Veiled Eyes

“Even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart”

2 Corinthians 3:15

Referring to Moses’ experience on Mount Sinai, Paul illustrates how unbelievers cannot comprehend the Bible. They can read the words and know the stories but as through a veil, not seeing with spiritual eyes. This is one of the reasons we cannot argue or debate someone into the kingdom of God. To attempt to do so denies the power of God. Paul writes, “My speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Corinthians 2:4). It is not our ability to present the Gospel in a clear way that will speak to the other person’s heart; it is the Holy Spirit applying the truth of the Gospel that we share. Oswald Chambers writes, “Never rely on the clearness of your exposition, but as you give exposition see that you are relying on the Holy Spirit.”

For the religious Jew of Paul’s day the Law was like a ball and chain. The rules and regulations of false religions, including some called “Christian,” keep captive with rules and rituals that give false hope. Paul writes, “Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Corinthians 3:17). That is, liberty from compliance to a set of rules, regulations and rituals in order to receive eternal life.

Eternal life is a gift in Jesus Christ. Jesus is God’s Gift (John 3:16, Romans 5:8; 6:23; Ephesians 2:8-10). We give special attention to this fact at Christmas. If a person is not willing to humble themselves and receive God’s love Gift they deny the Holy Spirit the opportunity to lift the veil from their eyes. They may think they know all there is to know but the veil will keep the reality from them. Paul writes, “It [the Gospel] is veiled to those who are perishing whose minds the god of this age has blinded” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). When the veil is lifted by the Holy Spirit we see the reality that had been hidden and is revealed more and more. Paul writes, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Until we receive Jesus Christ we are looking at reality through a darkened veil and not seeing clearly. “Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away” (2 Corinthians 3:16). Let us pray that many will turn to the Lord and see clearly without the veil of spiritual blindness.

Raised from the Dead

“Some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame”

1 Corinthians 15:34

By itself this statement may seem a bit too obvious. It was as obvious to Paul’s readers as it is to us that most people do not have a true knowledge of God, our Creator. The context reveals that he is writing to the church in Corinth saying that some in the church do not have the knowledge of God. That is also just as true today as it was then. I have heard many testimonies of people who had been attending church for years before discovering that they were not born of God. On discovering this they received Him as Lord and Saviour. This is true of me.

The specific truth that some people in the Corinthian church had not accepted was the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul concludes that people who deny Christ’s bodily resurrection do not know the truth and are therefore not born of God, not saved. The fact of Christ’s bodily resurrection is just as much a key element in the Gospel as is Christ’s atoning death (vv 3-4). If He is not raised then neither will we be raised. If that were true, there would be no hope beyond the grave (vv 17-19).

Paul affirms that Christ is risen (v 20) based on the many witnesses who had seen Jesus after His crucifixion and burial, many of whom were still alive at the time of writing and could testify to that fact. This includes Paul himself (vv 5-8). Only two or three witnesses are required to verify a fact but Paul could produce many more than that. Any serious seeker of the truth would be able to find a living witness. Paul’s experience mirrors that of Israel when Jesus returns after the Tribulation. At that time all Israel we see Jesus come in the brightness of His glory and receive Him (Romans 11:26).

Those professing Christians in the Corinthian church may have thought they were true followers of Christ but their own testimony denied that to be so. Those who are truly born of God have the witness of the Holy Spirit in themselves that Jesus is raised bodily from death. From His witness, and that of the Bible, we are able to affirm with Paul that Jesus is raised and is our hope of our own bodily resurrection. Paul queries why he or anyone would risk their lives daily for a gospel that only gives hope in this life (vv 29-30, 19). Christ is raised bodily and all in Him will also be raised bodily (v 20). Those who truly know Him can give a hearty “Amen” to this.

Thorny Days

“And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure”

2 Corinthians 12:7

The intent of this part of Paul’s letter is not given so that we can rack our brains trying to work out what his “thorn in the flesh” was. Let us take it in its context which clearly identifies it with the temptation to pride and God’s means by which he assured Paul remained humble. Paul had been privileged to see special visions and receive special revelation from the Lord which had the potential to provoke pride. In God’s wisdom and grace there was some temptation remaining to Paul that reminded him of his past life in opposition to Jesus Christ (Acts 9:5; 22:8; 26:15).

It may be that temptation to particular sinful thoughts and behaviour were brought to a sudden end at the time we came to faith or at some time later when we finally abandoned all to Jesus. For this grace we should be extremely grateful daily. However, it is possible that God does allow Satan to test us periodically in an area of sin that we would rather not still have. Like Paul, our requests to have the temptation removed seem to go unanswered (2 Corinthians 12:8). We can take encouragement from Paul’s experience and learn that this is God’s way of keeping us in the realm of humility and not being swallowed up in that powerful sin of pride.

We might ask how being tested can glorify God? Being tested is not a sin. Jesus was tested/tempted without sin (Matthew 4; Hebrews 2:18; 4:15). The Lord’s answer was given to Paul and he recorded it for our benefit: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (v 9). Paul acknowledges this by writing, “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (v 10). God’s grace is magnified in that though we are tempted, He gives grace and strength to resist yielding (1 Corinthians 10:13). In Romans 6 Paul gives an extended explanation. For our own benefit God may have chosen to allow a “thorn in the flesh” to remain for each of us. The purpose is clear – that we might remember where He brought us from and to keep us from being overcome with pride resulting from the glorious revelation He has given us and to keep us humbly walking with our God (Micah 6:8).

Up to Jerusalem

“Behold we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished”

Luke 18:31

Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen to Him in Jerusalem (vv 31-33) but the disciples didn’t. We are told that it was hidden from them (v 34). This reminds us that God can and does keep things hidden from us. Some things He grants only through careful and faithful study (2 Timothy 2:15; 3:16-17). Like any good teacher He only teachers us that which we are ready to receive. The problem in our learning is never with the Teacher.

As with Jesus, the aim of the Christian is to do the will of God. We usually interpret that as serving where we think we are of most use to God but that may not be the case. Unless our service is in obedience to the will of God we may just be accumulating wood, hay, and straw (1 Corinthians 3:12). Our service must be in His will and that is where He judges us most useful. It is not for us to choose our place or role. The clay does not tell the potter what to make of it. Jesus always obeyed the Father (John 8:29). His aim, and ours, is to obey the Father and be led by the Holy Spirit.

There are many examples in the Bible and church history where God seems to us to have wasted His most gifted people. Stephen (Acts 7) and James (Acts 12:2)  are two of many examples. We cannot see what God is aiming at, so let us walk by faith and trust God to accomplish His plan and purpose in and through us.

Jesus went to Jerusalem and the cross to fulfill the will of God as prophesied in Scripture. Though they did not understand, the disciples went with Him anyway. Oswald Chambers writes, “In our Lord’s life Jerusalem was the place where He reached the climax of His Father’s will upon the cross, and unless we go with Jesus there, we shall have no companionship with Him. Nothing ever discouraged Our Lord on His way to Jerusalem. He never hurried through certain villages where He was persecuted, or lingered in others where He was blessed. Neither gratitude nor ingratitude turned Our Lord one hair’s breadth away from His purpose to go to Jerusalem.” We may not be able to see our “Jerusalem” but we will go toward it as Jesus did, in the will of God as a living sacrifice on the altar of His love (Luke 14:27; Romans 12:1-2).

I’m Not That Bad

“… we preach Christ crucified: to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness.”

1 Corinthians 1:23

One of the most abhorrent and counter-cultural ideas in Christianity is that everyone is a sinner, and is freely offered forgiveness and redemption. Every “monster”, no matter what they have done, can be saved. Is there any sin that is too great for Christ’s atonement on the cross? No. Was his death sufficient to cover all the worst atrocities perpetuated throughout history? <strong>Yes, it was.</strong>(1 John 1:7)

This concept is anathema due to one of our greatest weaknesses – the persistent notion that at least we are “not as bad as those others”. After all, it’s insulting and degrading to be lumped into the same category as those we regard as the “worst of humanity”.

A certain man was quoted saying “Don’t compare yourself with anyone in this world. If you do so, you are insulting yourself.” (this quote is also attributed to another). This implies that we often sell ourselves short – by comparing ourselves at our worst, to others at their best. It has a grain of truth: that we fail to retain a right picture of ourselves. Although I expect the author of the quote did not intend it, a higher truth may be obtained from it: that we should instead compare ourselves with some One who is not of this world.

We ask the mirror on the wall, “who is the fairest of them all?” and the mirror replies, “You are the fairest” – but the mirror is merely parroting what we already believe to be true. The higher truth is that only through God’s eyes (as revealed in his Word) can we know ourselves truly. And only thereafter can we start to see our fellow humans in the right way as well.

We must let go of pride (Isaiah 5:21), and let go of condemnation (Romans 8:1). Instead of comparing ourselves to fallen creatures, we must set our eyes on the sinless one, Jesus, who has called us to Himself as the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6).

Face to Face

Face to Face

“I hope to see you shortly and we shall speak face to face”

3 John 14 (see also 2 John 12)

Letters and emails are terribly impersonal and can often be misunderstood. The reader is inclined to read their own thoughts and circumstances into the letter received. It can also be difficult to convey a message clearly on the phone. John had a message for his readers that he did not want misunderstood so he wanted to speak to them face to face. There have been many times that I have gone out of my way to speak to someone face to face because I didn’t want to risk confusion that may arise from a letter.

As we read the Bible we observe that the Lord appeared to quite a few men face to face at times when He wanted to communicate important information. He appeared to Abraham on several occasions in the process of making and confirming the Covenant. Each time more information was given and/or affirmed. He also met with Jacob face to face before he was permitted to re-enter the Promised Land (Genesis 32:30).

Moses met the Lord face to face on several occasions beginning at the burning bush (Exodus 3:6). He was the only one who could communicate with the Lord after Israel’s rebellion and he spoke with the Lord face to face (Exodus 33:11). Before the conquest of the Promised Land Joshua met the Lord face to face (Joshua 5:14) and so did Gideon prior to battle (Judges 6:22).

The Lord promised He would speak with Israel face to face when they are restored to the Promised Land (Ezekiel 20:35). When Jesus returns and establishes His earthly kingdom He will fulfil this (Ezekiel 39:28-29). Others saw visions of the Lord that caused them to fall on their faces before Him (e.g. Daniel 10:5-6).

Job knew that one day he would see the Lord face to face (Job 19:25-26). The apostle Paul had that expectation as well (1 Corinthians 13:12) and John confirms that all believers will see Jesus face to face (Revelation 22:4). When we have an important message for someone we prefer to give it face to face. The Lord speaks to us through His word, affirmed by the indwelling Holy Spirit, but to convey the Gospel to an unsaved person the Lord’s way is (generally) to send His messenger to speak face to face. This remains the most effective way. Jesus was the first such messenger; and if we are His, we are now His messengers.

Regular Reminders

“I will be careful to ensure that you always have a reminder of these things after my decease”

2 Peter 1:15

From very young we learn and remember many things as a result of repetition. A parent may often say, “How many times have I told you …!” Repetition was how we learned the “times tables”, and how we memorised verses from the Bible.

Where did Peter get the idea that we needed reminders of the essential truths revealed by God? Since Peter spent more than three years with Jesus and heard him preach some things several times it seems likely that he is following Christ’s example. There are two key examples of repetition given by Jesus that He has commanded His church to observe. These remind us of what He has done for us and what He has done in us.

Communion, or the Lord’s Table, is a reminder of what Jesus has done for us and the church has the responsibility to observe this in a manner that will express true teaching to the unsaved as well as remind the saved how that came about. Paul refers to it as an opportunity to focus and reflect on what Jesus has done for us in remembrance of Him (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). The focus is on Jesus but we can’t do that completely without remembering what He has done for us. Remembering Him and reflecting on what He has done will keep our hearts humble and thankful.

Baptism is the other ordinance that He has given to the church (Matthew 28:19) and is given as a living picture of what Jesus has done in us. Baptism tells the story of what has already happened in us from being dead in sin to being created new in Christ and rising to new life in Christ. It reminds us of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection.

Communion and Baptism tell the Easter story and its application. They are regular reminders for us. Peter writes in this letter that there are those who would corrupt the message. This is all the more reason to keep reminding each other of these essential truths. Some nominally Christian groups have corrupted both these reminders by giving power to the ritual which is only a shadow of that which is real. Shadows have no power in themselves and disappear when the true light comes. Jesus, Paul and Peter all expect us to be continually mindful of the means by which we are saved and the extent of that salvation but primarily be mindful of the One who made it all possible.”I will not be negligent to remind you always of these things” (2 Peter 1:12).

Image

“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Mark 12:17

The chief priests, scribes and the elders in the temple (11:27) could see that their authority was under threat. They sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus with a view to discrediting Him and not to discern the source of Christ’s authority (12:13). Paying taxes to Caesar was a sore point in Israel. Their view was that taxes should go to the temple not Caesar. If Jesus answered their question, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not” (v 14) with either a yes or no it would have been incorrect and provided an opportunity to discredit Him. Neither yes nor no was the correct answer.

Jesus’ answer agrees with scripture that we should pray for and support earthly governments but that we also have the privilege and responsibility of providing for His ministry on earth.

In focusing attention on the image of Caesar on the coin He confirmed that obligations to human government should be met. It is God who raises up and puts down kingdoms. It was the Roman Empire that had provided the circumstances for Messiah to enter the world and fulfill scripture at that time.

Where there is Caesar’s image that object belongs to Caesar. The extrapolation of that is that where God’s image is, that belongs to God. We read in Genesis 1:26-27 that mankind was created in God’s image. Jesus said that the coin which bears the image of Caesar should be rendered to Caesar and therefore man, created in and bearing the image of God should be rendered to God. This is what Paul was thinking when he wrote, “Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1) and “You were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20).

That we are created in God’s image means that we belong to Him to serve and worship Him. This is the basis for Jesus’ demand of supreme love, supreme loyalty and supreme devotion to Him without which we cannot be one of His disciples (Luke 14:25-32).

The image of God in man was corrupted when sin entered the world but when Jesus, “the image of the invisible God,” (Colossians 1:15) came into the world and suffered the cross He opened the door for the image of God to be recreated in any person who will receive Him (John 1:12-13; 2 Corinthians 5:17).

When He Comes

Jesus said to His disciples, “You shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’”

Matthew 23:39

Jesus told His disciples on at least three occasions that He would die and rise again. He now says to them that this will be His last Passover with them until He returns. John also records Jesus telling His disciples that He is going away but that He would return for them (John 14:2-3). Now that His departure is imminent the disciples have a couple of questions for Him: When will He return and what sign will accompany His return?

Matthew 24 and 25 record Jesus’ response. He doesn’t give a date but He does describe conditions in Israel and the world more generally. The only date He relates is that which Daniel informs us is mid-tribulation (24:15 cf. Daniel 9:27).

The conditions during the first half of the tribulation are recorded in 24:5-8. They are similar to what we are experiencing now but during the tribulation they will be more intense and more frequent. It is possible that we are observing the prelude and build up to these conditions. Just as Noah warned people, we have God’s faithful messengers today warning people. Sadly most people reject the warning, as they did Noah’s warning, and carry on in ignorance (Matthew 24:37-44). Fortunately God is still rescuing people who will receive His word. They will be delivered just like Noah and his family.

At the mid-point of the tribulation the Antichrist will stand in the newly built temple in Jerusalem and declare himself to be the Christ (24:15). From that day Israel will suffer unprecedented persecution (24:16-21). The world will be at war and Jesus says that war would end in annihilation of all mankind if He did not intervene (24:22). In order for God to fulfil His covenant with Abraham and King David, Israel must survive. This is why Satan has repeatedly attempted to destroy Israel. This last attempt will also fail.

The only sign that will precede Christ’s return is given to us in 24:27 & 30. This will be at the end of the tribulation and reminds us of Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. Paul saw his experience as foreshadowing Israel’s experience when Jesus returns to establish His kingdom in Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 15:8).

Bought With a Price

“The earth is the Lord’s and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein”

Psalm 24:1

Everything that exists belongs to the Creator. It is His by right of creation; He brought it into being and sustains it in its entirety. The foundation of atheism is the denial of this fact. Paul bases his words to the Christians in Rome on this fact in contrast to others who suppress this truth (Romans 1:18-32). Peter likewise addresses this suppression to his readers (2 Peter 3:1-9). Fallen and sinful people refuse to acknowledge that they are owned by the One who created and sustains them. This is the essence of Satan’s lie to Eve and the root of pride.

Christians recognises this and are glad that they are owned by Christ through redemption. Paul writes, “You were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20).

Everything we are and have is on loan as to a steward. A steward serves the one who has placed his possessions into his hands. Our lives are not our own; our bodies are not our own; our talents and skills are not our own; our time is not our own. The opportunities that come our way are also given by God. Material blessings are not ours but His and He has given us all these things to glorify Himself. This means that they are all to be seen and utilized to express God’s Divine and glorious nature.

In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) Jesus commended the servants who utilized what they had been given to them by their master to manage and they were rewarded. The third servant had made no attempt to utilise his master’s money. Jesus refers to him as being wicked and lazy (v 26) and not only did he not receive a reward but he was cast out from his master’s presence.

God has greatly blessed us with life, various types of talents and gifts with varying levels of these. He expects us to use that which He has given for His glory. One who despises the Creator will refuse to act as a faithful steward and will be cast from His presence.

When once we have come to know the Lord Jesus it is hard to understand why anyone would not gladly love and serve Him.

“It is good to give thanks to the Lord and to sing praises to Your name, O Most High; to declare Your loving kindness in the morning and Your faithfulness every night” (Psalm 92:1-2).