Recently I spent some time in the USA with family and then returned home safely thank God. During my time there and since coming back on the " the rock", I spent some time reflecting on life and reading a lot. And perhaps more than anything else, an observation that I read just this morning in a meditation which I will share later, summed up my thoughts about life on this planet. " What a great description for our culture. It is in mist and darkness, groping about for direction".
In America, in Jamaica, in Russia, in Nigeria, in Pakistan, in China, in Iraq, in Iran, in Europe generally, all over the world, nations and cultures seem to be in darkness groping about for direction. Building nuclear material ostensibly for peaceful purposes but many are convinced that there are more sinister motives; trying to cope with the ravages of floods that killed so many and threaten many more with disease; fighting record high summer temperatures which have spawned fires and driven many to cool off in pools, and die because of drowning, having consumed too much alcohol; consumed with thoughts that the President of the free world is a Muslim and debating the wisdom of building a mosque so close to " ground zero"; eight persons killed in a single night of extreme violence and the society debates how to treat with the murderers.
In the midst of all of this I went on great adventure. Better than any movie or New York Times best seller. I retraced the steps of the chosen people of the God who declares that there is but one God, and no other. A God who made heaven and earth, and who chose the children of Israel as His own, not because there were in any way special, but because of the wickedness of the people around them - guilty of child sacrifices and the worship of idols.
" As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. The Lord said to him, ' Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation that they serve as slaves, and afterwards they will come out with great possessions. You however will go to your fathers in peace and be buried in a good old age. In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure." Genesis 15:12-16 NIV
"Know for certain", sums up the entire story of the children of Israel, and who later after the promised birth, death and resurrection of the Christ, the Messiah, would give birth to the early church, of which we are part. But that's to come. From the very beginning of this very special relationship of God with mankind, which would later, again through Christ, reveal His love for all mankind, there was no confusion or groping around for direction. From the very beginning God told Abram, later to called Abraham, after establishing a covenant with him and his descendants, the visible sign of which was circumcision, precisely what would happen, not just to the Jews in Egypt and the predicted return to the promised land after four hundred years, but for all of Abraham's children to this very day, who like him have gained righteousness by faith in God.
" Know for certain", sums up the instructions that God gave to his people that if they feared Him and obeyed Him, it would go well with them, and if not, there would be disaster.
" O that their hearts would be inclined to fear me, and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever". Deuteronomy 5:29 NIV
" Know for certain", was the revelation given to His people about Himself and how they were to live.
" Hear O Israel: The Lord our God is one. Love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and will all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down an when you get up...." Deut 6:4-7
" Know for certain", describes also the mercy and compassion of the Lord towards his
" stiff necked " and disobedient people.
" When you have entered the land the Lord is giving you as an inheritance.........Then you shall declare before the Lord your God: " My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down to Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, putting us to hard labor. Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with miraculous signs and wonders." Deut. 26:1-8 NIV
So from Abraham to Joseph, from Moses to Joshua, from Gideon to Samuel, from King David to
Elijah, from Elisha to King Zedekiah, from Genesis through to Chronicles, the story is the same. God calling His people to a holy life with promises of blessings if there were obedient and curses if not, but also promises of mercy for those who " cried out " to him and repented of their sins. And did they rebel against Him. And did they cry out to Him when they sinned and suffered. And did He not have compassion on them. Time and time again, until there was no "remedy" for their sins, and so He banished them into exile. But the God of Abraham and Isaac, and Jacob, whose " thoughts are not our thoughts and whose ways are not our ways", had indeed provided and promised a " remedy for the sins of His people, who try and they might, were not able, by their own strength, to overcome their (inherited from Adam) tendency to rebelliousness. Even though they were a " chosen people".
This is the story of the "new people of Israel", the New Testament, the New Covenant. How God in His mercy provided for the sins of the entire world in and through the death, resurrection and Ascension of Jesus Christ. That in Christ we have a righteousness that is by faith like Abraham; that in Christ we have been raised from death to a new life: that in Christ the entire world has been reconciled to God and does not have to be rebellious, or groping around seeking direction anymore. And the marked difference from the continuous rebelliousness of the
" old man" and the absolute commitment of Paul and Peter and Stephen and Timothy to obeying God in the face of much persecution, was and continues to be, the presence of the Holy Spirit of God - the promised "Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of the knowledge of God and of the fear of God" Isaiah 11:2 NIV
So the question is with a history of God's mighty working power and mercy, available to us, in and through His Word, why are we " in mist and darkness groping around for direction", when the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of Counsel and of power, and the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord is available to us, in and through Christ Jesus our Lord.
Why do we continue to kill our brothers and sisters, and rape our own mothers as was reported in the local press recently? Why do our leaders in many countries across the world betray our trust and believe they can escape justice? Why do we treat our own flesh with contempt and exploit their labour, leave them to wander about in poverty and abuse the vulnerable and the ignorant? Why do continue to abuse our environment, the creation of God, which too has been reconciled to God in Christ and then wonder about global warming and floods.
Why do we continue not to fear the " Living God" and still expect that it will go well with our children, our politics, our economy and our social arrangements? Who taught us this madness?
Which prophets led us astray? There is an answer in the book of Jeremiah which us leads into the meditation I read this morning.
" From the least to the greatest
all are greedy for gain,
prophets and priests alike,
all practice deceit.
They dress up the wounds of my people
as if were not serious.
Peace, peace, they say,
when there is no peace,
Are they ashamed of their loathsome conduct?
No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush.
So they will fall among the fallen;
they will be brought down when I punish them, says the Lord.
Jeremiah 6:12 NIV
The key thing about knowing in this "politically correct" world, when the God of Abraham has acted, is His " know this for certain". That what He promised will come to pass. So as Jesus came for our Redemption, as promised, so will the judgement come upon the earth for all who continue to ignore and mock the Living God. But so will His mercy attend those who repent. This is the essence of the great adventure on which I embarked recently and which I share with you across the world today. For the consideration of all who continue to live as if there is no God, no punishment, no mercy, no judgement; for the consideration of all who live a " lukewarm" Christian life, going to church irregularly, praying without believing, worshiping without fearing God, being disobedient to God whose instructions for holy living are explicit and whose minds have been influenced by the spirit of this age; for the consideration of the scoffers, the doubters, the " intellectuals", the skeptics and the persecutors of the church and those who actively oppose the gospel. But for the joy of the "remnant of God people", who in Christ Jesus have placed their trust in God, who fear the Living God, who love the Lord with all their heart, and who live out the Gospel of peace, so that others may come to know Christ.
Finally a meditation which places this adventure in context.
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Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped around, seeking someone to lead him by the hand. Acts 13:11
What a great description of our culture. It is in mist and darkness, groping about for direction. Paul had confronted a sorcerer and a false prophet, and his confrontation seemed very harsh - much harsher than a politically correct society would tolerate. Even so, his response was inspired by the Holy Spirit ( vs, 9). calling a deceiver " a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right" ( v.10) is apparently an authentic approach of a loving God. It may not fir our perceptions of God very well, but is does fit the revelation we've been given.
But while the initial declaration was harsh - Paul even declared blindness upon Elymas - the result put the sorcerer exactly where God wanted him: " seeking someone to lead him by the hand." And that's what God's judgment is still designed to do. It isn't to punish. That comes later, after all opportunities fro repentance have been rejected. No, this judgment is for redemption. It puts the deceivers and the deceived in the position of knowing their deception. They have to either acknowledge a need for God or continue in their blindness. It's a harsh judgment towards a merciful end.
This passage captures well a truth that we have a hard time understanding. It shows us on the one hand that god is violently, zealously opposed to sin, and on the other hand that the is always working redemption into the rebellion of this world.
The implications for us should be clear. We are to oppose sin and embrace sinners. We one wandered in mist and darkness ourselves, and God spoke the truth to us. He guided us out. There is nothing wrong with confronting a deceiver, but if that deceiver ends up aware of his confusion and blindness, e are to grab the hand that gropes about. We are to be available to others as God was available to us, leading convicted wanderers by the hand.
The real mark of a saint is that he makes it easier for others to believe in God - anonymous.
But pray God that all of us who fear God and love Jesus, and who but for the grace of God are no longer subject to His wrath, if we continue to live in and through Christ, that we too may, " make it easier for others to believe in God'. And so rescue people from groping about in darkness. And which is the essence of the message and ministry of reconciliation. Amen