive in eternity at the same time – only there is no time. Pilate and Caiaphas will not have been waiting for two thousand years. They will arrive at the same time – but there is no longer any time. A man will never need a watch again. Isaiah said that all men will bow the knee before Jesus. What a moment!

Luke ch 22 v 21. At the Last Supper in Jerusalem the night before Jesus went to the Cross Jesus said to the Disciples: “One of you will betray me.” It might have been expected that the heads of all eleven would have turned towards Judas. They might even have pointed to Judas? It is obvious that Judas was the one to betray Jesus. But it was not obvious to the other eleven Disciples. Each of the Disciples said in reply: “Is it I, Lord?” Clearly the Disciples did not grasp the significance of the moment. They had been with Jesus for three years. They had seen the miracles. They had witnessed the healing of many people. They had seen demons cast out of people. They had heard the teaching of Jesus. They had been there at the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. They must have been aware of the tensions in the atmosphere. Jesus had just done an extraordinary thing. He had washed their smelly feet. They must have been smelly. Jesus would not have done it just for show. It was a necessary service. Why had none of the Disciples thought to wash their Master’s feet or even their own feet? There was a dispute as to which of the Disciples was the greatest. Why did they doubt that they might betray Jesus? And yet actually they did all betray Him. When Jesus was arrested they all fled and left Jesus alone. Peter followed at a distance but then, when challenged, Peter denied Jesus three times. The foundations of the house of Caiaphas are still there in Jerusalem – preserved under a block of flats. The place where Peter stood outside in the courtyard and denied Jesus is there today.

Caiaphas was the High Priest. How had he been appointed? Herod approached several of the leading families in Judea. He asked them what percentage of the Temple taxes they would give him, if he appointed them as High priest. The one who offered the highest percentage was given the job. Caiphas had offered the highest percentage of the temple taxes to Herod. Jesus would have known that system. And Ciaphas would have known that Jesus knew that he was a fraud. Caiaphas was not really the High Priest in God’s sight. Jesus was the real High Priest and he stood before Caiaphas.

The passage in Hebrews ch 6 v 4 speaks of some believers who fall away. It is a very challenging passage. They had been true believers. They had received the Holy Spirit. They had understood the Word of God. They had almost certainly testified that they had been saved by the blood of Jesus. Yet they committed apostasy. They fell so far that it was impossible to restore them again to repentance. The passage asks this question: “Could this happen to me?” Do you know someone who was once on fire for the Lord? But today he is not to be found in worship.

Falling away is not due to weakness. It is not because a believer is overcome by awful circumstances. It is a deliberate decision of the will by a believer, which puts Jesus to shame. People in the World had heard his testimony and observed his life-style. Perhaps they were challenged by his life-style. Now they know he is no longer interested in the Lord Jesus. There is a clear danger that the believer has reached the point of no return. As Hebrews says: “It is impossible to bring him back to repentance.”

David Pawson brings out in his book “The Road to Hell” that the teaching of Jesus about Hell was directed to His Disciples. They knew that those who rejected Jesus were bound for Hell. What Jesus was doing was impressing on His disciples that they must ensure that they also did not also end up going there.

This raises another challenging question. Is there such a thing as a false conversion? These passages clearly imply that there is.

Without repentance there is no true conversion. Luke ch 3 v 3. John the Baptist went into the region about the Jordan preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He challenged the people who came to him: “Bear fruits that show true repentance.” He told them: “Go and prove by the way you live that you really have repented.” John the Baptist called the people of his day to repent of specific sins – corruption by the soldiers who looked for a bribe, unpaid taxes by those who were fiddling their tax returns. He told some to share their goods with the poor. He told others to be content with their wages. If they repented of these things – and others – people would know that there was a change in their life. Repentance had to be specific.

Mat ch 4 v 17. As soon as Jesus began to preach He said: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” Jesus called sinners to repent. Every prophet had a theme to his ministry. Isaiah preached about the holiness of God. Jeremiah preached about judgement. Jesus preached about the Kingdom of God – the rule of God in the heart of man. Without true repentance there can be no true conversion. Repentance is simply a man agreeing with God that He is right and the man is wrong. There is a change of mind and then a change of life style. In Jer ch 17 v 9 Jeremiah reminds us that the heart of man is deceitful. Only God knows fully what is in a man’s heart.

The good news is only good news in light of the bad news. An ambulance is not good news unless a man is seriously ill. The sound of an ambulance coming is good news to a man lying in the road with broken bones. A man needs to be convicted of what he has done wrong before he understands the need for a saviour. The moral law of God is given to challenge a man that he needs a saviour. No man can keep the whole of the moral law of God. Psalm 19 v 7 says: “The law the Lord is perfect for converting the soul.”

We see that true conversion begins with repentance. A false Gospel seeks Jesus for His joy, His peace, His healing etc. The real Gospel asks people to seek Jesus for His holiness. Heb ch 12 v 14: “Strive for holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” What place does sin take in a man coming to Jesus? Often the evangelist invites people to Jesus and tells them to repent of their sins – but which ones? It is not difficult for a man to accept that he is not perfect. The conscience of each man tells him that he is not as good as he should be. John the Baptist was very specific about sin. It is not enough to accept that a man is not as good a person as he might be. He has to accept that he is a sinner and that his sins have offended a holy God. Every sin is a personal insult to a holy God.

There are Church records of one denomination in America with 11,500 Churches. They reveal that nine out of ten people who had made a decision for Christ were not going on with the Lord after a period of time since their decision. Was this because they had never really repented of their sins in the first place? To tell a man that Jesus died for his sins, when he does not regard himself as a sinner, is foolishness. The preaching of the cross is foolishness to the sinner. He needs to know that he has offended God’s holy law. He needs to know that he is deserving of Hell. The moral law of God leaves the whole World guilty of judgement before a holy God. The Bible teaches that all men stand guilty and condemned before a holy God. The Bible is very honest. Much of modern evangelism has neglected the proclamation of the moral law of God. It has chosen instead a message of “life-enhancement.” It proclaims that Jesus will give you peace, joy, love and everlasting happiness. But Jesus did not come to Earth to make a man happy. He came to make a man holy. That is why Jesus said to His disciples: “Be perfect.” In other words – “Be holy as I am holy.” Coming to Jesus in repentance will not just improve the quality of life. It will avert the wrath of God. The true convert has a deep-seated assurance that he is saved from eternal torment in Hell. He has real gratitude for his salvation. There should be a humble gratitude of love in a believer for the Saviour who died in his place. There is a song, which contains these words: “What kind of love is this that gave itself for me? I am the guilty one, yet I go free.” The moral law can only chase a man to Calvary and no further.

The true convert experiences difficulties, trials, hatred and persecution. This is exactly what Jesus warns when He invites a man to follow Him along the narrow path to life. “If they hated me, they will hate you. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you. If they killed me, they may want to kill you.” Jesus warned: “It is appointed for a man to die once and then the judgement.” If a man has never been confronted by the Devil in life, it is probable that he is travelling in the same direction.

When David sinned with Bathsheba he broke all the Ten Commandments of God in one day. When challenged by Nathan the prophet David cried out to God: “Against you and you only I have sinned.” Horizontal repentance is really either regret for making a mistake or remorse for what a man has done to other men. Vertical repentance is true repentance towards God. Try to save a man from drowning when he does not believe that he is drowning. He will not be too happy with you. He did not understand that he was in any danger. No one had told him that he was under the wrath of God – that he was a condemned sinner.

When a man has a terminal disease and is shown the extent of it he will not hesitate to accept a cure. But if he is not convinced that he has a terminal disease he will not be much interested in the cure. Sin is a terminal disease. The wages of sin is death. For broken bones the grace of God has provided a doctor. For sin God has provided the man Jesus as the cure – the only cure.

There is a story of a young man who met an older man on the bank of a river. The young man said that he wanted to know God. The older man took the young man by the arm out into the river. He thrust the young man’s head under the water. He held him under the water until the young man was desperate for breath. Then the old man let his head out of the water. The old man said to the young man: “When you want to know God as much as you wanted to breathe just now let me know.” How badly does a man want to be saved? This is a matter of the utmost seriousness. There is no place for casual evangelism.

With the moral law Jesus breaks the hard-hearted man. With the Gospel He heals the broken heart. A lawyer tempted Jesus. He was a professed expert in God’s law. He said to Jesus: “Who is my neighbour?” He wanted to justify his love but he did not love his neighbour. He was proud. His heart was hard. Jesus gave him the moral law. Nicodemus was a teacher of the Jewish people. He was a humble man. He acknowledged Jesus as a man sent from God. On that occasion the moral law was a schoolmaster bringing Nicodemus to accept Jesus as a gift from God. John ch 3 v 16. Jesus was not hard on him. He was gracious to him. The moral law was made for sinners. It was designed to convict them of their sins so that they cry out for mercy. The moral law shows a sinner his true condition. By the moral law is the knowledge of sin. Instead of justice God gives a man mercy. Christ redeemed His followers from the curse of the law.

The consequences of the new birth. At a true conversion there should be seven natural consequences.
1. The angels rejoice. There may be a guardian angel appointed for each man.
Psalm 91 v 11. “God will give angels charge of you to guard you in all your ways.” Hebrews ch 1 v 14. “They are sent forth for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation.” The true convert should be aware that there are angels ministering to him
2. An awareness of sin. A believer should be growing in an awareness of sin. There is a danger of becoming complacent. If the sharpness is lost he becomes tolerant of sin. If he keeps a short account with God then his awareness of sin increases. If he does not keep his conscience alert, it stops growing. Believers are constantly aware of the standards, which God seeks, as they study their model – Jesus. Sins are like weeds in the ground. They must be pulled up regularly or they will choke the life out of the plants. Repentance is always specific and not general
3. A hunger for the Word of God as spiritual food. There is something wrong if a man does not have a physical appetite. A spiritual man does not grow unless he feeds on the word of God by regular Bible study. The Word of God is addictive, provided believers act on it. Then they want more of the Word when they see that it works. A spiritual appetite develops. Jesus is the bread of life. The Church at Sardis had a name for being alive but was dead. There is always a possibility that a Church may seem to be doing all the right things but there is no real spiritual life. A true convert will not need to be encouraged to read his Bible. There will be a hunger in his heart to feed on the Word of God.
4. A desire for a changed life and to be rid of sin. It was sin, which caused a man being destined for Hell. This may involve a change of work, leaving ungodly friends or destroying an idol.
5. A love for brothers and sisters in Christ. They are members of his new family into which the new believer has been born. This should be as natural as a love between brothers and sisters in a natural family. Jesus challenges His Disciples: “By your love
for one another people will know that you are my disciples.”
6. A degree of testing in life. Jesus warned His followers to expect it – count the cost. Royal children are expected to undergo special training and discipline, which other children escape. This is to prepare them for their high destiny. They have a special responsibility. So it is for all children of the King of kings. All a man can take with him into eternity is his character or integrity. That should be the number one goal in life. Jesus offered a great promise to the seven Churches in Revelation. There will be a prize for those who overcome. Testing strengthens character. Believers present to the World a contradictory life style. Testimony helps a believer to face the testing. To shun trials is to imply that the believer does not want to grow.
7. A strong desire to share the news of Christ with others and to testify. When a man has good news – a job, a child on the way, a grand child – he longs to share it with others. It is hard not to share it. It should be natural for the believer to tell others about his salvation.

If there is such a thing as a false conversion, what is the evidence of a true conversion? What is the evidence of fruit in the life of a new convert? What do the Scriptures say about this?

1. Mat ch 3 v 8. John the Baptist said: “Prove that you have turned from sin by doing worthy deeds.” The fruit or evidence of repentance is seen in the conversion of Zacchaeus. Luke ch 19 v 1-10. “Half of my goods I give to the poor.”
2. Col ch 1 v 10. The fruit of good works. The life lived for God will produce all kinds of good deeds and a hunger for knowledge of God.
3. Heb ch 13 v 15. “Offer up a sacrifice of praise to God. The fruit of lips, which acknowledge His name.” A Church should give believers an opportunity to express their praise to God in words as well as song.
4. Gal ch 6 v 10. “Whenever we can we should always be kind to everyone and especially our Christian brothers.” Start the day by saying to God: “How can I co-operate with you to be an instrument of blessing to everyone I meet this day.”
5. The fruit of the spirit is: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility and self-control. Is the fruit evident in the life of a believer? Is it growing or is it beginning to shrivel?
6. The fruit of righteousness. A righteous man does the right thing in every situation. Mat ch 7 v 19. Jesus said: “A tree, which does not bring good fruit, will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

Mark ch 4 v 3. There are times when Jesus introduces His teaching with: “Behold. Listen carefully.” The parable of the Sower is one such instance. There are four categories of people who hear the message of the Gospel. Which of them is a true convert? Only the fourth person who bears fruit. The Disciples did not understand what Jesus was speaking about. v 13. Jesus asked them: “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you ever understand any parable?” This parable appears to be the key to understanding the other parables like the wheat and tares and the sheep and the goats. The test is about bearing good fruit.

These consequences in the life of a true believer are matched by certain characteristics of a false conversion.
1. No weighing of the issues. Jesus warns about counting the cost before making a decision. In life it is vital to weigh up the consequences of every action. Everything a man does and says has consequences for him and for others. If there is no thought for the consequences it suggests that there is no true conversion.
2. A lack of real fellowship. A true convert craves fellowship. Moses had Aaron. David had Jonathan. A believer who thinks that he can cope on his own will be open to being picked off by the enemy.
3. Tribulation, temptation and persecution all reveal what is the heart condition of a convert. A new convert needs persecution. It will cause him to grow. 1 Pet ch 1 v 6 says: “Welcome trials and difficulties.” Persecution fell on the early Church and that helped it to grow. Persecution is helping the underground Church in China to grow. Persecution reveals to a convert his shallow belief and true condition. New converts need protection and feeding with the Word of God. But it is not good to shield the new convert from difficulties. Allow a new convert to experience persecution. Jesus sent His lambs out amongst wolves. It is in overcoming the difficulties that the new convert will grow spiritually.
4. If there is no zeal for the lost or hunger for the Word it suggests that the man has not received the Holy Spirit. Judas hid his iniquity. He kept his mask of respectability in place and the other Disciples did not realise that he was a man of iniquity.
5. A pig returns to wallow in the mud to cool its flesh. A false convert will go back to wallow in the ways of the World to cool his sinful flesh. That flesh life has never been crucified with Christ. Every believer has a battle with the fallen nature. He sins against his will. The false convert makes provision for the World. The Bible speaks of false teachers, false prophets and wolves amongst sheep. Mat ch 7 v 15. “You will know them by their fruits.” A genuine convert brings forth fruit with patience. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit. 1 Tim ch 4 Paul warns of doctrines of demons. A false convert will not take time to test what he hears against the Scriptures. A true convert will not look back and long for the ways of the World and the pleasures of the flesh. There is no such thing as spectacular growth. It takes time for the fruit of the Spirit to grow. It is those who persevere to the end who will be saved.

If a plant is placed in a pot and given adequate soil, light and water, it will grow. But if the pot has little soil and is full of rocks the growth will be very limited even if placed in the sun and given plenty water. Eventually the plant will die. There are certain basic requirements if a person born of the Spirit of God is to grow spiritually. There are various obstacles to spiritual growth such as inferiority complex, false teaching, rejection, shame, fear, memories, idolatry, soul ties, addictions, etc. Each of these in the life of a believer will stunt his spiritual growth. As a result many believers do not grow spiritually as they ought to grow. Have they experienced a true conversion? It is sometimes difficult to tell.

Evangelists may preach a message about Jesus and claim that it is now up to them. “It is their responsibility. Their destiny is in their hands.” Many come to Jesus in response but the obstacles to growth in their life are never dealt with. A shallow diagnosis of their problems leads to a shallow cure. There needs to be a true biblical diagnosis before true conversion. Only a small percentage of people who respond to the call of the evangelist are able to persevere to the end. Why is this? Is it because their spiritual doctor does not tell them either that they need to deal with their problems or, if they do, how to do it. There is such a thing as generational iniquity. Lam ch 5 v 7. “Our fathers sinned and are no more but we bear their iniquities.” These iniquities need to be severed.

Thomas asked Jesus: “How will we get to Heaven?” It was a genuine question. He needed to know. A man needs to be absolutely sure that he will reach Heaven. The alternative is too horrific to contemplate. Jesus answered Thomas and would answer us in the same way: “I am the way, and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me.” So the only guarantee is to live as Jesus lived and to live in truth. In v 15-16 Jesus gave us the key: “If you love me and obey me.” That is the key. Go on believing, go on repenting and go on serving the Lord and our fellow man.

What will Jesus say to each man on the day of judgement? A man cannot live each day as if it is his last day on Earth. Yet for some it is. It is essential to pay solemn attention to these particular words of Jesus. “If you love me and obey me.” Then each man can go through life confident that at the end of his life – whenever that comes – as he kneels before Jesus on the Day of Judgement – he will hear these words: “Well done good and faithful servant.”

Doeg the Edomite

DOEG THE EDOMITE. 1 Sam ch 21 and ch 22.

There are some wonderful characters in the Bible who set an example to follow today. Paul said: “Be imitators of me.” Phil ch 3 v 17. There are other less savoury characters whose example should not be followed. Doeg is a less-savoury character. He is more than a character. He is a type. Indeed he was possessed by a spirit, which gave him his character. There may be one of his type in the vicinity or in the Church. His name is Doeg. He was an Edomite.

This is a disturbing passage in several respects. Firstly because of what David did. God calls David a man after His own heart. Yet David lied to Ahimelech twice and to the Philistines. It raises the question: “What might I be capable of doing to save my own life?” Another disturbing aspect is the behaviour of Saul in his unjust accusation of Ahimelech and his irrational behaviour.

There are four steps to understanding the Scriptures. 1.God gives a physical picture to teach spiritual truth. What is the physical picture? 2. What is the spiritual truth? 3 How did it apply to Israel? 4. How does it apply personally?

The first question is – “Where is Nob?” It was situated two miles northeast of Jerusalem. Nehemiah ch 11 v 32 mentions it as one of the villages settled by the tribe of Benjamin after the return from Babylon.

The second question is – “Who are the Edomites?” They were the descendents of Esau. Read all about them in Genesis and Obadiah. Esau should have been the spiritual head of the family to succeed Isaac but he considered his spiritual inheritance of less importance than something good to eat. Then when he realised that he had been deceived by Jacob and felt guilty, he transferred his guilt onto Jacob. There was a family feud. The unforgiveness and bitterness of Esau became rooted in the Edomites. There was a stronghold of hatred against the descendants of Jacob – the Children of Israel. That hatred is still evident to this day. Obadiah records various incidents, which showed the outworking of that bitterness. The Edomites gloated in the day of Israel’s calamity. They rejoiced at Israel’s downfall – as did the Palestinians when the Twin Towers collapsed. The Edomites looted the goods of the Israelites. They captured the fleeing Israelites and handed them over to their enemy. It was nothing to do with the Edomites but they enjoyed getting their own back. They were neither part of the problem nor part of the solution but they relished getting their own back on the people God had chosen to serve Him. Doing good to their enemies was not a phrase, which was in their vocabulary. The same sort of hatred can be found in families today and in nations. Mat ch 15 v 19. “Out of the heart the mouth speaks.” A man’s fallen nature desires to destroy others and elevate self.

The third question is about Saul. “What led to his having a pity party and his irrational behaviour?” Ch 22 v 8. “You have all conspired against me.” Saul could not see his faults and he blamed everyone else for his ills. Everybody else could his faults. Pride and jealousy have a specific result. Truth becomes a casualty.

Saul was not God’s choice but was the choice of the people who wanted a king like the other people. Despite that Saul was initially blessed and used by God. However, when Saul went into disobedience he lost his anointing. He was still the king but no longer had the anointing of God. David was chosen by God and anointed by God but was not yet the king. Therein lay the struggle. Any believer who moves away from the Lord and rejects the truth he has been taught can move into serious disobedience and lose the anointing he once had. Saul felt guilty before God and – like Esau – he transferred his guilt to David. Pride was present in Saul. Pride is the only disease, which makes everyone else sick but the one who has it himself. Repenting is a man taking responsibility for his own sins and not blaming another. Saul even blamed Jonathan for David’s being against him. Yet it was Saul who had rejected David and thrown a spear at him. The psychologists call it “transference of guilt.” Everyone is doing it. The politicians blame the other side for their failings. Saul was now an enemy of David. Why?

Jealousy. Saul had a big problem when Goliath challenged him. Saul lacked wisdom and was outwitted by the enemy. Saul did not need to accept Goliath’s proposal for settling the war. Instead of defying Goliath and fighting in the normal way Saul went along with Goliath’s idea. “This is a situation not of my choosing nor to my liking.” Saul hid in his tent. For 40 days Goliath challenged Saul and Saul felt defeated. Throughout life a man meets situations where he is involved not through his choice or desire but is forced to make a decision. In the natural most men prefer to hide away and let someone else deal with the difficulties. Saul’s army was facing defeat. David did not accept the proposal from Goliath. He tested it against the Word of God and knew that this blasphemous giant had to be tackled. David arrived on the scene and by faith in God he rescued the situation. He was the hero. Saul should have appreciated David’s faith and courage and zeal for God. As soon as the people sang David’s praises Saul felt jealousy rise up within him. Jealousy is the feeling of coldness and resentment, which sometimes stirs in the heart when another is praised – somebody with whom a man matched himself in thought and to whom he imagined himself to be superior. The people said: “Saul has slain his thousands but David has slain his tens of thousands.” Sometimes a leader has to acknowledge that God is going to use another man for a particular purpose and let that man get on with the task. Leaders often hold others back in case they show up the inadequacy of the leader. The genius of leadership is to bring the best out of everyone under their leadership. Saul’s fury did not let him consider the goodness of Ahimilech. He was so self-focused that he did not consider anyone else. Every self-centred person is an unhappy person.

As Saul pursued David with a view to killing him David sought the help of the priest Ahimelech. 1 Sam ch 21 v 1. David lied to Ahimelech. He said that he was on a mission from the King. David and his men were hungry. There was no common bread – only the shewbread. The shewbread comprised 12 loaves representing the 12 tribes of Israel. The shewbread was baked fresh every Sabbath and the old bread thrown away. The bread was to be eaten by the priests. Often a man does not understand the spiritual significance of God’s commands until a later date. All that is required is sheer obedience. Ex ch 19 v 14-15. On special occasions men were not to go near women. Was this total or temporary abstinence? David assured the priest that the men were sexually pure and as a result the bread was given to them to eat. Why David was unarmed is not explained. David also received the sword of Goliath. He was entitled to use this. He had won it fairly in battle.

David was in trouble and he involved Ahimelech. Later Ahimelech may well have heard Satan’s favourite words: “If only”. If only David had not come to him on that day. Ahimelech could not have prevented David from calling but he chose to assist him. The charge later was of collaborating with the enemy.

For the moment David thought that he was free from Saul – his enemy. However, there was a man there that day called Doeg. Ch 21 v 7. He was watching what went on. Later in Saul’s presence- ch 22 v 9 – Doeg could have kept quiet but he chose to speak up to stir up trouble. Proverbs ch 6 v 19. God hates one who stirs up trouble between brothers. Doeg is what might be called a tell-tale or a gossip or a clype. Prov ch 26 v 20. “Fire goes out for lack of fuel and tensions disappear when gossip stops.” Doeg was a servant of Saul. Doeg was a hatchet man – known for his brutal dealings. He was the equivalent of a hit man for the Mafia. Prov ch 11 v 9. “With his mouth the godless man would destroy his neighbour.” That is exactly what happened when Doeg spoke up. The dictionary definition of gossip is: “Idle (malicious) talk about other persons.” It embraces criticising one another and running another down. Gossip is simply passing on facts about another person. On this occasion the gossip was malicious and not careless. The essential aspect is the motive behind the words. Jesus is always interested in a man’s motives and He tests the motives. Are they to lower the standing of the man in the eyes of another so that the one who hears the gossip thinks less of that man than he did previously? Psalm 101 v 5. “I will not tolerate anyone who secretly slanders his neighbours.” God clearly takes a serious and solemn view about gossip.

“You never know a man until you step on his toes or touch his wallet.” Believers need to choose their friends carefully. Gossiping is a national pass-time. A man often sees people in trouble and rushes to pass on the information to others. Small minds talk about people. Larger minds talk about events. Great minds talk about truths and principles. Believers are commanded to “Love the Lord your God with all your mind.” Nothing so enlarges the mind but a study of the Godhead. Gossiping usually means passing on information when a man is neither part of the problem nor part of the solution. It is like accepting stolen property. It makes him just as guilty of the crime. “People who gossip to you will gossip about you.” They cannot be trusted. When a man entertains gossip he is a trouble-maker. Prov ch 17 v 4. “The wicked enjoy fellowship with others who are wicked – liars enjoy liars.” It is sad that in the flock of God the greatest wounds are cause by other sheep and not from wolves. Gal ch 5 v 15. “If you bite and devour one another take heed that you are not consumed by one another.” Never say behind the back of another what you would not say to his face. Who is able to say that they have never done that?

Ahimelech protested his innocence. He knew nothing about a plot against Saul. He pointed out that David was the King’s son-in-law, a faithful servant of the king and a highly honoured member of the Royal household. Ahimelech spoke the truth to Saul. It was an honest apology. Darkness hates light and so Saul did not like to hear the truth about himself. He would lose face before his men. Saul summoned the priests and after investigating the situation he condemned the priests to death. He commanded the soldiers to kill the priests. Ch 22 v 17. The soldiers refused to obey the order from Saul. They feared God rather than Saul. In the Second World War German soldiers hid behind their orders when they killed the Jewish people – men, women and children – in the concentration camps. They claimed when caught that they were only following orders. Roman soldiers did the same in Judea. These soldiers of Saul recognised the gravity of the situation. These priests were the Lord’s anointed. 1 Sam ch 24 v 6. David refused to lift his hand to the Lord’s anointed. A Church leader is the Lord’s anointed and yet members lift their voices against him so readily. Often those closest to such people raise their voices and criticise them at the very time when they are in need of help and encouragement. Who really knows the burdens and personal battles the leader is fighting? Saul turned to Doeg. “You do it.” Doeg did not need to be asked twice. He enjoyed destroying the Israelites and went on a spree of carnage and murder.

There are three important lessons in this story.

1. Choose your company carefully. Saul chose Doeg to be an important person in his court. He was Saul’s chief herdsman. In choosing Doeg Saul was befriending the World. Be alert to the wiles of the Devil and keep well clear of anyone bearing the resemblance to Doeg. 1 Cor ch 15 v 33. “Bad company ruins good morals.”

2. Be aware that in making decisions a man will involve other people, particularly if he is in a position of influence or in a position of leadership. In the spiritual battle between Saul and David the priests and their families became involved. David caused the death of Ahimelech and the wives and children of the priests. A dispute between husband and wife will inevitably involve their children and wider family. How many families fall out after a death when the estate falls to be divided? If neighbours fall out those in the vicinity tend to take sides. Gossip runs rife. If people are neither part of the problem nor part of the solution they should keep their mouths shut.

3. Watch what you say. Ch 22 v 22. David realised that Doeg had been there. He knew that he should have been more careful in his dealings with Ahimelech. There is an enemy who loves to twist a man’s words. If Satan hated a man before he was saved to the point of blinding him as to the truth of the Gospel, how much more will he hate the man now that he is a believer? Satan deals in half-truths and lies. He is always watching and listening to what is said. With persecution in Britain coming ever-closer believers – especially those who take a stand for Israel – need to be aware that they are marked by the enemy. A man should watch what he says about others in public and even in private. Eccles ch 10 v 20. “Never curse a king, for a little bird will tell him what you have said.” Every action taken and word spoken has consequences for the individual and others. 1 Sam ch 22 v 22. When David found out what had happened, he realised that he personally bore responsibility for the deaths of all the people. He had seen Doeg and but failed to keep matters private with Ahimelech. David should have realised the danger. Was it because he had told Ahimelech a lie that he became less spiritually aware of the danger? A lie will always allow an area of darkness to enter the proceedings. Joseph was not very wise to boast of the favouritism of his father before his brothers. It played a part in his subsequent troubles. David was not very smart in not making sure that Doeg did not know what was going on. It was none of Doeg’s business. David clearly knew that Doeg was present. When a situation develops and there is potential trouble it is essential to deal with it before the trouble escalates and not sweep the problem under the carpet. Now the survivor, Abiathar, was an enemy of Saul as well and he needed protection. It is essential for a man to choose his companions carefully.

Summary of Talks

Legion.
Depart from me.
Doeg the Edomite.

David a man after God’s heart.
What do you think of Christ?
Psalm 22.
The Dying Thief.
The Fiery Furnace.
God Calling Man.
The White Stone.
Multitudes in the Valley of Decision.
Sons of Greece.

David a man after God’s heart

DAVID – A MAN AFTER GOD’S HEART. Acts ch 13 v 16-25. 1 Sam ch 17 v 31 – 47.

David is described in Acts ch 13 v 22 as a man after God’s heart. God said: “I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.”
1 Sam ch 13 v 14. God told Samuel that He had found a man after His own heart. A man who would do His will. “The Lord has sought out a man after His own heart and the Lord has appointed him to be prince over his people.”

David was to be King of Israel. He was rejected by the World but anointed by God. In 1 Sam ch 16 Samuel came to appoint one of Jesse’s sons. David was not present when Samuel arrived. One son after another was presented to Samuel. But God told Samuel that none of those presented was His choice. His father Jesse never even thought to arrange for David to be present. How hurtful is that? David was not even considered a possibility by his own father. David was the eighth son of Jesse. Eight in the Scriptures is the number for a new beginning. Circumcision was on the eighth day. There were eight people in the ark as God began again with the human race. The number for Jesus is – eight. God was planning a new beginning by appointing David King of Israel.
1 Samuel ch 16 v 7. When Eliab the first son of Jesse was presented God told Samuel: “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord sees not as man sees. Man looks on the outward appearance but the Lord looks on the heart.”
God looked into David’s heart. He saw something, which no one else saw. What he saw pleased the Lord.

David, a man after God’s heart. You might be wondering: “How can this be?” When we consider some of the things David did, how could he be a man after God’s heart. There were three incidents, which show David in a bad light.

First. David had defeated Goliath. Yet in 1 Sam ch 21 v 2 David lied to the priest Ahimelech. He told the priest that he had been sent by Saul. He said that he was entitled to eat the shew bread. That was a lie. David did not need to tell a lie. He deliberately deceived Ahimelech. As a result of David’s visit to Ahimelech 85 priests and their families were slaughtered by Saul. The story is told in 1 Sam ch 22. In v 22 David acknowledged that it was his fault. He had caused their deaths. Fearlessly David had confronted Goliath. Carelessly he ignored the presence of Doeg the Edomite. He should have known better than to tell a lie to Ahimelech. He should not have spoken openly in front of Doeg who was an enemy of Israel. On that day David was only looking after his own interests. He was at best careless and at worst foolish.

Second. In 2 Sam ch 11 is the sorry story of David and Bathsheba. David already had wives and a considerable harem. He was fifty years old at the time. Therefore to take the wife of a one of his best soldiers was all the more inexcusable. There are not degrees of adultery. Sin is sin. One mistake leads to another. One sin leads to another. David should have been away at the war leading his troops but he stayed behind. An idle mind often leads a man to waste time and leads him into trouble. Idleness gives great advantage to the tempter. How often do children with nothing to do get into trouble? David had a wandering eye. Bathsheba made sure that it wandered in her direction. What was she thinking about, bathing on the roof in full view of the King and maybe others? It is not a sin to be tempted but it is a sin to yield to the temptation. If believers let the Devil have an open door, they can expect trouble. How many say: “I never thought that it could happen to me.” It may be boring to play safe but it helps believers to keep safe. There is a real warning in this story.

In the incident with Bathsheba David broke almost all Ten Commandments in one day. He coveted another man’s life. He lied. He committed adultery. To cover the original sin of adultery David tried to get Uriah the Hittite to break his principles. The Hittites were the military power in Canaan when the Children of Israel entered Canaan. Uriah came from a fine military tradition. David wanted Uriah to have intercourse with his wife. That was forbidden during a time of war. Then the child might appear to be Uriah’s. He made Uriah drunk in order to manipulate him. Is it worse to rob a man of his mind than his money? If this plot had worked, would Uriah have lived anyway? David could have been open to blackmail from Bathsheba or Uriah, if Uriah had found out. David arranged for Uriah’s death and involved Joab in his crime. David asked Joab to arrange for Uriah to be sent to the most dangerous part of the battlefield. David’s hope that Uriah would be killed was fulfilled. Others died as a result. There would probably have been something of a reward for Joab. Sin loves a companion. David invited Joab to be his companion. This was David – a man after God’s heart?

But what was Bathsheba’s situation? Is she to be written off as a flirt and an immoral woman? She was married to a foreigner. Uriah was a Hittite. In Deut ch 7 Israel was told to wipe out all the people living in the land of Canaan, including the Hittites. However Israel failed to do that. There can be stresses in a marriage when the two parties are not from the same culture. As a Hittite Uriah had a fine military tradition and he rose to be one of David’s finest soldiers. Perhaps he wanted a career in the army before having a family. Uriah may well have been away from home on duty for long periods. While Uriah was in the army and away fighting battles for the nation the marriage may have been under greater stress. When soldiers are away for six months at a time the wives are under great pressure. Was Bathsheba lonely? Loneliness can hurl the heaviest weight the human heart has to bear. Perhaps her friends were all having children and Bathsheba was distressed. It was a form of disgrace if a Jewish woman could not have children. No one knows her whole story. Perhaps there are people who are considered in a poor light but no one knows all the facts. People should not be quick to judge.

Third. In 2 Sam ch 13 is the story of how one of David’s sons Amnon. Amnon raped his sister Tamar. One of the most powerful statement and emotional statements is made by Tamar in v 13. She said to Amnon: “As for me, where could I carry my shame?” David was angry but seems to have done little about the incident. David was a poor father so far as discipline was concerned. David’s children fought over the Kingdom of Israel. He had failed to leave clear instructions about his successor. David’s sons were rebellious. Perhaps that is not too abnormal. If there is a rebellious spirit in a family, it is difficult for a father to cope. David’s son Solomon followed in his father’s footsteps and married 700 wives. Solomon started well in life and ended up a disaster.

What about the statement by God? “David was a man after the heart of God.” How can that be justified? There are six instances in the life of David to justify that statement.

1. In 1 Sam ch 17 is the story of David and Goliath. David took on Goliath because he had zeal for the name of God. God honours his name and His word above everything else. Psalm 138 v 2. God is jealous for His name. Ezekiel ch 36 v 20-23. In the last century God brought the Jewish people back into the land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He did this not because they deserved it. He did it for the honour of His name. He said that He would do it. So God had to do it or else people would not trust in His word. Ezekiel ch 39 v 25.

David was ashamed that no one would defend the honour of the name of God before the Philistines. “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” Goliath mocked the name of Israel’s holy God. The soldiers of Israel were invited to rise to the challenge by the offer of a free prize. They were offered a wife and exemption from taxes. What sort of basis is that, when the name of the Lord is at stake? David was not interested in the prizes. He was prepared to put his life on the line to defend the name of the Lord. In that way David had a heart for God. He was in tune with God’s heart. How concerned are we, when people take the name of Jesus in vain? Some Church leaders marry and bury people, who have no concern for the holy name of Jesus. They just want the respectability of a Christian funeral. Should the leaders be prepared to say that they will not take part in the ceremony? Or do they comfort themselves by saying that it is a matter for the individual. They will have to answer to the Lord on Judgement Day? The Lord’s name is taken in vain in many different ways daily. There is not a murmur from the Church. Believers are the only ones who know the dreadful consequences of Exodus ch 20 v 7. “You shall not take the name of the Lord in vain.” Some people will sue in the courts of law for defamation of character, if another takes his name in vain. What about the name of the Lord – “You shall call His name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.” We may not take the name of the Lord in vain. We are allowed to use it in praise, in prayer and in spiritual warfare. By his zeal for the name of God, David was a man after God’s heart.

2. On two separate occasions David did not take revenge on Saul – 1 Sam ch 24 in the cave when Saul had gone in to relieve himself and 1 Sam ch 26 when Saul was asleep in the camp. David was severely tempted by his colleagues. They urged him to kill Saul. David refused to lift his hand against the Lord’s anointed. David said: “I will not lift my hand against the Lord’s anointed.” This principle applies to the voice as well as to the hand. Do not lift your voice against the Lord’s anointed. So many believers criticise their leader. The one anointed by the Lord may be in sin but that does not justify a man criticising him in public. That is God’s business. He may be working something out in the life of His anointed man. Saul was in a state of rebellion against God. David knew that the matter was between God and Saul. It was not right for him to intervene and take the law into his own hands. David preferred his conscience to his advantage. Saul was the one appointed by God to be king but he had lost the anointing. David had the anointing but had not yet received the appointment as king.

David did not desire to get even. 1 Pet ch 2 v 23 tells us that Jesus did not threaten to get even with His enemies. He left matters with the judge of all. David showed mercy to God’s anointed Saul. The enemies of Jesus did not acknowledge Him as the appointed one of God. David alone acknowledged Saul the appointed one of God. Do we show respect for our leaders in whatever position they are? Leaders have a difficult task. They do not need rebellion from those they are leading. We do not have to kill someone to get even. Just a few cutting remarks in the ear of another. That will be enough.

It is one of the ways of the World to get even. It is a principle of the Kingdom of God to do good to your enemies. In Luke ch 6 v 27 Jesus commands His Disciples: “Do good to your enemies.” You never so much touch the ocean of God’s love, when you do good to your enemies. David touched the ocean of God’s love when he sheathed his sword and walked away from Saul. In this way David was a man after God’s heart.

3. In 1 Samuel ch 23 David set out to help the men of Keilah. At that time David was involved with his own problems. David was being hunted by Saul and hiding in caves. Word came to him that his fellow countrymen were being plundered by the Philistines. He had every justification for leaving them to sort out their own problem. They had not stood against a corrupt King as David had done. Why should David bother with them and put his own life at risk? David’s men were not in favour of going to help the men of Keilah. But David set out to help the men of Keilah. Saul continued to come after David. By going to help the men of Keilah David put himself in a dangerous situation.

Even after David had delivered the inhabitants of Keilah from the Philistines, they did not do anything to help David. In fact they were prepared to surrender David into the hand of Saul. David probably knew that he would get no thanks from these men. David ignored his own problems and did not dwell on them. He could have said: “I have enough problems of my own right now!” He put the interests of others first. Jesus left the realm of glory to seek and save the lost. He could have said that we were a miserable people and deserved nothing. He would have been right. But Jesus gave up everything for you and me. Jesus deliberately put Himself into the hands of evil people. Consider the position of Jesus immediately before the trial and crucifixion. In John ch 17 with the public execution uppermost in His mind Jesus prayed for His Disciples. He prayed for you and me.

David had the same approach. His heart was right with God. It is easy to push others aside, when we have problems of our own. But those who are sensitive to the prompting of the Holy Spirit will consider others. They will do this even when they are beset with their own problems. On the cross and in extreme pain Jesus had time for a thief and made arrangements for His mother. He also preached a sermon. His last words were a challenge to the World. He defiantly declared that He would rise again. Psalm 22 speaks of Jesus hanging on the cross, surrounded by His enemies. It concludes with the words: “Future generations will serve me.”

Gal ch 6 v 10. “So then as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” The challenge is to start each day by saying to the Lord: “How can I be an instrument of blessing to everyone I meet this day?” Try doing that every day for a month. It may become a habit. Then you will be a blessing to everyone you meet each day. When David saw a need he was an instrument of blessing to those around him. He was a blessing to the men of Keilah. In this way David was a man after God’s heart.

4. In 1 Samuel ch 30, we find David caught up in a difficult situation. While he and his men were away from home, the Amalekites had raided Ziklag and taken their wives and children captive. David’s two wives had also been taken captive. Suddenly David’s leadership was under threat. His men were not amused. They threatened to stone David. How fickle is a crowd when things are not to their liking. How fickle we can be when difficulties arise in our life. In the crisis David exercised faith in God. He asked God for direction: “Shall I pursue after this band?” God replied: “Pursue; for you shall surely overtake and shall surely rescue.” Then David acted upon the Word from the Lord. Faith needs a crisis to walk on. David had a crisis on his doorstep. His men were threatening to stone him.

The 600 men set off. On the way 200 said that they were too exhausted to go on and sat down to rest. The other 400 went on and caught up with the Amalekites. They wiped them out and recovered their wives. By the grace of God, the men came across an Egyptian slave. He led them to the camp of the Amalekites and David and his men captured loot. On his way back with the loot David proposed to share it out amongst all 600 men – the 400 who went on and fought and the 200 who were too weak to go on. The 400 complained that they had done all the work. They claimed that the 200 should not get anything. David echoed the words of Jesus in the parable of the vineyard in Mat ch 20. Jesus concluded: “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity? ” David knew that God had been generous. God had given the Amalekites into his hand as well as the Kingdom of Israel. David was entitled to be as generous to the 200 men as God had been to him. If God has blessed us with an abundance of good things, how generous are we with God’s gifts to us? God had looked into the heart of this young man David and seen the generosity in there. In this way David was a man after God’s heart.

5. David learned to wait on God. He was chosen by God to be king of Israel. Saul was still the king. David’s time would come. He called out to God. He waited patiently for God to respond. David wrote Psalm 40. In v 1 we read: “I waited patiently for the Lord; He inclined to me and heard my cry.” And in v 17: “As for me I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me. You are my help and my deliverer; do not tarry, O my God.” We live in a day of the instant – instant coffee – instant meals – electricity at the press of a switch – but some things take time to happen – healing – holiness. We have to learn patience, which is part of the fruit of the Spirit. We have still to redeem the time while we are waiting. David believed that God could and would, if He chose, change the situation. There is a risk of being sidetracked in life. If we let the Devil get a foothold in our lives, we will lose our vision. Habits, apathy, failure, fear etc can all sidetrack us. God had waited patiently thousands of years before sending Jesus into the World. Jesus waited patiently for thirty years before He began His public ministry. Jesus would die for the sins of the World. He was not in a hurry to get it done. Jesus had many things to accomplish in His life before he offered Himself for public execution. David waited for God’s timing. In this way David was a man after God’s heart.

6. In 2 Sam ch 12 Nathan the prophet told David a parable to convict him of his sin. David repented towards God. The parable told of how a rich man with many sheep took the only lamb of a poor man in order to feed a visitor. When Nathan told him the parable David was angry, and with good cause. Even then he did not see his guilt until Nathan told him outright: “You are that man.” Man often sees in others the faults, which he has in himself but does not admit. Nathan trapped David and caused him to judge himself. The sins of the father were visited on the son – Solomon. He too loved many women and used them for his own ends. He had learned from watching his father at work. People learn more by watching than by hearing. Regret is being sorry about what has happened to me. Remorse is concern for the one who has been wronged. Repentance is confessing to God that He is the one who has been wronged. In Psalm 51 v 4 David confessed: “Against you only have I sinned and done that which is evil in your sight.” Each sin is a personal affront to God.

David repented. Though he fell, he was not utterly downcast. The child of David and Bathsheba died. Why did the child die? The sins of the father are visited on the children of those who despise the Lord. David had wronged God. He had given the enemies of God an opportunity to reproach Him. What if a believer professes his faith in Jesus and yet sins openly? He belittles the God whom he professes. That is clearly seen today. Many people seem to think little of the Lord they claim to serve. God let the World see that, though He loved David, He hated the sin. He chose to take the life of the child. David had blinded himself to his own sin. He had justified himself in his own eyes. That is what humanists do. They declare themselves good enough for God’s Heaven. David convicted himself by his own mouth. Believers should consider how greatly the Lord has blessed them. Then how dare they let Him down before others? It is good for believers to reflect on and testify about the blessings, which the Lord has bestowed on them. God forgave David, but there were consequences. In 2 Samuel ch 16 v 15-23 David’s wives were publicly disgraced as he had disgraced Uriah’s wife. Absalom went into his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel.” A man reaps what he sows in this World. David found that. That principle includes believers.

By the grace of God David recovered and found mercy with God. God allows believers to fall into sin. But He will not allow them to lie still in it. It is God who takes the first step to help David find his way back. He used Nathan the prophet. Through Nathan God reminded David of the many blessings He had bestowed on him. God calls on all men to repent. He goes to great lengths to invite men to repent and call upon Him for mercy. By his repentance David honoured God. In this way David was a man after God’s heart.

In these 6 ways, David was a man after the heart of God.
He was zealous for the reputation of God.
He wanted to do the will of God. He committed his future into the hands of God in trust.
He had a concern for others in need, regardless of what they deserved.
He had an inclination to be generous and to share out the gifts of God for the benefit of all.
David learned to wait on the Lord.
David genuinely repented before God.

Let me ask you this morning. What does God see when He looks into your heart?

Does he see zeal for His name and His reputation?
Does He see a life of obedience to His Word?
Does He see a concern for others? Or are you consumed with your own problems, however real they are?
Does He see a generous heart towards others?
Does He see perseverance? Those who persevere to the end shall be saved.
Has there been genuine repentance for sin?
David was a man after God’s heart. God said that. What does God say about you and me?

What do you think of Christ?

What do you think of Christ?

This is one of the great questions of all time. There are several great questions in the Bible, which challenge a man to the core.
1. “Where are you Adam?” Gen ch 3 v 9.
2. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Gen ch 4 v 9.
3. “When the Son of Man returns, will He find faith on the Earth?” Luke ch 18 v 8.
4. “Who do people say that I am?” Mat ch 16 v 15.

If any man is asked what he thinks about the Prime Minister or President of a nation, he would have an opinion. There are as many opinions as there are people. The same is true of a sportsman or television personality. Should people not make up their minds about Jesus and decide whether they are for Him or against Him? Jesus Himself made it clear that there is no fence to sit on. Does a man defend the name of Jesus when it is taken in vain or does he show indifference?

As a teacher no one spoke like Jesus. He taught as one who had authority. He did not refer to other teachers, as was the normal habit of Rabbis in Israel. “I say to you.” His words had a ring of authority to those to whom He spoke. They have the same authority today. As a preacher the words of Jesus have resounded down through the centuries and have been changing lives for 2,000 years.

As a physician no man healed as Jesus did. He was not trained as a doctor or as a psychiatrist. Yet Jesus healed all who came to Him without exception. Today there are hospitals for incurable diseases. With Jesus there were no incurable diseases. He was never defeated – as doctors often are today. He was able to distinguish between the spiritual, the emotional and the physical diseases. He could see into the heart of a man and meet the needs of the masses. Jesus was and is a comforter. People like Legion were out of their minds but found peace in the presence of Jesus. Jesus helps a man get his mind in focus. The truth is seeing things as they really are. Jesus not only spoke the truth. He is the truth. So many today suffer from delusions or are living in unreality

Jesus performed miracles. 2,000 years later people question the miracles. Those of His enemies, who were actually present when the miracles were performed, did not doubt the miracles, which Jesus performed. Instead they asked: “By what authority do you do these things?” They recognised that Jesus was in touch with a higher authority.

If a man wants to find out what a person is like, he asks for a reference from those who are closest and who know him best. People who have worked alongside a person as a colleague, an employer or an employee are best qualified to express an opinion. They see the person under pressure. Their opinions are the most valuable. Opinion polls can prove anything, depending on how the question is framed. However, if a man really wants to know about Jesus, he ought to ask those who were closest to Him.

The claims of Jesus force a man to make up his mind concerning Him. Either He is who He claimed to be – God in the flesh – or he is a liar. There is no question that Jesus claimed to be God the Son. He told a group of educated Jewish men: “Before Abraham was, I am.” “I am” was the name God gave Moses to tell the people who had sent him. C. S. Lewis said; “Jesus did not give us the option that He was a good man. He is either God or He was deluded. His enemies did not give the impression that He was deluded.”

In order to get to the truth, it is necessary to interrogate the witnesses. If those closest to Jesus during His time on Earth are called into the court of the World, it should be possible to find out who Jesus really is. To reach a balanced view a man ought to hear from not only His friends but also from His enemies.

1. The enemies of Jesus. What did they have to say about Him?
(a) The Pharisees. The problem for the Pharisees was that they had their theology all worked out and there was no room for Jesus. He did not fit their concepts and opinions. Jesus would not sign up to any of their denominations – neither then nor today. No wonder they were His enemies. He called them hypocrites and white washed sepulchres – clean on the outside but dirty on the inside. Some of the Pharisees did respond – Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. But mostly they rejected Jesus. Jesus did not say that they were wrong. Rather they were hypocrites in that they did not practice what they preached. They were jealous of Jesus. He was doing what they should have been doing. Jealousy is a real problem. It attacks pride and hurts a man. The people wanted to hear Jesus and followed after Him but not the Pharisees. As a result they were jealous of His teaching and of His power to heal. But they had no such power. They said of Jesus: “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” Luke ch 15 v 1-2. Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners. These people were considered by the proud Pharisees to be unacceptable to God. What sort of criticism is that? But this is the very wonderful thing for all sinners. They can approach Jesus, because He came to deal with a man’s sins. As Jesus hung on the cross to pay the price for man’s sins, the Pharisees also said: “He saved others but could not save Himself.” Mat ch 27 v 41-43. They have nothing more to bring against Jesus than this – that He came to deal with sin.

(b) Caiaphas – the High Priest. What was it about Jesus, which so upset Caiaphas? Why could he not just ignore Jesus? What got him into such a frenzy that he tore his clothes? The real problem for Caiaphas was that he was the High Priest and Jesus stood before him as the real High Priest. He ought to have stepped down to make room for the one who was worthy of holding the position. So often people hang onto a position in life when they are not up to the job. Herod touted the position of High Priest to the family who would give him the highest percentage of the Temple taxes. Caiaphas was a fraud. He knew it. Jesus knew it and Caiaphas knew that Jesus knew it. Caiaphas was exposed as a hypocrite and a highly paid one at that. What did he say about Jesus? “He has spoken blasphemy, when He said: ‘Hereafter you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of Heaven.’” Mat ch 26 v 62-65. What explanation did Caiaphas have for the curtain of the Temple being torn in two at the time of Jesus’ death? How did he respond when the Temple guard brought him the news he half expected that Jesus had risen from the grave and was alive? He was silent in respect of these matters.

(c) Pilate. As Governor of Judea, Pilate had an important job – to keep the peace and defend the law and order in Judea and to ensure that all the taxes were collected. An unarmed, itinerant preacher was no threat to Pilate. He had an army under his control. He met Jesus face to face and like so many was challenged by the very holy presence of Jesus. Pilate said of Jesus: “I find no fault in Him. What evil has He done?” Mat ch 27 v 20-26. Pilate’s wife had a dream that Jesus was a righteous man and she warned Pilate to have nothing to do with Him. Mat ch 27 v 19. Pilate knew that it was out of envy that the Pharisees had brought Jesus to them. Mark ch 15 v 10. He desperately wanted to release Jesus as an innocent man. He washed his hands in public to demonstrate that he wanted nothing to do with the case brought before him. He recognised Jesus as a King so much so that he placed a notice above the head of Jesus on the cross. “Jesus, King of the Jews.” Luke ch 23 v 38. When asked to remove it Pilate refused to do so. This was a ringing endorsement of Jesus as a man without sin.

(d) Judas. He was close to Jesus for three years. He heard Jesus teach and saw at least some of the healings and miracles. Yet he fell to human weakness and spiritual pressure. He had a part to play in the death of Jesus, although it was Jesus who masterminded the whole episode and laid His life down for the sins of the World. What did Judas have to say? “I have betrayed innocent blood.” Mat ch 27 v 4. He was so consumed by his guilt that he went out and hanged himself. Satan used Judas and then abused Judas.

(e) The Centurion. He was in charge of the execution party from Antonio Fortress to Golgotha. He was a soldier doing his duty. He had no particular interest in an itinerant preacher. Crucifixion was used on a regular basis to subdue the Jewish people. It was just another execution – or was it? The centurion led Jesus like a lamb to the slaughter. He opened not His mouth. Is ch 53 v 7. After Jesus died the sky was dark for three hours. That was not a normal consequence of an execution. Did the centurion hear the conversation above his head between the thief on the cross and Jesus? Did he hear Jesus having time for a useless thief who was about to die and promising him eternal life? The centurion concluded: “Truly, this man was the Son of God.” Mat ch 27 v 54.

All who were guilty of His death proclaimed that Jesus was an innocent man.

(f). The thief on the cross. He had little interest in Jesus, until he found himself hanging next to him on death row. Death concentrates the mind wonderfully. The other thief showed no concern but this one said: ” We deserve to die, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; But this man has done nothing wrong.” Luke ch 23 v 41.

3. Demons. Demons can speak audibly through the voice box of a human being. During a seance a woman may speak with a man’s voice. What did the demons say? “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the most high God?” Mark ch 5 v 7. The demons said that and trembled before Jesus.

4. What did the friends of Jesus have to say about Him?
(a) John the Baptist. John was a powerful preacher and many came to hear him preach. “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the World.” John ch 1 v 29. “I bear witness that He is the Son of God.” John ch 1 v 34. Many people were coming to him to be baptised and He could easily have become a little proud. However, he recognised that he was not worthy to untie the sandals of Jesus.
(b) Peter. Peter had spent so much time with Jesus and knew Him so well. He said of Jesus: “God has made that same Jesus both Lord and Christ.”
(c) Matthew writes of Jesus as the royal king come from His throne.
(d) Thomas said: “My Lord and my God.” John ch 20 v 28.
(e) Paul. He had been an intense enemy of Jesus until Jesus confronted Paul on the road to Damascus. Paul took 14 years to sort things out in his mind before declaring to the Churches: “I have suffered the loss of all things and count them but dross that I may win Christ.” Phil ch 3 v 8.
5. The angels. They knew a great deal about the glory of Jesus and Heaven and were amazed that Jesus chose to leave the realm of glory to share the experience of created beings on Earth. “I bring good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a saviour , who is Christ the Lord.” Luke ch 2 v 10. They knew what blessings God the Son would bring to the fallen people on Earth.
6. The redeemed saints in Heaven. John saw into Heaven and heard them saying: “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and blessing.” Rev ch 4 v 11.
7. God Himself passed testimony about His own dear Son. “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him.” Mat ch 17 v 5.

If God is well pleased, so ought every man to be. “This is my beloved Son: Hear Him.” Deut ch 18 v 19.
“What do you think of Jesus?” A man has reason to think well of Jesus. A man glorifies the Son, when he thinks and speaks well of Jesus. Jesus is coming back to Earth one day. He is looking for people who are exercising faith when He comes, because they have considered His claims and been satisfied that He is who He claims to be – the Lord of Heaven and Earth. This question has challenged men for centuries: “What do you think of Christ?”

Psalm 22

PSALM 22.

 

When Jesus was hanging on the cross, He called out the words:

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

 

Some of the by-standers misunderstood Jesus’ words. Many people since then have misunderstood Jesus’ words and many today likewise misunderstand these words. These words are often echoed when some great tragedy befalls a person and he feels abandoned and alone, unable to understand why the awful events are taking place in his life. It is a sad fact of life that one of the most common phrases today is the taking of the Lord’s name in vain when something tragic happens – indeed even when something trivial happens in the life of a person. Surely there is no possible connection between the words of Jesus on the cross and similar words in everyday use. Surely Jesus was not crying in despair, as if bemoaning what had happened to Him!

 

Here is a man, who probably from the age of 12 and maybe even younger knew for certain that His life was to end on a Roman cross in awful agony. Jesus knew that the choice was His. In His humanity He had freedom of choice just like us to do what He knew His Father wanted or to do what He Himself wanted. Yet He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, knowing the outcome of that visit.

 

Here is a man who knew the power of angels and who knew that He could command a legion of angels to help Him at any moment. He knew that the angels were longing to lift Him off the cross. Perhaps just one angel could have lifted the whole cross with Jesus on it up out of the ground and could have pulled out the nails holding Jesus to the cross. After all an angel rolled away the stone guarding the grave of Jesus. That probably weighed about two tons. But Jesus did not call on the angels to help Him.

 

Here was a man who arranged the crucifixion from beginning to end. He was a master of timing and sent Judas to the religious leaders at precisely the right moment to enable them to arrange the arrest and trial before daybreak. He even told Judas where He was going, so that the arrest could take place. He stood silently before His accusers. He took the initiative before Pilate and did not try to persuade Pilate to release Him. Jesus was totally single minded in everything He did and He knew that He had come to die and was willing to do so. Therefore it is quite out of character for Jesus to complain or feel despair in the situation. In John ch 17 we have the words spoken by Jesus just before He went forth to be arrested.

“Father, the hour has come to glorify Thy son, so that He may glorify You. Glorify me with the glory which I had with you before the World was made.”

 

Here was a man who knew the cost of glory and the certainty that His Father would raise Him from the dead. He had told His followers many times that, whatever they asked in His name, His Father would give them. He could give them that advice because He knew that every single thing, which He had asked His Father, He had received. He had also told His Disciples many times that He would never forsake anyone who came to Him and that He and His Father were two of a kind. It was totally impossible for God the Father to forsake God the Son. Totally impossible!

 

Yes, Jesus knew that He was about to bear the sins of the World on His human frame and that since His Father could not look on sin, His Father would have to look away for a time. But forsake His Son, Jesus? Never! So why did Jesus utter these words: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

 

Hard though it may seem to the present generation, who commit so little to memory such as tables and poetry, it was the accepted practice of the Jewish people to learn the Psalms and other Scriptures by heart and to recite them together. There were no songbooks and no tapes or videos. It was the standard practice for someone to sing the first line of a Psalm and the whole congregation would join in. So when the first line was said or sung, it stood for the whole Psalm and represented the theme of the Psalm. When Jesus said the first line of Psalm 22 He expected the people present to reflect on the Psalm, which they could recite to themselves. This was a Psalm, which Jesus had read and meditated upon for many years. He knew it to be a Psalm concerning the suffering and glory of the Messiah. These were words which He would fulfil one day – and now that day had arrived. Even with His last words Jesus was challenging the people to consider His claims to be the suffering Messiah, who had come to die for the sins of the World, including the Jewish people. 

 

The primary meaning of the Psalms is always to be sought first of all in their immediate historical context. But this does not exhaust their significance. Often the historical event foreshadows a greater event still to come at a future date. The Psalm was originally written by David to express his own situation and thoughts in relation to God. The Holy Spirit was quietly prompting David to express words, which had a deeper significance than David had intended, but nevertheless these were David’s words. What the experience was which prompted David to write the Psalm is not entirely clear. It may have been during a time when he was on the run from King Saul, who sought to kill him. It may have been during his reign, when he felt the presence of his enemies as a real threat and the situation led him to depend utterly on God. He felt as if God had abandoned him and that there was no relief in sight. God was silent, waiting for the time for Him to act and David felt the time hanging heavily upon him. When was God going to do something about His plight? The suspense of waiting was really getting to him. David did not doubt that He would – but when? v 3-5. David recalled that throughout the centuries the Jewish people had called on the Lord and He had never failed to respond to faith in Him. David had confidence in the Lord despite the silence. v 9-11. David reflected on the fact that he owed his very life to God, who had watched over him ever since the day he was born.

 

It is a Psalm, which any believer might find helpful in times of trouble and difficulty. When the Lord is not answering a prayer for help in a difficult situation. The believer is in trouble. He just wants to run to God as a Father and say: “Fix it Father, please.” But he may have to wait until the time is right for God to act. God has not forsaken him. It is not that God has not heard. He knows the anguish of His child. Wait, and as he waits, he praises God for the deliverance, which is about to come. If, of course, the problem is due to his sin, that is another matter. God may be waiting for the believer to repent first. However, if it is an enemy or a set of circumstances, which are pressing in on him, he should wait and praise the Lord. God has heard and He will be the deliverer of he believer.

 

God had never failed to help His people in the past. What was keeping Him from acting now? A little feeling of helplessness creeps in to David’s thoughts and he feels like a worm – he is so miserable at his own lack of faith and perhaps a little anger towards God for the delay. During the silence David is left to focus on the people, who are ranged against him. He describes them as a pack of snarling dogs. Beasts begin to gnaw at his hands and feet. Wild oxen come at him. Then at last God breaks the silence and there is great relief in the words of David. He knew that God would act. He never really doubted it. Then David bursts into praise to God for His faithfulness. He has delivered David from his enemies. David invited others to join him in praise. Indeed he invited the whole World to join in praising the supreme Sovereign of the Universe.

 

How does the Psalm speak of Jesus and His situation? Jesus too is surrounded by His enemies. He is perceived as a worm – useless. All who see Him, mock Him. They wag their heads. “He saved others but He cannot save Himself.” “He claims to be God’s Son. Well, let us see if God wants to save Him now!” He made such great claims but God has abandoned Him. All through His ministry people had falsely accused Him, misrepresented Him and told lies about Him. This was the culmination of their abuse. He could not answer back, since He was nailed to a cross. It is easy to be a bully, when the other person cannot answer back.

 

There is no suggestion of sin in the Psalm. The intense suffering does not seem to be related to sin, which is often the case in other Psalms. The sufferer remains sinless, despite the suffering. This surely relates to the Messiah – the only one who ever walked this Earth without sinning.

 

The Psalm describes three categories of people around Jesus as He hung on the cross dogs, bulls and wild oxen.

 

“Dogs” is the name the Jews gave to the Gentiles. It was a derogatory name for their neighbours. So Jesus saw Gentiles around Him. Soldiers and political figures who were not Jews were there mocking Him. It was the Roman soldiers – Gentiles – who had nailed His body to the cross.

 

Bulls of Bashan represent the religious leaders – the chief priests and Pharisees and Sadducees, smiling, as they watch what they think is a success story. They had plotted for years to be rid of Jesus and now they watched as His life ebbed away. The Beast from the land in the book of Revelation represents organised religion. A beast is a strong and powerful thing. Bashan was an area renowned for its excellent strong cattle. Therefore Jesus was speaking of the religious men round the cross – smiling and quietly jeering. “You claimed to be God. Look at you now!”

 

Wild oxen probably represent Satan and his hoards. They have sharp pointed darts to fire at man like the sharp points of wild oxen. The three great enemies of man are – the state or political powers – the religious powers and the satanic beings. All three were ranged around Jesus on the cross.

 

“My strength is dried up – my tongue cleaves to my jaws.” Intense thirst is one of the results of crucifixion. The soldiers divided His clothes by casting lots for them. Even before He was dead they were dividing up His clothes. He was as good as dead, because there was no way He would be released from the nails, which held Him to the cross. If He was not dead by a certain time, they would break the bones in His legs and He would suffocate, because he could not push up in order to draw breath. The soldiers had not even the decency to wait until He was dead before dividing His clothes.

 

The whole scene as pictured in the Psalm is, in its smallest detail, a picture of what was happening at Calvary. That is why Jesus called out the words of the first line so that the people would recite the whole Psalm, known as a Messianic Psalm, and would realise that this was in fact the Messiah hanging there before their very eyes.

 

But the Psalm does not finish there. v 22. Jesus is saying that He will praise His Father in the midst of the people. He knows that His Father has looked after Him from the days when He lay helpless in the cradle. During the days when Herod sought to kill Him. Jesus had total assurance that His Father would raise Him to life again. There are two categories of people who will praise the Lord because of what Jesus has done. Firstly, His brother Jews. Secondly, the wider World – the Gentiles. v 30. An endless posterity will worship the Lord because by His death Jesus has set them free from their sins. That is the Gentile Church today! He is calling – as David did before Him – to all people to praise the Lord God Almighty. Why? Because not only had He sent His Son to die for the sins of the World but He would raise Jesus from the dead. Jesus is saying that He utterly trusts His Heavenly Father to deliver Him and to raise Him to life again and He is inviting everyone to do the same thing. All who trust in the Lord will know that He, who raised Jesus from the dead, would raise from the dead all those who put their trust in Him. Posterity will serve Jesus – He who could not save Himself – who will rise to be served by all peoples everywhere. Jesus saw a glorious day ahead when He the risen Lord will return with His holy angels to gather His own from the ends of the Earth and will fulfil the glorious purpose of His Heavenly Father.

 

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” is not a note of anguish or despair but one of resolute confidence and hope. Had Jesus spoken the whole Psalm He would have concluded with these words:

“People not yet born will be told: ‘The Lord saved His people.’ ”

The Dying Thief

                                       THE DYING THIEF.    Luke ch 23 v 32-56. Psalm 22.

Three crosses stood starkly against an eastern sky. Two of the three men crucified were dying. The one in the centre was already dead. His death was unique. There had never been a death like this before and there never would be again. Other deaths make only a slight impact on the course of history. The death of Jesus was crucial for mankind. All other deaths are largely local and of temporary interest. The death of Jesus had cosmic and eternal implications. Other deaths involve only a personal and individual struggle. The death of Jesus was the meeting point of the mighty forces of divine wrath on the one hand and Satanic fury on the other. At the moment of death all the power of God and all the malice of Satan were exerted to the full. The malice was borne by the one on the centre cross. This was to the satisfaction of God and the defeat of Satan. This was the death, which overcame the power of death. 

Of course the man Jesus on the central cross is the focus of the World’s attention. What about the man who said to Jesus: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

We do not know very much about this man. We do not know his name. We do not know his age. We do not know if he was married. We do not know if he had children. We do not know what he did for a living. We do not know for what offence he was sentenced by the Romans to die by way of crucifixion. We can assume that he stole something because he is called a thief. We do not know the value of what he stole. Perhaps he only stole a loaf of bread to feed his children. We do not know if he was from Judea. We do not know for sure that he was a Jewish man. There are indications that he felt a kinship with Jesus as a Jewish man. We do not know what happened to his body after he died.

What we do know is this. The thief on the cross was saved at the very point of death. Jesus said that it is appointed for a man to die once and then the judgement. This incident established a principle that as long as a man can repent, he can receive forgiveness. A man can be saved right up until the moment of death. He can receive the gift of eternal life as long as he can still breathe. This man was on the point of death. A crucified man could last several days hanging on the cross before life ended. But for this man it was the last day of his life. John says that shortly after Jesus died the soldiers came to break the legs of the three men on the crosses – because it was the day of preparation – the day before the Passover. The soldiers found that Jesus was already dead and they did not break His legs. The Passover Lamb of God had just been sacrificed. Presumably the soldiers broke the legs of the two thieves. If the legs are broken the prisoner can no longer push up to take in breath and so he suffocates.

Of course it was not Luke’s intention to suggest that a man ought to leave off conversion until the last moment of his life. At the end of Ecclesiastes (ch 12 v 6) Solomon encourages a man to remember his Creator in the days of his youth.

One evangelist makes the point that statistically few older people receive salvation. He bases this on this fact. Every time a man hears the Gospel and turns away, his heart becomes hardened. This is what happened to Pharaoh. His heart became hardened every time he rejected the miracles of Moses. However Jesus does not subscribe to that teaching. He spoke of some coming into the vineyard at the eleventh hour. His miracles included not only healing for some who were dying but even resurrection of some from the dead. The Scripture says to men of all ages: “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart.”

There is much in this story other than the lateness of the repentance of the thief. Shortly after he was raised up on his cross the thief joined the other thief in reviling Jesus. Mat ch 27 v 44. It is clear that this man was unconverted at the moment he was raised up on the cross. It is clear that at some point as he hung on the cross he was converted. He received salvation. He came to believe that the man hanging beside him was the Son of God. Jesus was the only man who had walked the Earth then or now who could forgive sins. Nobody preached a sermon to the thief. He never read a book. No evangelist spoke to him from the foot of the cross. He had no opportunity to read the Scriptures at that time. There is no evidence that anyone prayed for him. Yet he became a sincere believer in Jesus. Jesus promised him that he would go to Heaven.

Many go through life hearing about Jesus but never make a profession like this man on the cross. Many children live with parents who pray for them daily. They attended Church as a child and heard many messages about Jesus. Some are married to a believer and witness at first hand a different life style to the one they live. Many hold a new baby and never ask: “Where does life come from?” How many funerals have they attended when the Holy Spirit has gently enquired of them: “What will be your position when you are in a box like that?” For such people this story of the dying thief accuses them of a wasted life. “Why do you live so long in unbelief?”

What caused this man to accept Jesus as his saviour? About 60% of communication is by body language rather than words. Did the thief observe the conduct of Jesus as they travelled in the execution party to Calvary? As he passed along women were weeping for Jesus. Would anyone weep for him? Crucifixion was for criminals. People do not often weep for a criminal. Sometimes crowds shout at criminals as they make their way to and from court. Did the thief hear Jesus say: “Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for men, but for yourselves and for your children.” Did the thief wonder: “What sort of criminal says a thing like that?” He must have been aware that the man close to him in the execution party was a superior kind of man. Fear must have been coursing through the thief’s body. But the man next to him seemed to show no fear. Had he ever heard the teaching of Jesus that: “Perfect love casts out fear.” Did he observe that Jesus never complained or uttered a curse or a swear word? What happened as the execution party made its way up the slope of the Via Dolorosa? Why was Jesus looking intently at the shopkeepers standing at the doors of their shops in the Via Dolorosa. They were just a few feet from Jesus. It was as if Jesus was asking them: “Who do you say that I am?” The whole city of Jerusalem had heard about the presence of Jesus. Surely the thief had heard the cries that morning; “Crucify Him!” This was no ordinary criminal. The body language had been challenging the dying thief on his way to Calvary. It is true that a man will not care how much you know until he knows how much you care. The thief saw Jesus cared for the people He passed. Maybe the thief had never really cared for anyone in his whole life and the emptiness of his life passed before him.

The thief had felt the nails being hammered into his own body. It had probably brought forth a mouthful of abuse towards the soldiers. But when it happened to Jesus, there was no word of curse or complaint from Jesus. What were the thief’s thoughts as he heard Jesus say: “Father, forgive them. They know not what they are doing.” The thief was probably a Jewish man. In all his days in Judea he had never heard anything like this. No ordinary man could pray a prayer like that. There was something different about the man hanging next to him. Did it seem to the thief that the words were coming from the lips of a divine being? Maybe the word “forgive” challenged him. He was a thief – a sinner. Didn’t he need to be forgiven? This man next to him was asking God to forgive people. Maybe Jesus could forgive him also. All sorts of thoughts must have been going through the thief’s head as he listened to and observed this man Jesus at close quarters.

From his position could the thief see the words inscribed above the cross on which Jesus was hanging? Pilate had insisted that certain words be written in Greek, Hebrew and Latin –“Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” If he could see these words did he think to himself: “Is this the Messiah? Maybe the words of Isaiah came to him: “He is despised and rejected of men – a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” As he looked down from his cross, there were men reviling Jesus and rejecting Him. There were some hissing and hooting at Jesus. The thief actually heard the Gospel from the mouths of the enemies of Jesus. The rulers scoffed: “He saved others but He cannot save Himself.” The soldiers also mocked Jesus offering Him vinegar and saying: “So you are the King of Israel, are you?” There it was again – the King of the Jews. In his pain did the thief study the face of the Son of God and see something unique in that face splattered with blood? This man did not look like a king but there was something about His demeanour. It distinguished Jesus from anyone else he had ever met. Perhaps he looked again at the inscription Pilate had insisted be placed above Jesus’ head. There was another cry: “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross and we will believe you. Others said: “Did He not say: ‘I am God’s Son?’” This man beside the thief fitted these words perfectly. Is He truly the King of the Jews? Did He save others? Why should He not save me?

What did the thief think when he heard Jesus call out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” If the thief was a Jew, which he probably was, he would have known Psalm 22 and been able to recite it. If he thought through the Psalm the scene would have been exactly as he saw it from his vantage point. The Psalm describes three categories of people around Jesus as He hung on the cross – dogs, bulls and wild oxen.

 

“Dogs” is the name the Jews gave to the Gentiles. It was a derogatory name for their neighbours. So the thief saw Gentiles around Jesus. Soldiers and political figures who were not Jews were there mocking Him. It was the Roman soldiers – Gentiles – who had nailed His body to the cross.

 

Bulls of Bashan represent the religious leaders – the chief priests and Pharisees and the Sadducees, smiling, as they watch what they thought was a success. They had plotted for years to be rid of Jesus. Now they watched as His life ebbed away. The Beast from the land in the book of Revelation represents organised religion. A beast is a strong and powerful thing. Bashan was an area renowned for its excellent strong cattle. Therefore the Psalm was speaking of the religious men round the cross – smiling and quietly jeering. “You claimed to be God. Look at you now!”

 

Wild oxen probably represent Satan and his hoards. They have sharp pointed darts to fire at a man like the sharp points of wild oxen. The three great enemies of man are – the state or political powers – the religious powers and the satanic beings. These are your enemies. All three were ranged around Jesus on the cross. As the demons screamed angels wept.

 

The thief heard Jesus cry out and ask for a drink. Psalm 22 says: “My strength is dried up – my tongue cleaves to my jaws.” Intense thirst is one of the results of crucifixion. The thief would have experienced that as well as Jesus.

What did the thief think as he saw the soldiers casting lots to divide up the few clothes belonging to Jesus? Surely they could have waited until He was dead! This seems to have been a bonus of the job – making off with the clothes of a dead man. The thief had probably seen people crucified before – even if only from a distance. Crucifixion was commonplace under the Romans in Judea. Now he was experiencing it for himself. Did his situation cause him to think – “How can we human beings with all our wealth and intelligence actually do this to one another?” How can people buy a luxury cruiser while others are starving to death? How can Western politicians turn a blind eye to brutal persecution of Christians and others in Islamic countries without a word of protest? Why is the Church silent when 7 million babies in Britain have been murdered since 1967? What sort of people are we? Did the Holy Spirit probe the thief to ask himself: “What sort of man am I?”

The thief called Jesus “Lord” when he saw Him hanging there naked on a wooden cross. That took some faith. At that time all of Jesus’ Disciples had fled and left Him apart from peter and John. 1 Peter ch 5 v 1.  John stood some distance away. If the thief had heard about all the countless people Jesus had healed he might have wondered why there was not even one who stood to testify – not one to say that he had been miraculously healed by the man on the cross. Many people have been surrounded by believing parents and family members, received love from other Christians but never profess faith in Jesus. The thief was totally alone when he called Jesus “Lord.” He professed Jesus as Lord before men and in particular before a fellow criminal. It is particularly difficult for a prisoner to make a public confession before his fellow inmates. He was certainly not in any physical danger from the other criminal in the particular circumstances. Nobody said: “Amen” to the thief’s words. It has to be remembered that the thief was not in a comfort zone at that moment. His whole body was racked with pain. The most tender nerves were tortured. To forget about self at such a time takes amazing faith. His whole life was lost. It was like rubbish. There was nothing worth preserving, even if he could have preserved anything. The presence of Jesus had opened up a new unseen World ahead of him. From Psalm 22 he believed that Jesus would have a kingdom in which others would share. The thief wanted to share in it.              

How long did the thief have to move from reviling the Son of God until Jesus died? Jesus died at the ninth hour – 3 p.m. Mark says that Jesus was crucified at the third hour – 9 a.m. So he had six hours to think the matter through before exercising that amazing faith. It was not a prayer of any breathtaking beauty. The words were simple. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He did not ask for release from pain or for freedom from the cross. Jesus could have asked an angel to come and lift the thief off the cross. But the thief asked for the kingdom of God – the rule of God in the heart of man. And he heard the response of Jesus: “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” He did not have long to contemplate what Paradise or Heaven would be like. Most people have years to reflect on that promise – but do they?

Some may be encouraged to question the salvation of the thief in so short a time. The thief was never baptised. He never joined a Church. He never participated in communion. He never gave any money for the kingdom. Maybe he had never read the Tanuch the Old Testament. Some may ask: “Was he truly saved?” What is the evidence that the thief was born again?

Firstly, he confessed Jesus as Lord. Jesus had said to Pilate that His kingdom was not of this World. The thief recognised that as King of the Jews Jesus had a kingdom and he asked to be part of it.

Secondly, he also confessed his sin. There was a deep sincerity on the part of the thief. He told his fellow thief: “We deserve to die but this man has done no wrong.”

Thirdly, the thief may well have been instrumental in leading the centurion to come to the conclusion that this “Truly was the Son of God.” A testimony from a prisoner can have a profound effect on others. Perhaps there was a further influence the thief had for the Kingdom of God. It is said that Joseph of Arimathea was a secret Disciple. He had never made his commitment to Jesus public. It is clear that he was around the cross at the time of Jesus’ death. He went to Pilate and asked for the body. Was it the thief’s request to Jesus to “Remember me when you come in your Kingdom” which challenged this secret Disciple? A public confession may be heard by another person who is unknown to you. Revelation ch 12 v 11 says that a believer overcomes the Devil by the blood of the Lamb and the word of his testimony. The thief’s testimony – as the very blood of Jesus dripped onto the stony ground below the cross – may have changed the live of Joseph. Did Joseph think: “If a naked thief on a cross close to death can do that, the least I could do is to go to Pilate and ask for Jesus’ body for burial.” That sounds simple. But what if Pilate had resorted to type as a cruel and brutal man. He was so fed up with the Jewish leaders he might have clapped Joseph in prison for interfering? Was that a real risk for Joseph? It had not been one of Pilate’s better days. Under pressure he had just convicted to death on a cross a man he knew was innocent. A man does not do that and walk away with a clear conscience. The atmosphere in Jerusalem was charged with tension. How did Joseph know what would happen when he went to Pilate? 

Fourthly, the thief defended his Lord. He recognised that Jesus had been falsely accused. He acknowledged Jesus before the assembled crowd within hearing distance of his voice. He stood by Jesus in that dark hour. When all was silent apart from abuse it must have been a comfort to Jesus to know that He was not entirely alone at that moment. His Disciples had fallen asleep in the Garden when He needed their company most. They were silent again but this thief identified with Him and spoke out on His behalf. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” The thief had probably never heard Jesus say: “If you confess me before men I will confess you before my Father.” But he had done just that. “If you believe in your heart that Jesus is Lord and confess Him with your lips you will be saved.” That is exactly what the thief did. He spoke salvation to himself. Perhaps these were the last words he spoke on Earth. What important words. 

Jesus responded to the thief: “Today you will be with me in paradise.” There is no record of Jesus saying these words to anyone else. Suddenly the whole of the thief’s life had changed. He now had a future, which that morning he did not have. The thief breakfasted with the Devil on Earth and dined with Jesus in Heaven. His mind must have been flooded with thoughts and questions. Perhaps these were not enough to cancel out the extreme pain in his body. But his time for thoughts and questions came to an abrupt end within a few hours at most.

What a lot that nameless thief has had to contribute to the World. This incident asks of us: “What have I – what have you – contributed to this World?” 

 

The Fiery Furnace

THE FIERY FURNACE. DANIEL CHAPTER 3.

This is a story of 3 men facing the biggest crisis of their life with the threat of torture and death. This is very much a story, which is up to date. All over the World there are people who are facing a crisis in their life. Torture and death are widespread. Nebuchadnezzar was well known for his brutal treatment of those who offended him. He was a tyrant and filled with pride. Almost certainly he was possessed of one or more evil spirits. From time to time in history such men rise to power and many lives are destroyed. Idi Amin was one such man. Mr Mugabe is another.

What has happened in the past affects a man in the present. What a man does today affects him in the future. What had happened in the past of these three men, which brought them to this moment in their life? Their nation Judah (it is known today as Israel) had been slipping steadily into sinful ways. God had sent them prophets – holy men who knew the mind of the Lord – to warn them. They had seen what had happened to Israel – the Northern Kingdom taken into captivity in Assyria. But it had not changed the activities of the people of Judah. Now God had taken the decision to exile the chosen people into captivity in Babylon. He had raised up King Nebuchdnezzaer to be His instrument of punishment. God could have destroyed Satan the moment Satan rebelled against God. But God permitted Satan to exist. God has used Satan to tempt and challenge human beings and Satan is used as God’s instrument of punishment in the World. God allowed Satan to control Nebuchadnezzar and use him as God’s instrument of punishment of His people Israel.

Daniel and the others were led out of Judah into Babylon and entered through the gates of Babylon with their 337 snake gods. In Scripture the number 337 stands for Hell. For the Jewish people it was like entering Hell itself. On the night of the Feast of Belshazzar Babylon was overrun by the Medes and the Persians. The magicians and sorcerers of Babylon fled to Pergamum in Turkey. In the letter to the Church at Pergamum in Rev ch 3 Jesus says: ”I know where you are – where Satan has his seat.” A believer had been sacrificed on the altar at Pergamum. Satan is territorial and rules over certain areas of the Earth. In the 1890s the German Kaiser sent men to Turkey to take the altar of Pergamum to Berlin where it stands today in the Pergamum Museum – along with the original gates of Babylon. In the following century – the 20th century Germany led the World into 2 World wars and millions of people died. Included were 6 million Jewish people. At the end of World War II Germany was divided. However, today it has been re-united and once again Berlin is the capital of the country with the Pergamum Museum situated in its midst. How will Satan use that territory to further his attacks on God’s people in the days to come? With Satan established in Berlin believers ought to keep an eye on Berlin.

Daniel and his three companions were intelligent young men and useful to Nebuchadnezzar. However, on this occasion Nebuchadnezzar was in a rage. Jesus points out that out of the heart the mouth speaks. Nebuchadnezzar’s heart was full of pride. And it showed. “Who dares to challenge my opinion?” This was not a situation these young men could ever have imagined. Who was behind it? Was it God testing their faith? Was it Satan seeking to destroy them? Was it just the result of circumstances, which overtook them in life? Problems or situations do not change faith. It is attitudes or responses to problems, which changes faith.

Where was Daniel? Why was he not reported along with his colleagues? From what is known of Daniel he would not have bowed the knee to the statue. Each believer has to face his own testing and persecution. Daniel’s turn would come at the age of 80 when he faced a den of lions. Which would a believer choose? Excruciating pain and certain death in a fire or being eaten slowly by lions? The furnace was probably a kiln built for burning bricks.

That is the background to the story. There are four points to bring out from this story, which are relevant to each person.

1. There was pressure on these young men to conform. The Israelites had been chosen for a purpose – to reveal the holiness of God to a fallen World and to reveal God’s plan of salvation. They were to be different from the pagan people in the World. But there were times when they were tired of not being like others. They asked Samuel to give them a king like the other people. Israel was to be a theocracy – a nation ruled by God Himself – and not a democracy. 1 Sam ch 8. Samuel warned the people that the king would not be good for them. And he was not good for the people. However, God had given them free choice. Believers are chosen for the same purpose but not as a nation. There are times when they want to be anonymous. There are times when they are tired of being light and salt. Today there is pressure on believers to conform to the humanism in this World. It is a politically correct World where tact and tolerance are the in words. Anyone who claims to have the truth is described as a bigot. There is pressure on believers to water down their faith and accommodate the beliefs of others. The Church is under pressure to accommodate the current trends and thoughts in the World.

There is pressure to go along with the crowd. This is so for young people in particular. If they work in an office there may be an office sweepstake. Is a believer going to take part? There is the party night out with the girls, when there may be drinking and smoking. Does she go along? Each believer has to make up his mind now and not when the invitation comes.

Jesus told the parable about a wise man, who built his house on the rock of the Word of God. The foolish man built his life on the shifting sands of popular opinion. It does not say in the passage but it is a relevant question to ask: “When did the wise man build his house?” He built it when times were quiet and safe – not during the crisis when the rain poured down. From the outside it may not be possible to tell which house is built on sand and which house is built on rock. It is only when the storm comes that the position will be clear. Many people seem able and satisfied until the storm comes into their lives and they collapse. Television softens up the mind to temptation. Jesus said that His followers are to be in the World but not of the World – they are to have the mind of Christ and are not to be conform to the thinking of the World. Heb ch 10 v 25. “Do not neglect to meet together.” It is so important to meet together with other believers and to share the Scriptures with them and to learn together the mind of Christ.

What led their colleagues to report the three men to the King? In a word – jealousy. In chapter 1 it says that the three were rising through the civil service, having passed their oral examinations. They were on the regular staff of advisors to the King. But they were foreigners. They were showing up the native Babylonians and their colleagues were jealous of them. Jealousy can kill physically or at least emotionally. Jealousy is the feeling of coldness and resentment, which sometimes stirs in the heart when another is praised – somebody with whom a man considered himself an equal or to whom he imagined himself to be superior. Jealousy is normally directed against those who are in a man’s immediate circle or those who just outstrip his best. Jealousy keeps a man silent when he hears people unfairly criticised. Jealousy makes a man glad when they stumble or fall. Jealousy is unmitigated misery. It is poison. In Acts ch 5 v 17 the Sadducees were violently jealous of the apostles. It was bad enough having Jesus there in their midst but after the death of Jesus these followers of Jesus were both young and poorly educated. They were able to do what the Sadducces could not do. Jealousy is a poison in society. And so the young men were reported to Nebuchadnezzar and they faced his punishment.

2. The second point is that the three men had made a prior commitment. They did not need time to think about their decision. They did not ask for time to consider the matter. They did not call a committee meeting to reach a majority decision. They did not need to attend a seminar on worshipping false gods. They did not need to call their pastor for advice. They knew that their life was on the line. There was no ignorance or misunderstanding on their part. They had allowed their brains to be washed by the Word of God and they knew with certainty that there was no question of bowing down to a false god or an idol. They knew right from wrong. v 18. Instantly they said: “Our God is able to deliver us from the fiery furnace. And if not.” They would still not bow to the statue. How should a believer respond to such a situation? Few have had to face such a difficult decision. What about their families and friends, if they died in the furnace? Today is the day of salvation. Today is the day when each believer has to make up his mind on certain issues. He never knows when the Devil will tempt him or put pressure on him to deny his faith in Jesus. In Mark ch 8 v 38 Jesus made the point: “Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” There is no question of misunderstanding these words of Jesus. Do not miss out on the mid-week Bible study or the Young Persons’ meeting.

The furnace was so hot that some of the soldiers died putting them into the fire. The soldiers went along with the King. They might have said that they were only obeying their orders. Down through history many people have sold their souls by obeying orders. The question confronting the soldiers was this: “Is it right to kill these men just because the King’s pride is offended?” Is it right for doctors to kill babies and throw them into the hospital incinerator, just because the law of the land says it is? Was it right for German soldiers to rob and kill Jewish men, women and children during World War II? Is it right for a believer to deceive customers in the firm just because his employer tells him to do so? Maybe he will lose his job, if he takes a stand and challenges the truth. In Acts ch 4 v 19 Peter and John healed a man. The religious leaders told them not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus. They replied in v 19. There are times to disobey the government of the land when the government passes laws contrary to the Word of God. Maybe a believer will have to say one day: “My God is able to provide work for me .. and if not, I will not cheat the customers.” Today there are believers all round the World in prison because they confirm in public their belief in Jesus. This happens today in Muslim lands when Christians refuse to bow the knee to Allah. People are imprisoned and even killed. The same enemy lies behind the cruelty.

Has each believer made a commitment to serve the Lord Jesus so that when faced with a real challenge he would not deny Him? This passage is asking just that question.

3. In the midst of their crisis these men enjoyed pleasant company. In the crisis the men were accompanied by Jesus. This is almost certainly a theophany – an appearance of Jesus before His physical birth on Earth. Where was God in the Nazi death camp of Auswitch? He was there. There were groups of Messianic believers meeting to pray inside Auswitch. God walked across the desert of Sinai with His people in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of cloud by night. Jesus chose to live amongst His people during the days of the Roman Empire. Jesus ate with tax collectors and those regarded by the religious people as the scum of the Earth and He wept over Jerusalem. He promised never to leave or forsake His followers. With that promise Peter says to welcome trials and difficulties. 1 Pet ch 1 v 6. God uses trials and difficulties to forge the character of His children. Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness to be tested by God. In scripture the number 40 is the number for both testing and judgement. On this occasion Jesus was being tested by His Father. God the Father wanted to see if His Son was prepared for the major task of laying down His life for the sins of the World. Psalm 124 v 1 says: “If the Lord had not been on our side we would have been swept away.” The Lord was with these young men in the fiery furnace and if He was there with them a believer can be certain that whatever difficulty or crisis he faces in life Jesus will be there with him to strengthen and comfort him.

The men were promoted as a result of taking a stand for the Lord. v 30. God blessed them in a practical way.

4. What were the mechanics of their deliverance? Hebrews ch 11 v 34, talking of men who exercised faith in God, says that some quenched the fire by faith. What happened between the time when Nebuchadnezzar sentenced them to death and their entering the furnace? Nothing is said in the passage. Did they exercise faith in God? v 28 says that they trusted in God. How did they do that? Did they speak to the Lord and say: “Lord, thank you for our lives. We look forward to being with you in glory but we would like to continue to serve you here on Earth. Are we to die this day or will you deliver us from this crisis?” In life there is a progression. First there comes a problem. With a bit of common sense a man usually solves his problems and moves on. But if he does not tackle the problem and seek a solution it can become a predicament. This is a complicated problem where no matter which decision is made someone is going to be hurt. If the predicament is not tackled there comes a crisis. There seems to be no way out. The next step is that fear sets in. And finally panic takes over. At that point many end up in a mental hospital. There is a phrase – “Faith needs a crisis to walk on.” These men were in a crisis. The furnace was looming. Did they exercise faith in God? What if, having asked the Lord a question, He spoke to them through His Word? Perhaps Isaiah ch 43 v 2. “When you walk through the fire you will not be burned and the flame will not consume you.” or Jeremiah ch 17 v 7-8 “He does not fear when heat comes.” In their spirits they believed that the Lord had spoken and had promised them that they would survive the fire. Then by faith in the Word of God they would have been delivered by the Lord. Perhaps that is what happened. When a believer is in a crisis he should turn to the Lord and ask Him for help, listening for His Word. Then believe His Word. The believer will walk away from the crisis, if the Lord has promised him a way out.

5. It was for freedom that Jesus set believers free. The passage says that the clothes and hair of the young men had not been not touched. There was not even a smell of burning on them. But something was burnt by the fire. What was it? The ropes, which bound them were burnt off. They were physically free when they came out of their crisis. By putting their trust in God, He delivered them from those things, which bound them. As martyrs their action spoke louder than words. Even Nebuchadnezzar was challenged. This is a physical picture to teach a spiritual truth. What ropes bind a believer today, which need to be burned off?

There may be ropes of painful memories – ropes of fears – ropes of unforgiveness – ropes of an inferiority complex – ropes of jealousy – ropes of a broken relationship – ropes of abortion – ropes of idolatry – ropes of hidden sins that no one knows about, except God and Satan – ropes of an addiction – ropes of rejection – ropes of shame – ropes of a lost opportunity. Each believer knows what clings to his life and spoils his spiritual growth. Today Jesus would want to set each believer free to serve Him fully. If a believer acknowledges to God that there are ropes binding him, he is making a declaration to God that he wants to be set free.

God Calling

GOD CALLING TO MAN.

One of the best ways to learn anything is to ask questions. The Bible is full of questions. “Where are you, Adam?” This is one of the four greatest questions of all time. The others are “What think you of Christ?” “What do you want me to do for you?” and “ Am I my brother’s keeper?”

“Where are you Adam?” These words have echoed down through the corridor of time ever since they were spoken by God.

Firstly, it is an individual call. The call would have been unnecessary, if it had not been for the sin of man. Friends do not need to call to one another. They talk to one another. But the friendship between man and God was severed by sin. Each sin is a personal insult by man against a holy God. God called, because He could not speak directly with Adam. Adam was afraid and was in hiding. Fear and guilt had entered his personality as soon as he rebelled against God by disobeying God’s Word. Man was not designed to experience fear – only love. As soon as Satan rebelled against God, he put in place his plan to do all he could to encourage man to join in his rebellion and to live independently of God. Satan is still working out that plan. He tells man today that he has come of age and does not need God any more.

It is sin, which brings forth the call of God. Sin brings guilt. The law of God is broken. As with every other law, when it is broken there is a summons – for speeding or theft. After the summons there is an examination to establish the facts. A conviction is inescapable. After a time of silence the judgement is pronounced. This procedure is the same in the court of God. The sin of Adam brought forth a summons – “Where are you Adam?” This call drops through the letterbox of a man’s conscience. The facts stare a man in the face and he is convicted of guilt. This is the same when a man commits a sin, whether it be telling a lie, committing adultery or stealing from a neighbour. God has designed each man with a conscience and an alarm bell goes off in his conscience to warn him of danger. Like a fire alarm in a building, if a man ignores the warning bell, then he is in a dangerous situation. So far as the moral law of God is concerned, the consequences come home to a man in the form of the judgement against him. Along with pain and healthy fears, conscience is designed to protect a man’s well-being and keep him safe. The first time a man breaks God’s law, like stealing, there is a sharp reaction in the conscience. Satan is quickly in there to justify the action. “You are entitled to steal. Anyone in your situation would do the same. People all over the World are doing it. What is so special about you? No one will be affected. The store makes vast profits anyway.” After a second and third beach of the law the conscience begins to be erased until a person finally ends up with a seared conscience.

Secondly, it is a universal call. The being of God is not a matter of discussion or argument but is a matter of instinct. The call of God to man is decisive and authoritative. It calls to each one and is distinctive. People try to dismiss the existence of God. Communism tried it but millions have died since 1917 as a consequence. Humanism seeks to deny the existence of God, yet when a life comes to its end, there are so many questions crying out for an answer. Where is the person now? Why does a good person die young and a wicked person lives longer? Will his good works count for nothing? Man cannot escape the presence of God, no matter how hard he tries. Men may scoff but 9 out of 10 men who scoff, finding themselves in sudden danger from accident or disease, will be found praying. They may not admit it but they will call out to God for help. They may deny God in their words and actions but in their innermost souls, like the very demons from Hell, they believe it and tremble. Whereas a man may not feel involved when reading of God calling to Abraham or Moses, he does feel personally involved in responding to the call to Adam.

God calls to man in three ways.

First. He calls within a man’s conscience. Psalm 91. “When he calls I will answer.” What is this thing in each man, which seems so intimate with the man yet so independent of him, that it knows everything he does or says or even thinks and sits in judgement on him for everything. Each man carries about within him a whole machinery of justice – a witness, a jury, a judge and an executioner. A man attempts to stifle the inner voice within. God speaks – not in audible words but to man’s conscience. When his conscience is sharp, God’s voice is almost audible. It is enough to startle or even wake a man from sleep. God also speaks through His Word to the heart and conscience. On hearing a sermon everyone thinks it is suitable for his neighbour. A man tends to divert what God says to him by thinking how relevant it is for another person. A man tends to flatter himself that he is more important to God than others. Then he thinks that his faults are more excusable, his sins less serious, that his virtues are greater and that his self-denials are more meritorious than those of others. A man is brilliant at defending himself, transferring his guilt to others and excusing himself. A man may first of all try to question whether what he has just done is wrong. However, he is so quick at pointing out to others that what they have done is wrong, that he is without excuse and has to admit that he knows very well what is right and what is wrong.

Second. God calls to a man in providence. A man cannot escape from it. Providence grasps a man tightly and he cannot escape from it. Certain questions will not go away. “Tell me – who caused you to be born where you were? Who decided your sex? Who settled in which country you have been born? Who decided that your parents would be rich or poor? Who gave you your mind and body, your power of enjoyment, and your instincts of affection? Who gave you your principles of judgement? Who took away that friend?” Each man is in the grasp of providence, whether he believes it or not. A man is either ruled by chance, by fate or by providence. Only providence gives any meaning to life. The other two leave a man with a feeling of helplessness and bewilderment.

Third. God calls in revelation. Ex ch 19 v 20. God revealed Himself in the burning bush as He called to Moses. The Bible has a ring of truth about it. There is nothing trivial or strange. No one reading John’s Gospel can honestly say with confidence that it is irrelevant to his life. There are difficult passages in the Bible but the most difficult parts of the Bible are those parts, which a man understands very well – like “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Fourth. God calls specifically.
(a) It is a call first of all to attention. “Listen to me. Pay attention.” Satan wants to keep a man’s attention off God and uses any means to this end in the amusements of life, the cares of life and the duties of life. Yet God from time to time interrupts the involvement of life and through certain circumstances such as bereavement or disaster calls a man to pay attention to Him.
(b) It is a call secondly to give account to God of his stewardship. “Whom am I offending by my actions? Why do I feel a sense of obligation to the poor?”
(c) It is a call to reflect as to where a man is in relation to God – even in respect of a specific place. In a place where the person would not wish to be seen by any other human being, there is an uncomfortable thought that God knows where he is.
(d) It is a call to find out if he is well in his soul. “What if I should die tonight? Where am I in relation to my Maker?”
(e) It is a call to find out if a man is doing the work, which God has set for him to do. “Are there duties to my fellow men, which are still outstanding?” The World imposes duties on tradesmen and professional men and challenges them if the duties are not fulfilled.

Each person can only answer for himself and not for another. It is easy for man to pass judgement as to what others should be doing to take away the guilt from himself. But when the call comes from God each man has to answer for himself.

There are various answers.

1. “I am wandering. I have been well educated and have a good job. I need for nothing. My parents are Christians. I thought that I knew best and could make up my mind later in life. I have not yet come to a decision. I have thought about God and even considered approaching Him but shame, fear, ridicule or some other thing held me back and I am still wandering.”

2. “I am hiding. I am aware that I have sinned and have not yet repented. I fell to the temptation of desiring what was forbidden and then I wanted to experience it for myself. I chose to worship the created thing rather than the Creator. Now I am defiled. I know that God is holy and I cannot face Him; so I am hiding.”

3. “I am resting. Life is very pleasant for me just now. I have gathered a good reputation and an excellent social standing. I have built myself a good house and enjoy travelling. I have good investments and can take life easy for a while. Things may change but meantime leave me alone to enjoy some time of rest from the toils of the World. Then I shall be ready to accept Jesus as Lord and Saviour.”

4. “I am working. Am I not doing what God expects of me? I am discharging the strenuous duties of my profession. You know what long hours I have to work to satisfy my clients. I am setting a good example of hard work and diligence. If others were working as hard as I am, this World would be a better place. How can I do this and devote myself to the Lord’s work as well? Surely doing an honest day’s work satisfies God. I see so many lazy believers. When it is more convenient, I shall be ready to serve the Lord Jesus.”

5. “I am trifling. The World is such fun and so exciting. Surely I am meant to enjoy myself in this World? Do not grudge me some fun in life. One day I shall be more serious.”

6. “I am coming. I am on the way. I have been attending Church regularly. I need a little more time to sort out one or two matters with my family. I am taking matters seriously. I recognise that I am a sinner in need of a saviour. I read the Bible. I pray. I am regular at Church. Surely I am nearly there? But what is the urgency?”

There are so many reasons for delaying the decision, but none of them carries any validity. Today is the day of salvation. There is always a note of urgency about the Scriptures. There is a day appointed for Jesus to judge the World. What if He comes today? What better time is there for man than now to make the decision which he has been putting off for so long?

Today is the day for a wanderer to return.
Today is the day for the hiding soul to come out.
Today is the day for the one who is resting to listen to the call of God.
Today is the day for the one who is building his life on the sands of popular belief to lay his foundations on the rock of the words of Jesus.
Today is the day for workaholic to make time for God.
Today is the day for the trifler to face his future in eternity.
Today is the day for the Churchgoer to bow the knee and believe.