Archive for March, 2018|Monthly archive page

The lamb and the lion

The Book of Revelation paints a marvellous picture of Jesus as both the lamb of God and the lion of Judah – lamb and lion.

As we celebrate Easter, we rightly spend time contemplating Christ as the lamb who gave his life for us.

Yet Christ is also the lion of Judah – containing within himself tremendous power which he will use as judge and leader of the forces of heaven in the war against the evil one and his followers.

The two aspects of Christ are both essential to God’s loving plan for his children.

I love the way the apostle John sketches this image in Revelation 5.

In his vision, John hears an angel ask who is worthy to open a scroll in the hands of God the Father.  When no one steps forward, John weeps.

Then, an elder tells John: “Stop weeping!  Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the heir to David’s throne, has won the victory.  He is worthy to open the scroll and its seven seals.”

You would expect to see a great and awesome figure step forward, huge and daunting.

But John continues: “I saw a Lamb that looked as if it had been slaughtered . . .”

It is Christ the sacrifice who stands before the throne and everyone in heaven and earth breaks forth in song, exalting him and worshiping him.  How awesome that will be!

It is because Jesus died for us that he has the right to open the scroll and the seven seals of judgement against the forces of darkness.

And if Jesus had not died for us, we would all be condemned to eternal death.  No one would be spared because no one would have turned to Jesus as saviour.  But thankfully hundreds of millions – perhaps even billions – have taken the step of faith in Christ.

The symbol of the lamb is an image of gentleness and humility and sacrifice.  As the apostle Paul says in Philippians 2, Jesus gave up his position of power and glory in heaven to descend to earth in the form of man, humbling himself and becoming “obedient to death – even death on a cross”.

That act won Jesus the victory over death and Satan – a victory which enables us to enjoy eternal fellowship with God.

Still to come is the final eradication of the forces of evil by the Lion of Judah.  Once that is accomplished, there will be no more tears, no more evil – instead, everlasting joy with God.

Humility and righteousness, love and power – we have a great God and saviour.

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Through a glass darkly

I love the Bible – it tells me so much about Jesus, ourselves as human beings, and God’s ultimate plan for humankind.

But I also love the apostle Paul’s words that, in essence, we ain’t seen nothin’ yet.  We will be amazed at the wonders of God when we see him face-to-face.  And we will understand fully the mysteries about our own lives and God’s great plan for the world.

Paul’s words come in 1 Corinthians 13 – the great chapter about God’s love.  In it, he is speaking about the culmination of all things when we see Jesus.

“Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror,” he writes in verse 12, “then we shall see face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

God knows me fully – everything about me – my thoughts, my actions.  But I only have an incomplete knowledge of him.  There is much more for me to learn and to enjoy.

We get glimpses in the Bible as to what is to come.

The apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5 that we will have new bodies in the life to come.  In Revelation 21:4, we read that God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain”.

The prophet Isaiah writes in Isaiah 11 that in the life to come, the wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with goat, the calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion, and a little child will lead them all.

That’s a picture of peace and contentment and harmony – quite unlike the world in which we live.

We are promised in Revelation that there will be a new heaven and a new earth when Christ returns.

In his book Forever, Paul David Tripp encourages us to look forward to our coming lives with Christ where we will find joy and the perfection we will never see on earth.

Tripp, a seminary professor and counsellor, says that many of our problems can be traced to unrealistic expectations in this life.  We expect too much from our spouses, our children, our friends and our jobs – and our churches.

As believers, we can count on God’s overwhelming love for us – flawed as we are.  He sees Christ who died for us – not our sins and mistakes.

There will come a time when we can shout for joy in the presence of Christ – and understand the mysteries that puzzle us in this world.

Why me?

Why me?

That’s a question we sometimes ask ourselves – and God – when we suffer.

There is a feeling that we – or our suffering loved ones – don’t deserve the trouble we are going through.

Unconsciously perhaps, we may feel that God should prevent trouble in our lives.

Yet, as I look at the great Bible characters, none of them managed to get through life without suffering.  And Christ told his followers that they must expect trouble and persecution.

So, what’s the good of suffering?

I believe God permits pain and suffering as part of a greater plan for us and for the broader world.  But often that plan is not at all clear to us.

Ultimately, it was clear to Joseph, son of Jacob, in the Old Testament.

His story, described in Genesis 37-51, is one of unremitting trouble.

His brothers sold him into slavery because they hated him.  His slave-owning Egyptian master put him in charge of his household because he was so trustworthy.

His master’s wife falsely accused him of attempted rape and he was jailed for years.  Yet he was again so outstanding and wise that he was made responsible for everything in the prison.

God had given him the gift of interpreting dreams and he was freed by the Egyptian Pharaoh after he interpreted that monarch’s frightening dream.  He was then made second-most-powerful man in the country.

As a speaker at our church pointed out, the Bible says God “was with him” throughout.

When his brothers came to Egypt for food during a famine, he revealed himself to them.  They were terrified because they expected him to exact revenge.

Instead, Joseph told them not to be angry with themselves because “God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance”.  The brothers had meant to hurt Joseph but God used it for good.

On the other hand, God never revealed to Job why that Old Testament patriarch lost his entire family and endured terrible bodily pain.  Job questioned why God would allow this in his life and the Lord made clear to him that he – God – was in control of all things and his thoughts and plans were far higher than any human being’s.

I am convinced that the apostle Paul is right when he says in Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

The man who said those words was beaten, stoned, imprisoned and ultimately executed for his faith.  But, as a follower of Christ, he shook the world – for good.

I must always remember Paul’s words when the thought “Why me?” leaps into my mind.

Inheritance

My wife and I are learning that much of what we have we don’t need.

We are downsizing from a house to a smaller condominium.  We are forced to give up a lot of things we have collected – and sometimes prized – over a lifetime.

Which brings me to what is really important in life – Jesus.

The words from Psalm 16:5 caught my eye last night: “Lord, you alone are my inheritance, my cup of blessing.”

David, writer of Psalm 16, is saying that the greatest gift and treasure he has is God himself.

This is a strong reminder to me that my focus is often on the wrong things – achieving and collecting and, even, hoarding.

Like many people, I was driven to achieve a measure of success in the eyes of others through much of my life.  As well, I love books – old and new – and acquired many over my nearly eight decades of life.

There is nothing wrong with either of those activities.  They only become a problem when they tend to block out of my sight my real treasure – the Lord himself.

In a sense, God is prompting me to release my iron grip on things of this world.

This brings me to Jesus’ great parable in Luke 12 of the man who built giant storehouses for his bumper crop of grain.  Jesus was responding to a request by a man to order the man’s brother to share his inheritance.

Jesus refused to judge their dispute.  Instead, he warned them against greed, telling them the story of the rich man who decided to build bigger storehouses for his grain.

The rich man then told himself: “My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come.  Now take it easy!  Eat, drink and be merry!”

Then, God told the man: “You fool!  You will die this very night.  Then who will get everything you worked for?”

Jesus finished with this punchline in Luke 12: “Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.”

A “rich relationship with God” will stand me in far better stead than all my books and other possessions.

The Lord is my treasure and inheritance and will be throughout eternity.

Compelling

When I think of Billy Graham, a word leaps to my mind – “compelling”.

When I listened to him, I was drawn irresistibly to Jesus. This quality he shared with other great followers of Christ.

This is more than passion or great speaking skills.  It is speech pouring out of a heart that is resting on the rock of truth.

He knew Jesus heart-to-heart, he trusted him, he loved him, and he wanted others to know him as he knew him.

My wife and I attended a Billy Graham crusade in Ottawa in 1998 towards the end of his career preaching to mass meetings.

Gone was the fiery passion of his younger days.  Instead, here was an old man, filled with wisdom, appealing winsomely with a loving heart to the many thousands filling a large professional hockey stadium.

He was compelling.

People poured down to the stadium floor to receive prayer and counselling – many to enter the family of God for the first time.

Certainly, there was a lot of work behind the scenes.  Churches organized prayer before hand; a mass choir was trained; people invited friends; ushers helped welcome attendees and so on.

But I believe the crusade would have had a far smaller effect if it had not been for the genuine love of Christ that Graham exuded that evening.

Graham was not perfect – other than Jesus, no one has ever been perfect.  Some, inside and outside the church, have criticized him.

But, like the apostle Paul, he could say: “For me, to live is Christ.”

The impression I gained was of a man who enjoyed God and was humble at heart.

For me, those inner qualities stand out.

They are what mark great men and women of the Bible and of Christian history.

And they mark people who may not be famous in our world, but are beacons of light in God’s eyes.