Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Criticism of the Lord Jesus in Mark 2

I want to look at 4 questions posed by the Pharisees as they criticised the Lord Jesus in Mark chapter 2. Of course the Lord Jesus was criticised regularly by the Pharisees as they observed him and sought to discredit Him, trap Him and take Him. However in these confrontations there is much we can learn about the character of the Lord Jesus and apply to ourselves. The last two questions form a couple so there are 3 main points that I want to make from these thoughts, that will hopefully encourage us in our Christian lives as we make application.

Who can forgive sins but God only?

Found in verse 7 the Pharisees reason and murmur in their hearts, outraged at the 'blasphemy' from this Jesus of Nazareth! Of course, their question was accurate - only God can forgive sins, but they failed to appreciate that the man standing in their midst was God manifest in the flesh, their  Immanuel (God with us)! We are eternally grateful that we know a Saviour and a God who forgives sins, made possible through the work of Calvary. The point we realise here is that as God, He rewards FAITH with FORGIVENESS. Verse 5 says - "when Jesus saw their FAITH... Son, thy sins be forgiven thee." Praise God for the joy of sins forgiven! (Psa 32:1)

How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners?

Again the observation of the Pharisees was correct! We are ever thankful that our Saviour was known as the friend of publicans and sinners (Matt 11:9), all who came to him were never cast out, our Saviour was approachable and the common people heard him gladly (Mark 12:37). Here we learn that our Lord rewards FOLLOWERS with FELLOWSHIP. We see this in the preceding verses when he asks Levi the tax collector to follow Him, and then he is found sat at meat in Levi's house much to the consternation of the scribes and Pharisees! We thank God that we have a Saviour who not only FORGIVES but blesses us with His presence and FELLOWSHIP! (Matt 28:20, Matt 18:20)

Why do thy disciples fast not? Why do they on the sabbath that which is not lawful?

In verse 18 the criticism was about fasting, or depriving oneself of food. The Lord Jesus points out that his disciples (friends) had the Son of God in their presence, and they were enjoying their privileged position with their Lord, why should they fast? The Christian life is to be enjoyed, unfortunately sometimes we think it is a life of restriction or denial! We have so many spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph 1:3) our life should be one of Christian liberty, free from the power and dominion of sin (that can so easily beset us! Heb 12:1)
In verse 24 the question also was concerning food and restrictions! This was characteristic of the Pharisees who thought that such empty ritual legality made them right with God, whereas their hearts were far from Him. In these two criticisms we learn that God also rewards FRIENDS with FOOD. The Lord Jesus wants to see us happy and growing as believers! He doesn't want us to be weighed down with restrictions and denial but rather to be feeding on the Word (lots of scriptures for this) and to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Pet 3:18) Our Saviour can meet all our need (Heb 4:16) and desires to feed us and sustain us through our lives, what a wonderful Saviour He is!

Yours in Him,

Wednesday, 8 April 2020

Coronavirus and the Tribulation?

Introduction – A warning against false prophets!

Lots of crazy theories are circulating at the moment regarding the Coronavirus and some people are telling us that this proves that we are going through the Tribulation period, and that we can see the Mark of the Beast coming (connected to a microchip implant or something) and the Judgement of God currently starting to be poured out upon the world. I believe this is incorrect and in this short article I hope to lay out why I believe this is not the case and encourage my fellow Christians.

1 John 4:1 tells us “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test (try or prove) the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” Caution must be exercised! We should not believe everything we are told by people who are usually either very eccentric or very confused people (sometimes professing believers) who are only contributing to the confusion and current crisis with their false teaching.

All the way back in Deuteronomy 13:1-3 the people of God were told to be very cautious about prophets, particularly those telling them things which did not marry up with previous God-revealed teaching and principals. We also see in Deut 18 that the acid test of any prophet was if the thing prophesied actually came to pass or not. If not, then they were clearly false and not of God. We can see this principle with Micaiah the prophet in 1 Kings 22:28. A lot of these scaremongers are asking us to forsake our Bible teaching and believe them despite these ideas being contrary (I believe) to well-established Biblical principles and truth. Ultimately have not been proven to be correct, neither will they!

Let’s remember that many theories and claims regarding future events and prophecy have come and gone, there is nothing new under the sun regarding this. We can all remember hype surrounding Identity Cards, EU Passports, Photo Driving Licenses, the ‘millennium bug’, previous financial crises, epidemics, natural disasters and military conflicts etc… all things proclaimed to be the ‘End of the World’ or ‘Apocalyptic’ type events.

Therefore, the scriptures are teaching us to be cautious and if we hold these new claims up to the light of the rest of scripture and see them in the correct context, we will realise that these things cannot be so. Acts 17:11 gives us the example to follow as the Berean believers searched the scriptures daily to see ‘whether these things were so’.

A Simple but Sound Starting Point

We must have a sound framework in which to view future events and a simple but firm understanding of the bigger picture as found in the Bible.

Right at the outset we stand by the simple yet firm conviction that the next prophetic event we are going to see as revealed in the Bible is what is known as the ‘Rapture’ or ‘snatching away’ of all believers in the Lord Jesus Christ from the earth. We see this promised by the Lord himself in John 14 (“If I go I will come again and receive you unto myself, that where I am there ye may be also”) and the details further given in 1 Thess 4. Both passages incidentally are recorded in the context of comforting the believers! I think that is quite important as this truth is something that should encourage and comfort us not cause us to be worried about future events.

Critically therefore, the rest of the prophetic calendar - events such as the Great Tribulation, the appearance of the Man of Sin (or the Beast) and also the seal, trumpet and bowl judgements that are poured out by God upon the world, will all occur AFTER the Church is taken out of the world.

I firmly believe that “God has not appointed us (the Church) for wrath” (1 Thess 5:9) but rather for glory! Romans 5 says “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God… since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation.” Later on in this epistle we will read “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”(chapter 8:1) I would judge this to be a simple promise of God, we will NEVER fall under his condemnation, his wrath or judgement. If this were true, surely it would take away from God’s ‘so great’ salvation and the work of Christ on the cross!

In short, the Church will NOT be here for the terrible times that will befall the earth as prophesied in Revelations (and other passages).

A Right Understanding of Revelation

Let us just briefly understand something about Revelation as it is this book that people are misunderstanding and misappropriating when spreading their conspiracy theories…

At the beginning the Apostle John is told by the angel “Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this.” There are clearly 3 groups of events mentioned here and I believe they form the framework and outline to this book.

Things that you have seen – this is HISTORY and refer to the first 2 chapters of Revelation as these are events which are past (Church history if you like)

Things that are – this is PRESENT and can be seen in the third chapter of Revelation where the churches Sardis and Laodicea are presented to us, both speaking of the Church in present times. We read about ‘strengthening the things that remain’ (an instruction for us today), we also read about the warning to the Laodiceans in a materialistic consumer age and we read about the Lord coming quickly. All pertinent and relevant points for us today.

Things that are to take place thereafter – this is all FUTURE and refers to the remaining chapters of Revelation. The key phrase is in verse 1 where the angel says to John “Come up here” and John is transported into Heaven to see the remaining visions and events from God’s perspective. This is very much a picture of the rapture, and everything therefore that follows is prophecy that will be fulfilled AFTER believers are caught up to Heaven to be with the Lord. The fact that the final chapter of Revelation has the phrase “I come quickly” repeated 3x is very telling, and we should take note!

Pictures that Prove a Point

Here are 3 simple ways the Church is referred to in the New Testament, and each of them reinforce the idea that we will NOT be subject to God’s judgements upon the earth, neither will we be on Earth to see those future events unfold. With each of these well-known pictures we can ask ourselves – “with this in mind, do we believe that God would subject us to the Tribulation?”

The Church as the Bride of Christ

The scriptures tell us; “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it”. The beautiful relationship between us and our Saviour is described as that of a bride and her bridegroom who clearly has a deep and unconditional love for his bride. We must then ask ourselves, if this is clearly the relationship presented to us in the New Testament, would the Lord Jesus subject his bride, the love of his life that he sacrificed himself for so we could be saved, to wrath and judgement? This is inconsistent with what we know to be true and supported by the Word of God.

The Church as His Flock

This is also a lovely picture, found throughout the Bible from Psalm 23 to Luke 10. The Lord Jesus is the Good Shepherd who gives his life for the sheep, he loves us and cares for us and sought us when we were lost and in danger of destruction! No one can pluck us from his hand. If this is so, why would he subject his flock, who so need his love, care and protection to God-sent wrath and judgement? This is inconsistent with what we know to be true and supported by the Word of God.

The Church as His Body

1 Corinthians 12 makes it clear that we as believers are the body of Christ, a truth also mentioned and supported by passages in Ephesians 4 and 5, and Colossians 1:24. If the Church is the body of Christ, then once again why would God pour out judgement and wrath upon the body of His blessed Son again? Christ has suffered ONCE, his suffering accomplished salvation and blessing at Calvary and that work is done, finished and perfect. It is therefore inconceivable to think that his blood-bought saints (His Body in picture form) would be subject to the wrath and judgement of God. We have been saved FROM this! This too, is inconsistent with what we know to be true and supported by the Word of God.

A Quick Proviso

With all this said however, the scriptures do make it clear that we will be able to see and feel signs of those last days drawing close… For example 2 Peter 3 speaks about the last days and some of the signs we will be able to see, as does the Lord Jesus himself in Matthew 24 where he speaks about that list of troublesome signs being ‘birth pangs’, the picture being of a precursor to end times and that the rapture therefore must surely be close!

What should we be doing?

So, in conclusion let us think positively and ask ourselves what we as Christians should be doing in the present situation.

Waiting and Watching

2 Pet 3, Rev 1:3 and Titus 2:13 all speak about believers as waiting and watching in hope, expectation and obedience for the appearing of the Lord Jesus from Heaven. 1 Thess 1:10 says we are to “…wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.” Take note of the last phrase of this verse! Remember that we have a heavenly hope (Col 1:5) and the comfort and reassurance of a soon returning Saviour! (John 14, 1 Thess 4, Rev 22)

Working and Witnessing

We are exhorted to live godly and holy lives, busy in the Lord’s service especially considering future events (2 Pet 3:11). We have a Master to serve with reward in view - the Judgement Seat of Christ occurs after the rapture where believers will stand before Christ and our service will be reviewed, and reward given. We have plenty of scriptural support for this (2 Cor 5, Rom 14, 1 Cor 3 to name 3 main passages) We must remember that right now there is a gospel to preach, a Saviour to worship and fellow believers to help! We must be faithful and diligent in these things as the Lord Jesus is coming soon.

Not Worrying (about the Tribulation) but Resting in the Word!

This is easier said then done of course as these are troubling times, but I believe we as believers have been given the Word of God to rest in and to be reassured by, not threatened or worried by it! We must remember what we know about our God, he is sovereign and in control, and although we will have ‘troubles’ in this world and we are certainly not immune from persecution, suffering and hardship (in fact God’s Word prepares us for this!), God has not appointed us for His wrath and judgement but rather for blessing and glory. Let us encourage ourselves with the words of comfort concerning the future and prospect for the believer! God’s holy wrath and judgement is only ever reserved against an unrepentant world that has rejected Him.

A Word for the Unsaved…

Of course, the unrepentant sinner is in a very different position and should repent (see their sin as God sees it and turn away from it!) and trust Christ for their own eternal salvation. This is salvation from the wrath to come as mentioned previously (1 Thess 1:10 and Rom 5:9). 2 Peter 3:8-9 states the solemn warning; “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” We are still living in the day of grace, the ‘accepted time’ when mankind can respond to God’s mercy and grace and be saved!

“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” John 3:36

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” John 5:24

“Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” 2 Cor 6:2

1 Kings 19: Elijah and God

I was listening to a podcast the other day which was speaking about 1 Kings 19 and it reminded me of how very relevant this passage is to ou...