Wednesday, November 25, 2015

ABRAHAM: Three Kings


“Now when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his three hundred and eighteen trained servants who were born in his own house, and went in pursuit as far as Dan’” Genesis 14:14.


We have already seen Abram rescue his nephew Lot. Lot had been captured by a confederacy of kings led by Chedorlaomer. But Abram and 318 of his own men went and defeated Chedorlaomer. We should note also Abram had three allies go with him, viz., Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre, (Genesis 14:13 & 24). These three men were no doubt heads of related clans, related to each other, but not Abram. However, important to the story, they had some kind of covenant relationship with Abram. So, we need to set the scene, don’t we?

Chedorlaomer invaded the plain of Jordan to put down a rebellion against him. But Abram and a few men pursued his army. So Abram, under cover of darkness, defeated Chedorlaomer’s retreating army. And now Abram has returned with all the goods that Chedorlaomer had carted off. He’s also brought back Lot and his goods as well as the women and the people (Genesis 14:16).

So, we meet Abram at the Valley of Shaveh, or, as it is called in Genesis 14:17, “the King’s Valley.” We get the impression that Abram and his men are encamped there, though we’re not told. But we are told that the king of Sodom went out to meet him Genesis 14:17. And we’re also told that the king of Salem brought out bread and wine to him. So, kings came out to honor the victorious Abram when he was at the King’s Valley. And the crux of our story, as one commentator puts it, is the faith or failure of one man: Abram.

As you know, there’s more to being a Christian than meets the eye. That oft quoted verse: “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood...” speaks volumes. There are invisible forces at work on earth, and I’m not talking about gravity and such like. I’m talking about forces for good and forces for evil, forces of light and forces of darkness. We’re thankful Christ has power and authority over all forces. However, each human being is responsible for his or her own actions.

In the following we’ll keep one eye on Abram and the other on what’s going on behind the scenes. Let’s see how the Christian of the Christians handles this situation. Let’s see how he handles wrestling against principalities, powers, rulers of the darkness and spiritual host in heavenly places.

Abram, as you know, is the father of the faithful, even you and me. And you know as well as me the certain temptations that come before us. So let’s see what we can learn from Abram our father in Christ. Whereas the king of Sodom is about to tempt Abram to failure, the king of Salem encourages Abram to keep the faith.

The general gist of what we’re looking at is: There’s an exceedingly great reward for those who keep the faith.

The First King

“The king of Sodom went out to meet him...” Genesis 14:17. We take it that this is the same king of Sodom whom Chedorlaomer defeated. So we take it that he wasn’t one of those who fell in the asphalt or tar pits mentioned back in Genesis 14:10. So here he is coming out to meet Abram. But notice that he’s carrying something. However, you won’t see it with the naked eye. It’s invisible. But there he is placing it right in front of Abram’s feet. It’s a stumbling block. Have you ever noticed that you never see a stumbling block? That’s how come you stumble over it!

In Portsmouth in the south of England they have Admiral Nelson’s ship the Victory. And on the wooden deck of the ship is a polished brass plaque with words to this affect: “This is the spot where Admiral Nelson fell.” There’s always some joker who reads it and says, “No wonder he fell, I nearly tripped over it myself!” We read the inscription on the stumbling block the king of Sodom place before Abram in Genesis 14:21. It reads, “Give me the persons and take the goods for yourself.” What a contrast this is to the second king who came out and blessed Abram and Abram’s God! One cared about who Abram was. The other cared about what Abram had.

So first off we need to look at who it is who is saying this to Abram. This is the king of Sodom. He is the king of the Sodomites. Now then, in light of what we know about Sodom, Do you think this king ruled his kingdom well? What does Genesis 13:13 say about his kingdom? “The men of Sodom were exceedingly wicked and sinful against the LORD.” The LORD had already brought judgment upon them by having another nation cart them off. And here’s something that is most overlooked today: A society in which immorality abounds is already under the judgment of God!

We hear some Christians say, “Oh America better watch out or God will judge it!” Or, “Australia better hurry up and mend her ways or God’s going to judge her!” Don’t people read their Bibles anymore? Haven’t they read that God’s judgment IS the moral decay of your society? Judgment is when the rulers of the nation cannot be trusted because they lie! It’s when God is replaced by Mammon! It’s when the creature is worshipped instead of the Creator!

God’s judgment is when sin is permitted to flourish in the streets of a nation! It’s when abortion is given on demand! It’s when fornicatory relationships are accepted as marriages! It’s when adultery is laughed at! It’s when homosexual acts are accepted as normal behaviour! It’s when people are encouraged to abuse their bodies with drugs – free needles! We thank the Lord through Jesus Christ we’ve escaped from these things. For this is judgment!

How can I say that this and such like is the judgment of God? Well, this I know because the Bible tells me so! Romans 1:24-27, “Therefore God also gave them up to uncleaness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.” It’s a judgment of God to have Him give up on you! It’s to receive the due penalty for your error.

And Christians have got nothing to crow about, for we are saved solely by the grace of God! If you’re going to boast about something make sure it’s about the grace of God towards sinners such as yourself. As Christians we ought to be thankful our judgment was poured out on Jesus Christ and not us!

But let it be known that the moral disintegration of any society IS the judgment of God! And we know from the Epistle of Jude 1:7 that Sodom and Gomorrah “are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance [or punishment] of eternal fire.” The fire and the brimstone that God poured out on Sodom and Gomorrah was simply an intensification of the judgment that had already begun! So, in our text we see a king, the ruler, the leading Sodomite, come out to Abram and say, Gimme! Keep the goods, but gimme the people.”

We’re told back in Genesis 14:11 that Sodom had been relieved off all its goods. Now the wealth of the nation or city is in the hands of Abram. So on the surface this looks like a generous offer this first king is making Abram. “Here’s your reward Abram – all the goods of Sodom.” It would have been easy enough, I would think, to hand over the people. What would Abram want with a bunch of depraved and debauched people? Who would want them?  Well, the king of Sodom wants them! A king may survive without his goods but he cannot survive without his people.

King Robert the Bruce of Scotland ended up in a cave all alone with only a spider for company. But when the people got behind him by the grace of God he defeated a nation with a number ten times larger! But when God gives up on your nation it becomes nothing more than chaff for the fire. The king of Sodom, under the invisible direction of Satan was, as it were, placing a brief case with an unexploded bomb in it at the feet of Abram.

There used to be a game show on the TV in Scotland in which the contestant could either take the money or open the box. Some of the audience would yell, “Take the money!” others “Open the box!” The idea was that there might be an even greater prize in the box. Sometimes they would turn down huge sums of money to open the box. Only to find it empty! The king of Sodom is asking Abram the same question: Take the money or open the box?

The Bible says the just shall live by faith, Romans 1:17. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” The devil says, “Take the money!” But the Lord says, “Open the box! There’s an exceedingly great reward in it for you!”

Abram, it’s make your mind up time. What’s it going to be? Take the money or open the box? So what did Abram do? Genesis 14:22, “But Abram said to the king of Sodom, ‘I have lifted my hand to the LORD, God Most High, the Possessor of heaven and earth, that I will take nothing from a thread a sandal strap, and that I will not take anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’”

In America they swear allegiance to a flag! Abram has sworn allegiance to the LORD. And we see that Abram’s faith in the Lord was strong at this point. It was as if he had heard the words of Jesus, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to you.” Matthew 6:33. So Abram opted, as it were, to open the box. That’s faith. He let the king of Sodom have the people and all the goods.

But only after he had given that portion to the LORD we call a “tithe” i.e., a tenth. And he also made the stipulation that Aner, Eshcol and Mamre could take what they wanted. For he had made a covenant of sorts with them. So who was the person to whom he gave a tithe?

The Second King

Genesis 14:18, “Then Melchizedek the king of Salem brought out bread and wine...” The king of Salem came to Abram to strengthen him – to encourage him in the faith. In the light of the rest of Scripture, i.e., Redemptive History, you can’t help but see more than a hint of the Lord’s Supper here! Bread and wine is a picture of the bountiful blessings of the Lord. Bread and wine represent the fruit of the earth. In the Lord’s Supper they are a picture of Christ body and His blood – the body that was broken and the blood that was shed when He rescued us from the enemy and redeemed us. Has not Abram rescued Lot his brother in Christ from the enemy?

O I know that some of the commentators say that there’s no connection between the bread and wine here with the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper! However, you’ll see the connection if you view Abram rescuing Lot as a type of Christ rescuing His people For this whole passage before us has many pictures of Christ in it. In fact not a few claim that Melchizedek IS Christ – so clear is the picture of Christ in him. I used to have an inclination towards thinking Melchizedek was the preincarnate Christ I used to think that perhaps he was the Second Person of the Trinity, i.e., the Angel of the Covenant.

We’re told in Hebrews 7:3 that Melchizedek was, “Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life...”  It almost sounds as if Melchizedek could be the preincarnate Christ. But if you read to the end of the verse in Hebrews 7: 3 you see he was “made like the Son of God.” So Melchizedek is not the Son of God, the Word, the Logos. But we are told that he is LIKE Him! Therefore we should be able to see Christ clearly in this man!

Does Christ not bring out bread and wine to strengthen battle-weary Christians? Does Christ not bless His people – the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart and so forth? Melchizedek is the king of Salem. Salem is the short form of Jeru-SALEM! And Salem like “shalom” means “peace.” Is Christ not named the “Prince of Peace” by Isaiah in 9:6? Is His dwelling place not the “Jerusalem above of Galatians 4:26?

The name Melchizedek means, “king of righteousness” Is Christ not THE King of Righteousness? We’re told in Genesis 14:18 that Melchizedek was also “The priest of the God Most High.” In Heb. 7:15 Christ is called a priest “ the likeness of Melchizedek...” Christ is therefore like Melchizedek. Melchizedek is like Christ – he is the one who represented Christ. And don’t we bring our tithes to Christ our High Priest, just as Abram gave a tenth of all he had to the one like Christ?

So this second king is not the preincarnate or preexistent Christ. He is only like Him. But neither is Melchizedek Shem as some have argued. For Shem has a mother and a father whose name is recorded in Scripture, even Noah. No, Melchizedek is a mysterious character only because we’re not given very much information in Scripture about him. But he came out to encourage and strengthen Abram in the LORD. And paradoxically, are Christians not at their weakest right after their moments of victory? The devil sent his henchman, his underling, the king of Sodom!

Abraham is victorious at this point in time. Don’t we tend to think that maybe we gained the victory in our own strength? Pride sets in when we accomplish something – especially when we do an excellent job! Perhaps you get 100% in some exam! Or you do a real good job of showing the Mormons or the JWs the error of their ways! An example of this for me was the time Martin Lloyd-Jones or maybe it was Spurgeon was approached by someone after a Sunday Worship Service. “That was the best sermon I’ve ever heard! It was brilliant!” said the person. “I know!” replied Lloyd-Jones or was it Spurgeon. “You know?” said the person. “Yes I know because the devil has already told me!” And so it would be for Abram after his brilliant victory!

But what does the second king, king Melchizedek, say to Abram? He blesses Abram reminding him of who his God is, i.e., “Possessor of heaven and earth.” “Abram, you think you’ve got a lot of goods. Your God owns heaven and earth!” And look what he says to Abram in Genesis 14:20, “And blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand.”

It was the Lord who gave Abram the victory. But everything about this mysterious man was encouraging to Abram. To sum it up in a word, everything about Melchizedek says, “Abram, keep the faith!” This of course was a complete contrast to the first king who said, “Abram, keep the goods!” So Abram gave the king of Salem a tenth. The rest he gave to Aner, Eschol and Mamre. Not forgetting the king of Sodom himself. So what did this leave Abram with?

The Third King

Now, I don’t want to elaborate too much on this at the moment, we can do that up ahead. But I do want you to see something that is generally overlooked. I want you to connect what we’ve just looked at with Genesis 15:1, “After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.’”

God Most High communicated with Abram through a vision. Whether Abram is still at the King’s Valley we’re not told. How long after the victory? Again we’re not told. But we are told “the word of the Lord” came to Abram. Who or what was this “word of the LORD”? Well, we’re told that He is Abram’s “shield.” Apparently a good case can be made for translating the word “shield” as “sovereign. “ Be that as it may, the One who came to Abram in this vision is the One who watches over him. He is the One who protects him and covers him as would a shield.

I’ve given this Person the title King because I believe this to be the One who would become the King of Kings and Lord of Lords i.e., Christ. Melchizedek was LIKE the Son of God, but this IS the Son of God! This is the Word who was going to become flesh! This is the One who was going to come and have His body broken and His blood shed for us. This is the One who was going to come and rescue us from our captivity to the enemy. This is the One who told Abram to get out of his country, from his kindred, from his father’s house. This is the One who is the covering or shield, protecting. Abram and all Abram’s children of faith from their sins!

Now then, surely it’s clear to us by now that Abram doesn’t worship any of the things the world has on offer. He’s a wealthy man, nothing wrong with that. But he doesn’t drive around in a flash car with the bumper sticker which reads, The one who dies with the most toys wins! No! He’s much more like the person singing in the 8th century Irish hymn, Be Thou My Vision:

Riches I need not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine inheritance, now and always;
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart
High King of heaven, my treasure Thou art.

The writer of that hymn must have read the words in Genesis 15:1, “I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.” There is an exceedingly great reward for all those who honor the Lord. Abram honored the Lord by giving Melchizedek a tenth of all! He gave all the rest of the goods away! “High King of heaven, my treasure Thou art!”

Now, it’s true that the words “I’m...your exceedingly great reward” may be rendered as you see in the margin, “your reward shall be great.” But if you keep in mind what Jesus says about Abram you won’t go too far wrong. Jesus said, “Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad” John 8:56.

Abram knew his exceedingly great reward was coming because he could see the coming of Christ For Paul tells us in Galatians 3:8 that the Gospel was preached to Abram! And what’s the Gospel all about if it’s not the revelation of Jesus Christ? – the Christ that we can see so clearly in this passage?


The first king we looked at was the king of Sodom. He brought a stumbling block and placed it before Abram. He was used by the devil to tempt Abram to failure. But Abram kept the faith!

The second king was the king of Salem. He reminded Abram of Christ in the things he brought and the things he said. He encouraged Abram to keep the faith.

And the third King? Well, He was the King of Kings Himself! He was Abram’s shield – his exceedingly great reward! He was the object of Abram’s faith. So always keep in mind that there’s an exceedingly great reward for those who keep the faith. Don’t let the things of the world distract you from keeping your eyes on your reward.

Don’t let anyone, not even a king, stop you from looking at the object of your faith – Jesus Christ.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Political Correctness Extremism (PCE)

I would like to address, albeit briefly, the idea of Political Correctness (PC). To be sure, there no doubt have been some benefits from this movement. I won’t try to list any of those benefits here lest we, to use a mixed metaphor, get side-tracked with red-herrings.

The idea of PC I’d like to address is that of what I shall call Political Correctness Extremism (PCE). PCE is a tool, nay, a weapon used by Progressives, if not to silence any opposition to their utopian dreams for society, at least to put that opposition on the defensive. In other words, PCE is a full frontal attack on all honest discussion of any social issue. And so it has become, that to oppose the Progressive view on any subject is to declare oneself to be immoral, cruel, greedy, intolerant and (fill in all the usual prefixes) phobic etc., etc., etc..  

The Parable of the Good Samaritan might be useful to illustrate how the Progressives use the old “bait and switch” tactic to further their political ends. Jesus told the Good Samaritan parable to answer the question, “Who is my neighbour?” “In reply Jesus said: ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.’” Luke 10:29b-30. The Good Samaritan really went out of his way to help the wounded man.

However, to the Progressive mind fixated on his/her version of cultural utopia it is not the half dead man who needs most help, it’s the robbers who nearly killed him! And so the narrative becomes about how society has failed these people that they should need to resort to robbery. If only society had looked after them they wouldn’t have needed to resort to such desperate measures! These robbers no doubt were raised in a low socio-economic backwater with no opportunities. However, those who wish to talk about the actual issue, (i.e., that of an innocent man being robbed and sadistically beaten near to death) are shouted down as not caring about the terrible society that caused these poor underprivileged people to become robbers in the first place.

PCE has a narrative attached to it: Socialism. Like a square peg in a round hole Socialism does not fit into Western Civilization or what used to be called Christendom. To be sure, with a lot of hammering, a square peg may be forced into a round hole – but the end result looks ugly! The Progressive narrative is about driving home that square peg – regardless. Therefore, things that made the West great such as those Biblical teachings such as Capitalism, Banking, Private Property, Free Speech etc., become points of friction as the square peg is hammered home. Thus PCE works hard to put those things that the West was won by in a bad light – shady! So, instead of lifting the half dead man out of the gutter and helping him to get on his feet, the story becomes about socially engineering a society in which people will not have to become robbers.

In this world, i.e., the world of Political Correctness Extremism (PCE), those who are brave enough, for example, to talk about punishing robbers are viewed as callous. Rehabilitation is the new order of the day. Murderous robbers are now the victims and the person beaten and robbed of his money was a Capitalist who, quite frankly, deserved everything he got!

All of this might sound a bit over the top rhetoric to some more moderate Progressives. However, one only has to consider the recent events that took place in Paris to see the truth of what I say. The story is not about destroying ISIS and/or bringing justice to its members, i.e., punishment. Rather, thanks to PCE it is about everyday people in the West being lectured to by Progressives and called bigots, racists, phobics for daring to call ISIS Islamic! Thus, the injured, instead of having their wounds bandaged, are further beaten-up! ISIS attacks us physically and PCE Progressivism attacks us verbally. Either way, attacked from within and attacked from without the West is doomed. The story has become all about the attackers having their pound of flesh, their utopia.

Islamism is the square peg. Progressivism is the hammer. The West is the round hole. Please stop hammering. You’re hurting us, nay, you’re destroying us!          

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Children & Pets

Children & Pets

It is well-known that actors tend to avoid working alongside children and/or animals lest they be upstaged! Children and pets have a habit of being cute! Some people treat their pets like children. There is a pet mentioned in the Bible, albeit in a parable, whereby a poor owner of a single lamb that ‘was like a daughter to him’ was taken from him by a very rich man who owned many flocks. This story was used by Nathan to illustrate the wrong that King David did when he committed adultery with Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12).

My twin adult daughters were taking a very lost but also very cute little dog to deposit it at the local vet’s when they pulled up alongside a distraught looking lady on the street. ‘Did you lose a little dog?’ ‘O Lizzie!’ she replied as she saw her dog in their car. She wept as she hugged and kissed my twins and then cradled her little doggie in her arms. We can become so attached to our pets!

Dorothy and I wept audibly and shed painful tears when we had to have wee Jamie our sixteen year old silky terrier put down. He was blind, deaf and incontinent. Afterwards, I buried him in our backyard with his favourite stuffed toy between his front paws, his little kangaroo. I planted a tree over his grave. I got the guilts when my father died soon after. I grieved more for my wee Jamie than for my dad!

Two of my favourite theologians differ as to whether Christians will see their pets in Heaven. Both agree that there will be animals on the renewed earth, but one of them doesn’t believe that the Bible teaches the resurrection of our former pets! I’ll leave this issue for discussing another time, but it would be nice to see wee Jamie again!

More importantly, it is the desire of every Christian parent that their children be part of the resurrection to life as opposed to condemnation (John 5:29). However, when it comes to children and pets it is sometimes easier to train the latter! We must persevere in teaching our children the things of God, for Scripture says, ‘Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it’ Proverbs 22:6. Indeed our faith in God and His Gospel even as adults is to be childlike. Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it’ Mark 10:14b-15. The kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven are the same thing (cf. Matthew 19:14).

There will be children and animals (maybe including our pets!) in Heaven. However, like the Christian who dies as a centenarian, so the child who dies in infancy, in the Resurrection at the Last Day each will be like a thirty three year old – without the effects of sin! ‘Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is’ 1 John 3:2. What was Christ like after His resurrection? He ate and He drank and He invited Thomas to touch Him, all to prove that it was really Him and that He had a solid physical body and was not some kind of phantom! (See e.g., Luke 24:39-43; John 20:27).

Begone with the image of Heaven as a place of people floating on clouds with harps and halos! Let us stand on solid (Biblical) ground!   

Thursday, November 5, 2015

There is a Place

There is a Place
There is a place, a place I run to, a place I escape to. It is not a real place, correction, it is a real place, but it is a utopian place, which is to say that it is a real place that I have in my mind transformed into a paradise of sorts. Understand that its transformation is not a physical but a mental, maybe even a spiritual, transformation. It’s a place in which there are no biting insects, no stinging nettles, no twisted ankles, no bad backs or grey hair. It’s a place that really exists but which my mind has idealised (but hopefully not idolised)!
There’s a Run Rig song that contains the words, “There must be a place under the sun where hearts of olden glory grow young!” It’s this place. It also the place “Somewhere over the rainbow … There’s a land that I heard of once in a lullaby.” Yes, it is a real place, but it’s a place in my memories. I am free to flee there.
It’s a place where I can go for long-walks, mind-walks. It’s a place of mental health relief. It’s a leafy place, a place of different shades of green. There are splashes of vivid colour. It’s an earthy place, and smells as such but the perfumes of flowers subtly pervade the air, borne on the wings of zephyrs.
There’s rustling in the leaves of the trees and soothing cooing as doves preen themselves. A feather, a downy feather, falls slowly to earth as my eye follow it. There’re bluebells in bloom. Their fragrance lifts me up and places me upon a mechanical walkway. I kind of glide effortlessly in my stride and approach clear pristine waters filtering over rocks and gravel as it meanders down from the hills above. I listen to the patter of its idle chatter. I stoop to drink but am distracted when I see a rainbow dart under a rock, a trout. I reach in my hand. The water is cool. The fish tickles my hand as I tickle its belly. Both of us laugh!
I feel the surface tension break as I gently pucker my lips and kiss the sparkling water. I want to drink you in! I love you! I caress the earth and pick up handfuls of leafy soil from the burn’s banks and hold up my hands heavenwards. Thank You! Thank You! My tears disappear as a summer shower suddenly washes them away! Salt of the earth. Apple of my eye! Water to water! Dust to dust! Earth to earth!
This place has entangled itself in my DNA. It has entwined my soul like ivy on an old castle wall. It is a real place but it is a surreal place. It’s a place through which I walk on bare feet without pain to my soles or pain in my soul. It’s a place in which my five senses are all primed. It’s a place where my mind works. A place where my cares are not snares nor my woes blows.
It’s a place where the angry bull is left at the gate, where depression’s feet are stuck in the grate. It’s a place of escape, a place where nothing can harm me. It’s a place where I’m safe. It’s a place where I have time to think. None can find this place in my mind. None but me!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Declaration of Peace

The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. O house of Jacob, come and let us walk in the light of the Lord. Isaiah 2:1-5

The Declaration of Peace

Isaiah lived some 700 years before Christ. Many call his wonderful book The Gospel According To Isaiah on account of him speaking so much about the Good News of the Messiah or Christ who was to come. In the passage before us Isaiah is talking about the peace that Christ and His kingdom will bring on earth. Isaiah speaks of nations beating their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks, which is to say that the nations will stop fighting with each other, “neither shall they learn war anymore.”
In some ways Remembrance Day, or Poppy Day as some refer to it, reminds us of what God through His Prophet Isaiah is speaking of. For Remembrance Day, or Armistice Day as it used to be called, recalls to our mind a time when peace was declared.
Remembrance Day began as a memorial celebrating the signing of the armistice at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. From there it developed into celebrating the actual end of WWI, The Great War, on 28th June 1919. The main point of it all being that on Remembrance Day those who died in the line of duty while defending us as a people are remembered.
The remembrance poppy came about because of the poem written about the First World War called “In Flanders Fields.” The red poppies that grew on the battlefields came to symbolise the blood that was shed defending our freedom.
War is hell. There is no glamour to it. Yes, stories of bravery, courage and heroism are legion, but primarily these are simply acts of desperate people doing desperate things in desperate times. We honour all who fought and all who died defending our Western freedoms, and hopefully as we get into our text we will see something of the positive influence that the Word of God has had on the nations including ours.
In the following we’ll look at a couple of points that I wish to bring to your notice from our text. Like the old hymn with the words, “Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before”, we’ll try to keep a military metaphor going…
Marching In
 Notice what Isaiah says at the end of verse two of chapter two, “And all nations shall flow to it.” Flow to what? “The mountain of the LORD’s house.” So the picture is that of nations coming to meet with God in His house.
Napoleon Boneparte said, “An army marches on its stomach.” That may conjure up a strange picture in your mind of people in uniforms crawling on their bellies but Napoleon simply meant that armies have to be fed to be of any use. And so it is with us as Christians. Therefore, I need to feed us a bit of background knowledge to help us to understand what we’re looking at:
You’ll remember that at the time of Moses God had his people erect a tabernacle according to His instructions. God designed it even down to the furniture it was to be fitted with, tables and tongs, lights and lampstands, and even the Ark of the Covenant that was to be deposited therein. This tabernacle was called “The Tent of Meeting” (Exodus 40:2). God, as represented by a cloud, would descend and fill the tent with His glory. The people of God would march up and camp all around the tent but only Moses got to go in and meet with the Commander, i.e., the Captain of the LORD’s Army, in this “Tent of Meeting.”
In the course of time the Tabernacle was replaced by a stone Temple on a mountain in Jerusalem at the time of Solomon. Just as there was in the Tabernacle or “Tent of Meeting” so there was a room in the Temple called “the Holy of Holies,” and it was in this room the God had them place the Ark of the Covenant which represented the presence of God. Only the High Priest got to go in there once a year on the Day of Atonement. He went in to pour the blood of sacrifice on the Seat of Atonement or the Mercy Seat which was the lid of the Ark that contained the stone tablets with the Ten Commandments written on them.
Now, so that we understand what’s going on in our text it’s important to know that The Day of Atonement was a sort of Remembrance Day ceremony. Only there was no laying of a wreath or a placing of a red poppy but rather there was a sprinkling of blood on the Mercy Seat. This was to remind the people of God that they needed to have their sins covered by blood, i.e., they needed to be forgiven for their sins against God.
Why? Why would human beings need to have their sins forgiven? The Bible says that there is no remission without the shedding of blood. Jesus in the Lord’s Supper says, “Do this in remembrance of Me.” What are we remembering in the Lord’s Supper? That Christ shed His blood to cover the sins of all who believe.
Right, it is very important that we understand the broader context of what Isaiah means when he speaks of all nations marching into, or as he puts it, flowing into the LORD’s house “on the top of the mountains … exalted above the hills.” It means that the forgiveness of sin is for all people and not just the Jews. Isaiah is painting for us a picture of God inviting all nations, all humanity, to come to Him to have their sins covered by Christ’s shed blood and thereby be reconciled to Him.
So, the Tabernacle and then the Temple on the mount at Jerusalem were just places where people could come to meet with God and have their sins symbolically covered by blood. But again we ask the question, why? What has humanity done that we as part of all the nations should need our sins covered by blood? For “without the shedding of blood there is no remission.” Hebrews 9:22b. Well, it’s all because of war, i.e., the war between the human race and God. That’s where all wars come from, wars as individual against individual, family against family, clan against clan, and nation against nation. These all come from our war against God! That war was started by our forefather Adam.
A little more back-briefing will help to better understand the magnitude of the good news of what Isaiah is speaking of here. If we had an easel with a map on it overlaid with transparencies I’d have a pointer and I’d be pointing you to a geographical location on a map: The Garden of Eden!
God created Adam and put him in a beautiful garden, the Garden of Eden. Then God entered into an agreement with Adam, a covenant; that should Adam remain obedient to God for an undefined length of time, then God would bless him with even more than He had already blessed him, which is also to say that the Triune God would bless him as the head and representative of the human race, which human race of course is comprised of all the nations.
Adam knew right from wrong because God, as He has with every human being since, had written His Law on humanity’s heart. Adam was to love God and his neighbour as himself. God gave Adam a wife made from one of his own ribs, and He gave what we call The Cultural Mandate. Adam and Eve and their future offspring were to “be fruitful and multiply; [and] fill the earth and subdue it” Genesis 1:28a. But what did Adam do? He sided with the devil and instead declared war on God. Adam as it were beat his ploughshare into a sword and his pruning hook into a spear to be used in humanity’s war against God!
So, after all of that what we have here in this beautiful piece of Scripture are words that speak of a reversal of humanity’s rebellion against God. It speaks of reconciliation, “And all the nations shall flow to it,” i.e., to the LORD’s house which “shall be established on the top of the mountains.” The nations, including you and me, will as it were march in to meet with God!
So, we are left with a couple of connected questions that we need to attempt to answer in our second point: 1. What is meant by the words there at the beginning of verse two, “Now it shall come to pass in the latter days…”? And. 2. What is meant by “The mountain of the LORD’s house”? Well, to answer our second question first: There is no more Tabernacle and there is no more Temple on the mount. Therefore, either the temple will need to be rebuilt or there is something else going on in these “latter days.”
Marching Out
Some 700 years after Isaiah Jesus predicted the demolition of the Temple on the Mount which took place in 70AD. The “Wailing Wall” is the contemporary reminder of that destruction. The invading Roman armies levelled the place and many Jews who did not heed our Lord’s warning to flee Jerusalem were put to the sword.
Now, as you know, there was a period of transition from Old Testament practices to New Testament practices. The Book of Acts in particular records that period of history. Practices such as Old Testament Circumcision and Passover were superseded by Jesus’s introduction of New Testament Baptism and the Lord’s Supper respectively.
Israel ceased to be a theocratic nation with the Roman army’s demolition of the Temple as the Church as we know it began to emerge. Therefore, the LORD’s house is no longer the Temple on the Mount at Jerusalem. Rather it is wherever two or three gather in Jesus’s name, such as we do each Sunday as the Church. It’s as Matthew Henry says about our text, “Christianity shall then be the mountain of the Lord’s house. The Gospel church shall then be the rendezvous of all the spiritual seed of Abraham.”  
So, generally speaking the “latter days” that Isaiah is referring to is from the time of Christ, i.e., the time when the Mosaic administration was ending and the new administration of the covenant was beginning. In particular the demolition of the Temple at Jerusalem signalled the beginning of the “latter days.” In other words, it was from that time that the Gospel, i.e., the Good News was sent out into all the nations. It is as Jesus said to His Apostles in Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.”
Again Matthew Henry looking at these verses said this, “In the last days of the earthly Jerusalem, just before the destruction of it, this heavenly Jerusalem shall be erected, Hebrews 12:22; Galatians 4:26.”  
In the Galatians 4:26 verse the Apostle Paul while contrasting the earthly Jerusalem which is in bondage with her children says, “but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all.” In other words, no longer is God centred at the Holy of Holies at the Temple on Temple Mount. He is now marching out of Jerusalem with His people who are filled with the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity. And the message His people are to proclaim as they march into all the nations is the Gospel. The Good News then truly is “The Declaration of Peace”!
So, are you beginning to understand what’s going on in our text? We come to God for instruction and then God sends us out again. It’s like in the Military where we attend a meeting to receive our orders then we go out from the meeting to put those orders into practice.
When I was becoming an army chaplain my eldest brother said, “Great! God’s army is invading the Australian army!” We Christians belong to God’s army. The difference between God’s Army and the Australian Army is that we already have beaten our swords into ploughshares and our spears into pruning hooks. Our banner is Christ and His cross, the banner of peace! Again, as the old hymn puts it, “Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before.”
For part of my training when I was becoming an army chaplain was to be sent to the Royal Military College at Duntroon, (RMC) to learn how to be an officer. Early each morning we formed up on the parade ground and were marched up to the top of the hill and fed breakfast and then we were marched back down again. It was kind of like the Grand Old Duke of York, “He marched us up to the top of the hill, and then he marched us down again!”
They give you breakfast in the mess at the top of the hill, and it’s all-you-can eat. I stuffed my face on the first morning only to discover when they marched us down again that we had to do Physical Training (PT) for a whole hour. It was a real battle to hold my breakfast down. I learned my lesson. The next morning I only had a small bowl of healthy cereal!
What our text is teaching us is that God’s people come together to meet with Him to be fed by Him. We are marched up to the top of the hill! Then after we are fed we go out and put into practice whatever we have been taught. But, unlike the burden of physical food before physical labour spiritual food enables us to perform spiritual labour!  In Old Testament times God’s people at least four times a year for annual feasts would walk up the hill to the Temple and then they would walk back down again.
Nowadays we gather together at church every Sunday where we are taught from Scripture and then we disperse again out into the community hopefully after having a “mountaintop experience”. Another way of looking at this, if you will, is that of the living and true God breathing in and then breathing out. His breath draws us in and then He sends us out again full of His Word and His Spirit on the first day of every seven. Thus, He marches us up to the top of the hill and He marches us down again.
What does God do with us at the top of the hill, i.e., in church of a Sunday? Well, we see there in verse three that, “He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.” His ways are good ways, and His paths are well-lit paths.
One of the chaplains I was training with badly sprained his ankle. We were out doing some night navigation with luminous compasses among the gum trees under a million stars when he put his foot in a hole. He was on crutches for the rest of our time down there! God’s paths of righteousness may be narrow but, unlike the ways of the world, they are bright with no potholes lurking in the creepy shadows.
And look what it says at the end of verse three, “For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.” Just before He went up to heaven from whence He came Jesus told His disciples to “tarry in Jerusalem” where they would receive the “Promise of the Father.” i.e., the Holy Spirit who is also known as the Breath of God.
His followers were to gather in Jerusalem where they would meet with God the Holy Spirit and then they were to take God’s Word the Gospel of Peace into all the nations. They were to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptising [and] teaching them.” And so God’s Law and Gospel began to spread throughout the world even to this very day. God’s Law shows us our need for Christ and God’s Gospel shows us how He saves us.
Like love and marriage going together like a horse and carriage, when it comes to Law and Gospel you can’t have one without the other. The Gospel saves us from the Law’s condemnation. You know that you have been saved and are no longer under the condemnation of God’s Law when you begin to beat your sword into a ploughshare and your spear into a pruning hook. This is to return from the battlefield to the Garden as it were.
And notice what Isaiah through the Holy Spirit is saying about whole nations. “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” Isaiah 2:4b. Yes, but what about all the wars of recent history? The Napoleonic Wars, the Boer War, the Crimean War, the First World War, the Second World War and so forth? Well, this alerts us to the idea that maybe the time of world peace is not quite yet but up ahead.
Of course, most if not all of the Western nations have been Christianised to various extents. One only has to look at the debates that armies of Militant Atheism are having on social media and even public media to see the influence Christianity has had on society. The recent debate over the definition of marriage attests to it! Should we retain the Biblical definition rather than change it to the Secular definition? That is the question.
So, we see that the time of national peace with God has not quite yet arrived! Therefore, could it be that there is a future Golden Age ahead, a period when the world is at peace with itself and with God? Well, here we are in the nation of Australia hearing about God’s Declaration of Peace! Are they hearing God’s declaration of peace in any other nations? New Zealand? Canada? America? Scotland? England?
It’s happening, isn’t it? The Good News is spreading. The leaven is leaving the whole batch. The mustard seed is slowly growing into a giant tree! To be sure Christ’s Kingdom is not of this world. It is an invisible entity. It is spiritual. But it certainly is in this world and the influence and growth of Christ’s Kingdom cannot be denied. It started in Jerusalem. “For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.” Isaiah 2:3b.
Would you agree with me that Christianity is still spreading among the nations? That it’s no longer contained in Jerusalem but is marching out into all the world? I hear the Gospel is making huge inroads in China, India and South America.
Anyway, enough prayers have gone up over the centuries seeking for God to bring this about. The so called Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven…” Those are the words Jesus taught His disciples to pray, those are the words that God’s Army are praying. Therefore, it is the promise of God that there will be a time of world peace, for God cannot break His Word!

As we conclude, remember then where Remembrance Day fits into the grand scheme of things. It’s a hint of things to come. And remember where you fit in. You are part of God’s Army and you have the message of peace, The Declaration of Peace, whether it’s through telling others about Christ or simply inviting them to church so that they will hear the Gospel. Therefore, don’t be “forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” Hebrews 10:25.
 And be encouraged, the promise of God still stands: “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”

Sunday, October 25, 2015

My Dad & Psalm 23

My Dad and Psalm 23.
While driving to church on Sunday morning I was listening to a sermon on the radio about Psalm 23, “The Shepherd’s Psalm.” My mind wandered back to November 2005 when I had flown back to Scotland from Tasmania to be beside my dad who was on his deathbed at age 83. He had his eyes closed but he seemed to be listening intently to me as I told him how much I loved him and how much I appreciated how good a dad he was to me as I was growing up. 

I mentioned to him some of my happy memories, such him taking us swimming at Dumbarton's Brock Baths in winter, Craig’s Pool at Glen Fruin as well as Loch Lomond at Balloch countless times in summer. I held his hand in mine as I spoke softly to him, knowing that these were his very last days. At that moment he was the centre of my universe as I concentrated hard on finding the right words, though the words just bubbled up from somewhere deep within and overflowed like the clear waters of Pappert Well. 
Dad had been a committed Communist. (I had asked him point blank one time may years before if he was a Communist and was shocked when he had answered unequivocally in the affirmative! To me Communism and Atheism are synonymous terms! God-less Communism is the antithesis of God-centred Calvinism.)  He had worked in the shipyards on the “Red Clydeside” and had mingled with those who wanted the workers of the world to unite! Anyway, I couldn’t understand how he had been happy to attend church on Sunday and even wax eloquent about doing the “reading “ in church and how the King James’ Version of the Bible was the most beautiful, noble and poetic of all the versions of the Bible. He was as happy pulling the rope that rang the bell  to beckon Sunday-worshippers to Jamestown Parish Church, part of the Church of Scotland.
“Dad, you know Psalm 23? The Lord is my Shepherd? Are you able to say those words – ‘the Lord is MY Shepherd’? Is He your Shepherd? Is Jesus your Shepherd? He says He’s the Good Shepherd? Are you trusting in Him even now? ‘Yea, though I walk in death’s dark vale, yet will I fear none ill, for Thou art with me; and Thy rod and staff me comfort still.’ [Revised Church Hymnal, Psalm 23]. Dad, trust Him. Trust Him even now dad. He’ll look after you even now as you go through that dark valley.”
I prayed with my dad, I prayed for him, asking that my God, our God would look after him. Did my dad actually hear me say all of this? I believe so. But more importantly, God heard! I look forward to seeing my dad (and my mum) in glory...
Thank You Lord that I was able to be with my dad just before he died.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

How God Looked After a Numbskull Like Me!

It was a Monday morning about 0745 and I was watching the news on TV, replying to an email as I was Facebooking, (multitasker that I am!) when my mobile phone began ringing (or, more accurately, it began playing music). I answered it and it was a friend on the other that I was supposed meet up with at Brisbane airport. I could hear airport sounds in the background. “Are you there already?” said I. I went on, “Doesn’t the flight leave at 1200?” “No,” was my friend’s gentle reply, “That’s when it arrives in Sydney.” There was a silent but very pregnant pause at my end as I tried to suppress the panic that was setting in. “I’m on my way!”

The airport was a good hour away in the busy morning traffic and I still had to shower, pack my case and order a taxi. What should I do first? I was like the man who jumped on his horse and galloped off in all directions at once! I had twisted my knee a few days before and it was causing me a bit of discomfort not to mention a great deal of distraction. Should I take my crutches? No! How can I lug a suitcase while balancing on crutches?
Still dripping wet and with suitcase in hand I climbed into the taxi and asked him to get me to the airport a.s.a.p. He didn’t speed but he was expert at getting ahead of the busy traffic. It was all going fairly well until we hit the motorway. Bumper to bumper backed up to the back-of-beyond! I called my friend and told him that I wouldn’t make the flight. I phoned someone to have me put on the next soonest flight to Sydney. Bummer!

We must have broken some sort of record for getting to the airport through rush-hour traffic but alas! It was too late as the check-in closes at least half an hour before boarding. I felt like old Chester in Gunsmoke must have felt as he limped as fast as he could to warn Marshal Dillon of some impending danger in Dodge City! It is all fancy computer-booking and checking-in of baggage at Qantas in Brisbane Airport. A nightmare for a troglodyte like me! However, I did pluck up enough courage to ask the nice young airport lady to assist me with all of that technical stuff. Glory be! The flight I was supposed to be on had been delayed and she was able to get me on my original flight! Woohoo! (multiplied by ten!)
I limped through the airport security metal scan and replaced my belt, mobile phone, keys etc. and met with my friend and we sat and drank coffee in the fancy Qantas lounge of which he is a gold-card-holding member. My heat-rate slowed down to my usual rate (which is that of a lizard's on a cold morning!) I sometimes wonder if I'm alive at times and love it when I feel my heart beating after completing some adrenalin feat. Yeah, like just before I twisted my knee playing indoor-soccer and they carried my off in excruciating pain.  I was full of life-in-abundance until my knee decided it didn't want to be on my team anymore! I digress... 

As you do I used “the wee boy’s room” before we headed towards the boarding gate. “Rats! Where’s my wedding ring?” I love those new Dyson hand-driers where you place your hands into the thing and the air actually dries your hands! How original! Beats hands down those useless hair-dryer things that only pretend to but never really dry your hands. I digress again... Anyway, alas! My thirty-four year old wedding ring was not there! Did someone see it and pick it up? Did they hand it in somewhere? Cripes! I dawned on me that my wife would be wondering what I was up to when she discovered I’m not wearing my ring! Why do the innocent have to feel guilty when they are still innocent? Anyway, I didn’t have to explain too much as it turned out that I had left my ring on my dresser at home. My wife just wondered why I hadn't put it on before I left. Well, a hurried and harried person tends to be an addled person.
When I arrived at the conference I was assigned a room about a kilometre away from the venue and it would involve a bit of walking back and forth sometimes in the dark. Dragging my suitcase behind me I limped back and asked for a room next to the venue. I was upgraded and now had a room that included Wifi and an ensuite! This I appreciated very much but my knee didn't appreciate the long walk. However, the extra pain was a small price to pay for the extra creature comforts!
I’m always amazed at how God looks after a numbskull like me!