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!

Just as He Said

“Take heart, men, for I believe God that it will be just as it was told me”

Acts 27:25

This account of Paul’s shipwreck has many things to teach us. First and foremost is the quote above. As we read the Bible we find multitudes of similar situations where a person or people have taken God at His word literally. It is folly not to do so. Paul had been told by an angel sent by God that if everyone stayed on the ship all would be saved. Only the ship would be lost.

Paul, God’s man, had warned against taking this journey at this time (v 10) but the experts contradicted him because they had a vested interest (v 11). The majority also ignored his warning because they were impatient (v 12). In the Bible we notice that the experts and the majority are frequently wrong. When the storm hit they believed they could weather it without Divine help and took the usual means to keep the ship afloat. The ship’s tackle was thrown overboard on the third day (v 19) and later the ship’s cargo followed but none of this helped.

In this dire situation when all hope was lost (v 20) only the man of God had an answer and eventually the others allowed him to take the lead. For any to survive, they all had to stay on the ship (v 31). Some, who did not trust Paul’s word from God, tried to leave but were thwarted (v 30). Paul knew the day of deliverance was at hand and led the crew, soldiers and passengers in thanks to God for their deliverance before they were saved. That is true faith. The end was as the angel of God had told Paul. The ship was lost and everyone on board was saved (v 44).

The ship is a type of Christ. He died that we might live. All who are in Christ will be kept safe. The key to salvation is in verse twenty five quoted above. Like Paul, we must take God at His word and stay with Jesus Christ. The centurion, named Julius (v 1) was persuaded by the experts and the majority before the storm (v 11) but later we discover that he chose to believe Paul (v 31). Later still, he was protective of Paul (v 43). The faith of Paul did not keep him from the storm and shipwreck but it was the means God used to cause the centurion, and probably others, to realize that God’s word is superior to that of the experts and multitude. Whether any received eternal salvation we are not told but there is a clear salvation message and illustration for us. Paul took God’s word literally and so should we.

Strange Ways

“Now as they were seeking to kill him, news came to the commander of the garrison that all Jerusalem was in an uproar”

Acts 21:31

Jerusalem was in an uproar because Paul had been falsely accused, and the rumour spread, that he had taken a Gentile into the temple (v 28). The reason Paul was in the temple was that he had also been falsely accused of forsaking the teaching that came from God through Moses (v 21). He had taken the advice of others to give a demonstration that he had not forsaken Moses (vv 23-24). In an attempt to appease his accusers Paul found himself on the brink of bodily death. We might view this as a tragedy and an anxious moment but as we read on we see it is God’s way of gathering the Jerusalem crowd to hear Paul’s testimony. It isn’t the way we would choose and it is doubtful that Paul would choose this way either but God’s ways are far better and more effective than ours.

If “all Jerusalem was in an uproar” then a good proportion of the population had gathered. Paul could not have obtained such a large audience by any other way. Under threat of being beaten by the Romans (v 32) before he could speak to the Jerusalem crowd, Paul appealed to his Roman citizenship so as to come under that protection. This protection led to him being able to share his testimony with the crowd of Jews and Roman soldiers and later to King Agrippa and his household (chapter 26). Later still, this Roman protection led to Paul writing the letters we now have in our New Testament.

Before going to Jerusalem Paul had been warned several times that he would end up in bonds (chapter 21) but he was determined to go even if it meant his death. What appeared to be foolish on Paul’s part (ignoring the warnings) and what was very alarming (lies and rumor) and the despair that may have arisen at Paul’s imminent death could easily cause the faith of many to shake. What we discover is that this was God’s way of bringing Jerusalem together again, possibly for the last time, to see how they would respond to the risen Christ. There will be times that the way God chooses for us seems threatening, dangerous or counterproductive but if we go on in faith He will achieve the outcome He desires. Paul understood, “In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:6).

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.”

Consequences Remain

“And the people said to Samuel, ‘Pray for your servants to the Lord your God, that we may not die; for we have added to all our sins the evil of asking a king for ourselves’”

1 Samuel 12:19

After suffering years of conflict with their neighbours, who had kings, the people of Israel thought that they should also have a king. The conflicts arose because Israel turned from following the Lord; but the conflicts were the means the Lord used to bring them to repentance and renewed faith. Each generation had to learn this anew.

Israel had God as their King, but they were not satisfied with the way things were going for them. They didn’t want the attacks from neighbours – and reasoned that a great king would prevent the attacks. They did not recognise that this was a spiritual war and that the physical wars were serving God’s objectives for Israel.

The Lord had warned them through Samuel on several occasions not to seek an earthly king and told of the costly consequences, but they persisted. We notice that this was a trait of Saul also (13:12). He felt compelled to act even against what he knew to be the command of the Lord (13:13).

In demanding a king, Israel was rejecting the will of the Lord. They were following the way of the world when they should have been leading the world in God’s ways. When Christians follow the ways of the world instead of leading the world in the ways of the Lord we sin in the same way as Israel.

What we observe in the verse above is that Israel eventually realised their sin and repented of it. In God’s grace He forgave them but He did not remove the consequences – and those consequences would bear a great cost to the nation. Samuel records that cost in 8:11-18. There would be great economic loss; there would be great loss in family relationships (due to the military and public service); and worse, there would be great spiritual loss, “The Lord will not hear you in that day” (8:18).

When we sin, forgiveness is available if we truly repent and confess that sin to God. Our fellowship with Him will be restored. However, the consequences of that sin will often remain. Remorse will demand that the consequences be removed; a contrite heart accepts whatever the Lord grants. Words spoken cannot be taken back and deeds done cannot be undone. Better to obey the Lord from the outset.

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.

Shipwrecked

“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” Matthew 7:13-14

A few decades ago when living in Port Pirie, South Australia it was not unusual for me to take my fourteen foot bond-wood boat with putt-putt motor out into Spencer Gulf for a spot of crabbing or fishing. The gulf was relatively shallow so far north but that was not a concern for my boat. However, there was a lead smelting industry in Port Pirie and they needed large ships to be able to berth and take on board the lead. To accomplish this, a channel had been dredged from deeper water, a kilometre or two from shore, right up to the dock. This was marked by lights and signs on marker posts.

Ships coming into port must stay between the markers or they would most certainly run aground. To navigate this channel required care and concentration as it was not a particularly wide channel and neither was it straight. Any captain who ignored the markers would soon lose his ship.

There are essentially only two ways that we might seek to live our lives and please God. The broad way that leads to destruction is the one that ignores or disregards the markers in God’s word. At Port Pirie the markers were to inform the ship’s captain where it was safe to navigate and where there was danger. If we ignore our Creator’s markers and navigate where it is unsafe we can hardly expect to avoid the dangers and we will make shipwreck of our lives.

Most people will rely on human logic and in so doing make a fatal choice. Since Adam’s sin mankind has had a faulty logic. In Proverbs we read, “There is a way that seems right to a man but its end is the way of death” (14:12, 16:9) and “All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes but the Lord weighs the spirits” (16:2). A captain who chooses not to follow the markers and take a short cut will run aground.

The broad way is the way that seems right to people but in following that way they miss the truth and make shipwreck of their lives. They have missed the warning markers in God’s word. The narrow way is the way that follows God’s warning markers and remains in the safe channel.

It is tragic that we observe people and nations making shipwreck of life because they have ignored God’s word and revelation in the Bible. It is even more tragic that many deliberately and defiantly rebel against God’s word. It does not bode well for our nation and it robs people of the blessing they might otherwise have had from the Lord.

If we are not to make shipwreck of our lives, either personally or nationally, we will do well to know the safety markers God has given us in His word and enjoy the freedom that we have within them.

Writing Scripts

“You were hypocrites in your hearts when you sent me to the Lord” Jeremiah 42:20

The small, unprotected and disorganised remnant of Judah that remained in Judea must have felt vulnerable and unsafe. Those who had obeyed the Lord and surrendered to the king of Babylon were safe but removed from the land. Of those who had not obeyed the Lord most were now dead and only these few remained.

The armies of Babylon had gone home but they still felt that the Lord’s hand was heavy upon them and they were at risk. Since everything Jeremiah had prophesied had come to pass they went to him and asked him to seek the Lord’s counsel.

They promised that they would obey the Lord regardless of “whether it is pleasing or displeasing” (v 6) but the Lord knew their hearts and was determined to reveal their hypocrisy. What is revealed is that they had already chosen what they would do and were just seeking the Lord’s confirmation. This is often the way people relate to God when they do not have a genuine personal relationship with Him.

We need to be careful that we do not follow the example of these people. When we pray we should make up our minds to do as He reveals regardless of the response. Let us be sure that we have not already settled our direction before we hear the Lord’s response to our prayer. If we have, we will make up scenarios or accounts of events that will seemingly justify our actions even when contrary to God’s revelation and word to us. True prayer allows the Lord to respond as He chooses with the full intention of obeying whether it seems pleasing to us or not.

The people who came to Jeremiah with this request received a wonderful response – stay where they are and God would be their provider and protector until all Israel was brought back. If they chose to disregard and disobey the word of the Lord, contrary to their promise, they would suffer the very thing they sought to escape.

They had already made up their minds and instead of believing God’s revelation concerning past events and their current situation, they invented their own version that would make their decision look reasonable (44:16-19). In so doing they called God a liar (43:2). The Lord’s response to these people was, “Why do you commit this great evil against yourselves” (44:7). It is so illogical for people to choose against the revealed will of God. One can only wonder at how often we have rewritten our own history so as to put ourselves in a good light when in fact we are disobeying the word of the Lord.

The issue was not so much about where they should be physically but where their heart is toward the Lord. The same is true for us. The Lord will also test our heart motives in prayer. He doesn’t do this to harm us but to reveal where our heart really is so that our relationship with Him may become more intimate. God’s warnings were for Judah’s good, as they are for us, so let us take Him at His word and not try and write our own scripts.

Everlasting Joy

“When a wicked man dies, his expectation will perish and the hope of the unjust perishes” Proverbs 11:7

Jesus said that He came to save that which was lost (John 3:17; Luke 19:10) and He has sent all who have been saved to continue His mission. While we are often inclined to only speak of the blessings that come to those who respond positively to the Gospel of Christ it is also necessary to speak of the tragedy that awaits those who reject Jesus. Jesus frequently does this. The watchman must give a clear warning of the danger in order to rally a response.

Quite likely we have all experienced times when we have put a lot of time and effort into achieving a certain goal only to have it unravel and remain unrealised. That is a disappointing and deflating moment as we consider the wasted time, energy and effort. Multiply that thousands of times over and we will begin to understand the depths of anguish and futility that the one who has his expectation bound in this life will realise immediately after bodily death. There will be the realisation that his ambitions and everything he laboured for all have come to nothing, are of no value and his life wasted in futility. There will also be the gut wrenching moment of realisation that there is no second chance.

The Good News of the Gospel is that Jesus has provided a sure expectation that will not end in futility. The reason for Jesus coming was so that we might be saved from sin and its consequences. He is the Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world on Calvary’s cross. Jesus said that He came that we might have abundant life (John 10:10).

He also said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21). An attempted burglary next door, as this article is being composed, put these words into perspective.

Let us not treasure earthly temporal things but rather treasure those things that are eternal. Later in Proverbs eleven we read, “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise” (v 30). Christ’s mission is our mission, to seek those who are lost that He might save them. This will be eternal treasure from which there will be only everlasting joy.