Healing the Spiritually Deaf

“The day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night”

1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10

Thieves do not forewarn their intended victims because they know that if they do they can expect a reception that would prevent their objective. In the unlikely circumstance they did warn the intended victim and the warning went unheeded they might still be successful.

The Day of the Lord – Jesus’ Second Coming – is presented in the Bible as coming like a thief. That is, His coming will not be expected by mankind. It will be a surprise to most, but not all. Paul writes, “But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief” (1 Thessalonians 5:4). At this point I believe Paul is directly addressing believing Jews in the Tribulation period that culminates in Jesus Christ’s return but it certainly has application to believers today.

Unlike an earthly thief, the Lord has given clues in the Bible as to the timing of His coming (e.g. Matthew 24:32-35). No exact time is given or even suggested but conditions in the world at that time are described and, while some have always been observed the confluence and intensity of all descriptions can be observed now.

Paul (1 Thessalonians 4:15) and Peter (2 Peter 3:11f) believed Christ’s coming could have been in their lifetime so how much more us today? Peter goes on to say that this prospect should affect our daily lives as we “look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). This will affect how we live.

Jesus (Matthew 24:43), Paul and Peter all attest that Jesus’ Second Coming will be unexpected by the general population but a few will be prepared (cf. Matthew 25:1-13). The difference is that some hear the warning and believe it. The problem in the world is that we have not heeded the Father’s admonition in Matthew 17:5, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” This is also a problem for the church as Jesus tells us in each of His letters to the seven churches recorded in Revelation 2 & 3, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” We don’t hear God speaking because we are not listening. We are not listening because we do not believe God has spoken. Only Jesus can cause the spiritually deaf to hear (Mark 7:31-37). Come to Him!

To Be With Jesus

“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour who desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth”

1 Timothy 2:3-4

The Bible teaches that God is not willing that any should miss His gift of salvation (cf. 2 Peter 3:9). Hence we read in several places that Christ died for all (e.g. John 1:29; Romans 5:6, 8; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15; 1 Timothy 2:6; 1 John 2:2). Since God created us in His image we have the ability to choose how we respond to God’s invitation and He will not override that choice or we would be no more than robots. Out of love for mankind God sent His Son to deliver us from sin and death by dying in our place. Now that the price is paid God invites all who want to, to come to Jesus and receive eternal life in Him as a free gift (John 1:12; Romans 6:23).

Sadly, most will go to anyone or anything except Jesus; but Paul writes that there is only one Mediator between God and man and that is Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5). The reason He is the only Mediator is that He alone died for our sin and is therefore the only one qualified to forgive sin (Romans 5:8; c.f. John 14:6; Revelation 5:1-7). There are some who want a heaven without Jesus but that is impossible. Heaven is being with Jesus. Anything else is hell. If you don’t desire to be with Jesus then it may be that you have a false or futile hope of heaven. Jesus says that He is preparing a place for the saved and it is with Him (John 14:3; 2 Corinthians 5:8; cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:10).

In his letter to Timothy, Paul writes that he was appointed to preach Christ primarily to Gentile unbelievers but also to unbelieving Israel (1 Timothy 2:7).  That mission has also been given to the church, a living body composed of all individuals who have received Christ as Lord and Saviour. The Gift of God, which is Jesus (John 3:16), is offered to all people because Christ died for all people. But God will not usurp a person’s own will. He invites, He provokes, He persuades but He does not force anyone. Only those who will of free will receive God’s Gift and appropriate Him will benefit. Many years ago I was conscripted into the army but there will be no conscripts in heaven. Everyone in heaven will be there because they believed God’s offer, wanted to be with Jesus, accepted His invitation and received His Gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ. “And thus we shall always be with the Lord” 1 Thessalonians 4:17).

Warning Every Person

“We speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts”

1 Thessalonians 2:4

When Paul wrote that God tests the hearts of His people he was not writing anything new. In Psalm 66 we find the same revelation. “You, O God have tested us” (v 10) with the result that they were refined as silver is refined. God not only allows but purposely creates or provokes circumstances by which what we think we believe is tested. The purpose is to expose what is really in our heart. The heart is deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9) so we are very glad that God reveals those areas where we are deceived or in error that He wishes to correct. He also reinforces areas where our hearts are right.

In this letter Paul wants us to allow the Holy Spirit to test our hearts. Tests will reveal where we are right and where we are not right. Allowing the Holy Spirit to test our hearts will reveal the extent to which the Holy Spirit has us. All true Christians have the Holy Spirit indwelling but to be “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18) means that the Holy Spirit has us. At its root this means a humble and teachable spirit toward God.

If we are trying to please men we will not share the Gospel with them. This may be because we fear what they may think of us, say about us or do to us. If we are trying to please God we will share the Gospel and let Him deal with their responses. This is the context of Paul’s letter, especially chapter two verses one to twelve. If we are seeking the praise of men we are not seeking the praise of God (v 6). The two are mutually exclusive.

From time to time I reflect on what this will mean when all the unsaved appear before the Great White Throne (Revelation 20:11-15) with Christ on that throne and myself and all believers with Him. How many unsaved will look over to me questioning why I didn’t warn them?

The Lord declared Ezekiel a watchman for the house of Israel (Ezekiel 3:17-19). Ezekiel didn’t ask for it. It came with the Lord setting him apart as a prophet to Israel. The church has been set apart to warn all peoples of the world of the wrath to come and of God’s wonderful Gift of life in Jesus Christ that is able to deliver them from that wrath. In Colossians 1:28 Paul writes, “Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.”

Well Meaning

“It shall be that you shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.”

1 Kings 17:4

There have been occasions when I have asked my wife a question but, instead of answering the question I asked, she has answered a question she thought I meant to ask. We are quite different people when it comes to conversation. This can be very helpful or, as in this case, a little frustration to me. My usual response is something like, “Please just answer the question I asked.” My wife’s response to that is something like, “Well I thought you really meant ….” Perhaps we cause a little frustration for the Lord when we treat His word that way.

Imagine if Elijah had done that with the word of the Lord on this occasion in 1 Kings 17? He would have said that the Lord could not have meant what He said because a raven could not sustain him with enough food. It’s impossible! Later the Lord sent him to a widowed Gentile woman who, with her son, was on the verge of starvation. How could she provide for him? It’s impossible!

The Bible is replete with these kinds of situations where people received a word or command from the Lord and they must take His words in the normal literary sense even when what He was asking seemed impossible. What if Moses had refused to return to Egypt because he interpreted the Lord’s command on the basis of what he thought possible? What of Joshua being commanded to march around Jericho thirteen times to bring down the walls. No, the Lord couldn’t mean that because it was illogical and impossible. When Jesus sent men to obtain the colt of a donkey that was ready and waiting for them they could have decided that a donkey already broken in would be better and safer risk for their Master. Well meaning but wrong.

The eleventh chapter of Hebrews mentions many men and women who took God at His word and acted upon it without interpreting it through a grid of what is logical and possible, or that there may be a better and safer way.

Seven times in his letters Paul writes to the effect that he didn’t want his readers to be ignorant of some truth, so he wrote plainly. That is how God writes. Twice in 1st Thessalonians he writes for his readers to be comforted by what he has written (1 Thess. 4:18; 5:11). Unless his words were intended to be taken in their normal literary sense there would be no real comfort at all. God wants to communicate truth not confuse the truth.

As in the Day

“Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually”

Genesis 6:5

This was the assessment of the Lord concerning mankind prior to the world wide flood in the days of Noah. By the grace of God Noah and his family were saved to accomplish God’s plan and purpose. The people of Noah’s day were warned by Noah’s testimony as he built the ark. Those who ignored his testimony went on as before and were drowned in the flood.

Jesus warned that His second coming will be in similar circumstances (Matthew 24:37f; Luke 17:26f). In these days God’s warning of impending judgment and the outpouring of His wrath against sin is through the faithful preaching of the Gospel of Christ as revealed in the Bible. Those who do not heed His words will carry on as before and be unprepared for His judgment. Those who receive it will be saved from wrath (1 Thessalonians 1:10; 5:9; Romans 5:9).

In the days of the Tribulation the Lord’s witnesses will be 144,000 Jews who will preach the Gospel to all nations and ethnic groups in all languages. Those who carry on as before and ignore the warning are destined to endure God’s wrath. Those who receive it will be delivered through it or from it by bodily death.

Jesus also gave the illustration of the city of Sodom (Luke 17:28f). Lot had been less than faithful in warning the people that their wickedness would bring an outpouring of God’s wrath. The judgment of God fell upon those people also.

Denying either of these historical events is to call Jesus a liar and renders one carrying on as before and unprepared for the wrath to come. His words are clear; when every intention of the thoughts of the heart of mankind is evil, then we can expect God to again judge the earth.

God is presently allowing Satan to test the hearts of nations and of individuals to reveal openly whether they are truly His or not. He is giving us an opportunity to see the world as it would be without His righteousness and without Him. Perhaps some will turn to Him and call for mercy.

Of that great city, Nineveh, the Lord said, “Their wickedness has come up before Me” (Jonah 1:2). Jonah was sent to warn them. With reluctance he went saying, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4). Unlike in the days of Noah and the days of Lot the Ninevites had a change of heart and pleaded for God’s mercy. They believed the warning and acted upon it through prayer and fasting believing that God might show them mercy. God will always respond to genuine calls for mercy.

It is not difficult to see that our world is at the threshold. Those who know the truth have the privilege and responsibility of warning others. We don’t know whether the world, our nation or our neighbour will respond in the way the people in Noah’s and Lot’s days did or in the way that Nineveh did so let us persevere in sharing the Gospel of grace and see what the Lord does in the hearts of people and nations.

A Day Nearer

“Who is worthy to open the scroll and to loose its seals?” Revelation 5:2

The above question was asked in heaven by a “strong angel.” Opening this scroll by breaking the seals is described in this book beginning in the next chapter. The breaking of the seals is the beginning of God pouring out His wrath on the nations. God has judged people groups before. He wiped out all but eight people at the time of the worldwide flood. He judged the new population later by confusing their language and He judged the sexual immorality of Sodom and Gomorrah by destroying the whole region and only saving Lot and two of his daughters. The Bible records that God has judged nations and people groups on many occasions in the past and that He will do so again.

God’s holiness demands that sin be dealt with. People deny or disregard God’s warnings of future judgment at their peril. John records God’s revelation to him of the future outpouring of wrath in this book. Revelation 6:16-17 and 19:15 particularly reveal this warning.

Who is worthy to judge the nations? Certainly no man is worthy. Many set themselves up as judges but this “strong angel” can find no one worthy to judge the nations. Worthy has to do with character. The scribes and Pharisees believed that they were worthy judges and brought a woman they caught in the act of adultery to Jesus to see if He would agree with their judgment. His response was, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first” (John 8:7). As the Gospel records, they all left without so much as picking up a pebble. None of them was worthy to judge the woman. The “strong angel” seems to be in that kind of situation as well. Who is without sin to judge mankind?

The only one found to be worthy is the one who Himself bore the wrath of God that was due us. John made this clear in his first letter, “And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1 John 2:2). “Propitiation” is the turning away of wrath by satisfying the debt.

Consequently Paul could write, “For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:9; cf. 1:10 & Romans 5:9).

In Revelation 5:9 we read the words of a new song sung in heaven by the twenty four elders, saying, “You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for you were slain, and have redeemed us to God by your blood.” This is what makes Jesus Christ worthy to open the seals of God’s judgment. No one else qualifies. Every day brings us a day nearer to when the nations will be judged by Jesus Christ.

Know His Comfort

“To wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” 1 Thessalonians 1:10

In this letter Paul expresses considerable affection for the Christians in Thessalonica (2:7-8). Many of his intended readers had turned from either Judaism or idols to follow the Lord Jesus Christ as a result of his earlier visit (1:9).

There were others who were jealous of the affection of the Christians toward Paul and they attempted to discredit him. They accused him of proclaiming Christ for financial gain and for prominence and power over people. However, this was more likely the motivation of his accusers.

Paul reminded them of his first visit. At that time he provided for himself so he had not been preaching for financial gain. Also he proclaimed the plain truth of the Gospel that produced conviction of sin so he wasn’t seeking a following for himself by deceit (2:5). Further, he accepted the persecution that followed preaching of the Gospel (2:2). On reflection the Christians in Thessalonica could readily see that the accusations against Paul were unfounded and false.

Another concern of these Christians was the return of Jesus Christ to establish His earthly kingdom. Fortunately for us, in correcting their confusion, he also corrects the confusion that is about now.

To keep his readers rightly focussed he pointed them to Christ’s return and kept that expectation alive throughout his letters. It is this expectation that keeps our minds on Christ. Key to the church’s future is that it will not endure the Tribulation. Jesus will deliver the church from this time of trouble on the earth (1:10). Paul’s words in 5:13-18 regarding the process of deliverance were intended to bring comfort. There would be no comfort if this was not to be taken literally (v 18).

To affirm what he has already written, Paul writes, “God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ: (5:9). That Christians would not endure the Tribulation is intended to bring comfort and encouragement (5:11).

As Paul poured out his love and affection he asked them to remember how they first received the Gospel. He then asked them to look forward to when they will meet the Lord (2:19). In closing and to sum up his letter Paul writes, “He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it” (5:24). Remember when we responded to the Gospel; keep our minds steadily fixed on the day we will see Jesus, and trust Him to do all that He has said (cf. Isaiah 26:3; Philippians 1:6; 3:20-21). Then we will know His comfort.

Up and Away

“The Lord Himself will descend with a shout … and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord” 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17

The Bible does not give the timing of Jesus’ Second Coming. In fact Jesus tells us that He will come when the world least expects Him. However, believers are encouraged to look for His coming and be ready. As with His first coming He will come exactly at the right time.

On the biblical prophetic calendar the next event is when Jesus removes His church from the world. There is nothing in prophecy that must occur before that event so it could happen today or in a hundred years – only the Lord knows!

We are given a lot of information about what the world’s condition will be soon after the church is taken out. Jesus Himself gives us much information that has been recorded by Matthew (Chapters 24 & 25). There are many people and groups of people mentioned in the Bible who will live in that time. In consideration of the Bible’s description of the world’s condition at that time it seems quite plausible to believe that the church could be taken up soon. If that did happen then the people who feature in the tribulation period could already be alive today:

  • The 144,000 Israelites, 12,000 from each tribe (Revelation 7 & 14)
  • the two witnesses and those who kill and/or witness their death and resurrection (Revelation 11)
  • the multitudes of new believers who are martyred during the tribulation and those who kill them
  • The many unbelievers who will seek death (Revelation 6:15-16)
  • the false prophet (Revelation 17 and later)
  • the Beast, also called the Antichrist (1 John 2:18f; Revelation 13 and later)
  • The many who will protect Israelites in a world of anti-Semitism worse even than the holocaust (Matthew 25:35f)
  • The multitude of believing Jews and Gentiles who will enter the earthly kingdom at Christ’s Second Coming

There are other groups mentioned but this list is sufficient to awaken us to the times in which we live. People we live alongside may be included among those mentioned above.

Since there is the possibility that these events may take place soon, and the participants may be alive now, how should we conduct ourselves? The Apostle Paul gives an answer to that question in 2 Thessalonians 3:6f. It is evident from his letters that he expected that Jesus might return in his lifetime. His instruction to the believers of his time is equally valid for our time. At such a time we cannot be idle.

Because there may be little time that is not reason to sit back and wait, it is reason to be acting in full obedience to the Great Commission. Jesus’ command to make disciples is not rescinded and He makes no mention of a retirement plan this side of heaven (Matthew 28:19-20).

Tender Affection

“When He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” 1 John 3:2-3

Many years ago before I was married my friends sometimes visited me at home but I would do little or nothing in preparation. The day came when my fiancé, who had not met my parents or family, came from interstate to meet them and stay for Easter. There was a lot of activity on my part to prepare for her visit including the purchase of a new bed to ensure her comfort and washing the car. She was very special to me being the girl that I would marry. Nothing was too much trouble or expense to make her feel welcome and loved after three months without seeing her.

This kind of excitement and expectation can be ours as we “eagerly wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:7). The apostle Paul lived in eager expectation of seeing Jesus. He wrote with longing and anticipation, “Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17). He would later write to his young pastor friend, Titus, to teach all people to keep “looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).

Observation over the years suggests that some Christians are satisfied that they have a home in heaven but without any real longing or eagerness to be in that home and be with Jesus. Heaven is heaven because of the presence of Jesus. Without Him it would be hell. If we truly love Jesus, there will not just be the knowledge that we will be with Him and see Him face to face, but a genuine heartfelt longing for that day.

John writes that this expectation will cause us to prepare ourselves for that day. If we remain content with a “ticket to heaven” with no thrill at the prospect of seeing and being with Jesus it may be that we do not have a home in heaven at all. Surely one in whom dwells the Holy Spirit will have this thrill and excitement that will motivate them to clean the house in readiness and eagerly look forward to the day.

When I speak the name of my wife it is with tender affection and it stirs the emotions every time. To better understand longing desire and tender affection read the Song of Solomon. When we are in intimate fellowship with the Lord Jesus we will speak the name of Jesus with tender affection also. Jesus is the name by which we are saved. Jesus is the name above all names. The name Jesus means Saviour. Let us speak His name but speak it with tender affection in anticipation of His coming.

Lord Willing

“He who does the will of God abides forever”  1 John 2:17

When people speak of the “will of God” they sometimes speak as though it were mystical and almost unknowable or that it is limited to the Ten Commandments. In some instances there may be a little truth in this but the Bible is jam packed with details concerning the will of God.

There are some very clear statements in the Bible concerning knowing the will of God, like: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” and “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 4:3; 5:18).

Every command that God has given is an expression of His will and every description of the Divine Nature is an expression of God’s will concerning our attitudes and behaviour. Every description of the sinful nature also describes for us that which is not the will of God.

The difficulty may be that we are not interested in an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ and holy living but only in what He can do for us. How mercenary is that?  We would like to know other kinds of details, like career path, marriage partner, role in the church or ministry in the church. There is nothing wrong or unspiritual about wanting God’s will for these areas of our lives and we should seek His leading but we will not discover His will if we are not interested in Him as a Person.

One of the first things I learned about driving buses is that one cannot see where the bus is on the road by looking ahead. That only tells me where I am headed. Where I am is seen by also looking in the two rear view mirrors at the white lines painted on the road and/or curb.

The Bible gives us the forward view so that we can set our course but we must regularly check our rear view to observe where we really are in our walk with the Lord. This does not mean we go on a “witch hunt” for sin but make an honest and genuine appraisal of how we are travelling. If we are deviating off course we are better off noticing it sooner rather than later.

There are many aspects of the will of God that are not specifically given in the Bible. We may only see His will in hindsight. Oswald Chambers wrote, “The disciple who abides in Jesus is the will of God, and his apparently free choices are God’s fore-ordained decrees.”