Archive for the ‘Creation’ Category

Before everything we know, there was Love. Father, Son and Spirit in deep communion; loving, giving, honouring one another.

Out of this communion of loved flowed a Plan. A plan to create others who would be the objects of, and participants in, this love. These creatures would be the gift of the Father to the Son.

The Father spoke a word, ‘Let there be Light’. Immediately, in joyful, loving obedience the Son sprang into action, and in harmony with the Spirit who was hovering over the formless void, formed light – the basic building blocks of a creation that would reflect the glory of His Father. Because of this joyful unwavering obedience of the Son to the Word of His Father, the Son would become known in the future to his creatures as ‘The Word’.

As the Father continued to speak, the Son and Spirit formed and filled the vast void, bringing order from chaos; fullness from emptiness; giving abundance, fruitfulness and life to every corner. As the Father looked upon each stage of the Son’s and Spirit’s work He spoke with love, ‘It is good!’

As the Son formed a world that reflected his Father’s glory, the Father through Him was forming an inheritance that would be for His Son’s honour. The Spirit was honoured in that every creature that had breath depended on His ongoing presence for their life, and as they lived and breathed and had their being in Him He made sure that every breath was an action of worship to the Father and His Son.

Then, the crowing act of creation. While creation was good and glorious and perfect, it was not complete. It required one more thing that would make this world the perfect gift for the Son – creatures made in his image. What greater honour could the Father bestow upon His beloved Son than to fill this creation with creatures who each displayed the Son’s glory? More than that: what better display of HIs love for the Son than these creatures forever worshipping the Son for His love towards them?

Written in the Book were the names of those who would be created to be for the praise of His glory. And a decree was made: the Son will be glorified by being united with these creatures; by becoming one of them, and by doing so catch them up into the love and joy of the Divine fellowship. His entering their lives will be such that His display of love will win their hearts and worship forever. This decree involved the entry of sin into the creation, and as a result of sin would come suffering and death – in order that the Son may share in their suffering and embrace them in their death so that he may be praised not only for His glory, but for His glorious Grace.

And so this Book would come to be called, ‘The Book of Life of the Lamb who was Slain’.

The triune God took dust – dust that was designed for this very purpose – and shaped a human being. A creature full of glory, stamped with the image of the Son, and filled with the Spirit. A creature designed love their God and love their neighbour; given the honour of being the only creature in the vast universe to participate in the divine family of love. A creature who would embody the planned union of the Son with them through the gift of being male and female, husband and wife.

Fill the earth – it’s all for you. Rule over it, care for it, be my stewards and representatives to every creature. The destiny of this creation is tied to your destiny, because I have made you to be my children.

It was no surprise to God when these creatures rebelled. It did not throw Him off guard, or make Him wonder what to do next. He had already decreed that His Son would redeem them, and the glory from that redemption would be greater than the glory of Eden. And so in the midst of the curse he gave a promise. A son of the woman would crush the serpent’s head. That which had been done by one man would be undone by one man. The curse was given in order that blessing would come that far exceeded anything that the man and woman could ever hope or imagine.

As sin and violence spread across the creation like gangrene, the love of God only grew to match it. When the first Son of Adam killed his brother if jealous rage, he was confronted with forgiveness and grace, even though his brother’s blood cried out to God for justice. When the inclination of every person’s heart was only evil all the time, God set his loving favour upon one man Noah and his family – chosen by grace – so that when God’s righteous judgement fell upon humanity in a great flood, the human race, carriers of the promise, would be saved, and allowed to rebuild in a baptised, cleansed creation. When this rescued humanity – descendants of Noah – continued in their hard hearted rebellion, refusing to fulfil their creational mandate, they were in mercy scattered across the face of the earth, and through the confusing of their language was enabled the rise of culture and diversity, of tribe and tongue and nation, of physical and social diversity. Despite their hard hearts they were inexorably driven forward towards the Goal, as God oversaw the rise and fall of nations and kings and heroes and their stories; the creation of literature and art, of music and song, of culinary delights and technology; the gathering and storing and growing of knowledge and science. Over all this was the ever abiding presence of God, ever wooing, calling, speaking; every breath of life an opportunity for His creatures to reach out and find Him, to come home to the waiting Father.

The time came in the flow of human history for the Plan to be taken up to the next gear.

One man called Abraham was chosen. He was told,

You are the start. Through you, the seed of the woman will come.

He was no-one special or good – an idolater living among idolaters. He and his wife were elderly, and had no children. He was one of the most unlikely, unqualified and unsuitable candidates for the rolling out of God’s plan of salvation; however God had set His love in him, and used Abraham’s simple faith as a catalyst to produce in him a life of obedience and hope.

God signed and sealed his promise to Abraham through a covenant of blood. Ancient treaties were sealed with each party both making promises, and preempting a curse upon themselves if they were not true to their word. God’s promise with Abraham and his descendants was different. Paralysed by God, Abraham could only watch passively as God vowed His faithfulness to His promise, invoking a curse upon Himself as He passed between the halves of the slaughtered carcasses of animals. The message was clear: if this covenant was ever broken, God would take upon Himself the consequences.

The message became clearer when Abraham was called by God to offer his miraculously born son Isaac as a sacrifice. Assured if God’s loving faithfulness, Abraham obeyed, even though he could not see how this would end well. However he knew two truths that enabled him to act: Firstly, if this God who had appeared to him in Glory had made a promise, He would provide the means for his son’s life to be spared; and secondly, even if Isaac were to die, this God was able to raise the dead.

The loving faithfulness of this God was displayed to Abraham and Isaac on the mountain when He intervened at the last minute, and provided a ram in the place of Isaac. Saved from death by a substitute, Isaac lived, and Abraham’s hope was confirmed. God had reaffirmed His covenant promise: nothing will stop His plan to restore blessing to His creation; however, this plan will be accomplished through a death.

Abraham’s descendants grew, as promised, into a great nation. Living under a cruel tyrant as slaves in Egypt, their groans were heard by God who had never forgotten His promise to Abraham.

The gods of Egypt were shown to be the empty, loveless forgeries they were, as God in his loving wrath sent plagues of judgement upon Egypt, that the Egyptians  and Pharaoh might know that He is the Lord. Then, on the eve for their deliverance, the Israelites were given a sign that would be etched in their memories and stories forever. This sign pointed them back to the moment of Isaac’s salvation, and became the template for the central focus of their worship from that time on.

For every firstborn son a lamb must be slain, and its blood painted on their doorposts. As the judgement of God passed through the land that evening, those homes marked with blood would be spared. Every home that night contained a dead body – either that of the firstborn son, or of a lamb that was slain in his place. If the Israelites had at that time insight into the eternal decree of God, they might have said, ‘My son is saved! Our name must be written in the book of life!’

Now a freed people, on the way to the promised land, God showed them time and time again that He had set His love upon them. At Sinai he gave them no question to doubt their identity as His beloved, chosen and cherished people. They could say of themselves,

We are Israelites, and to us belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To us belong the patriarchs, and from our race, according to the flesh, will come the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever.

Despite their hard hearts and their complaining, He continued to prove to them that He is,

The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty…

…and He patiently remained with them for the forty years they were in desert on their way to the Land He had promised.

He gave them his Law through a prophet, Moses. In this law was life – all who obeyed would know blessings, freedom and joy and peace; but in this law was also death – all who disobeyed would know cursing, slavery and judgement. This Law revealed to the the very loving character of God, but also revealed their own character as rebels and sinners. This Word through Moses the Prophet pointed them to a time when another Prophet would come – one like Moses, but whose words spoke not condemnation, but forgiveness and eternal life.

He gave them the Tabernacle, the visible sign to them that He was their God, and He dwelt with them as His people. At the centre sat the mercy seat. This was symbolically the throne of God, although there was no visible image, since God is the Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, because heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain Him.

Yet this seat was not only the centre of government, but the centre of atonement. Once a year, the blood of the sacrifice would be carried into the most holy place, and sprinkled on the mercy seat. The very throne of God was marked with blood; blood that spoke of His people’s sin, carried to the place of mercy. God was bearing His people’s sin; the blood that was on their hands splashed onto his heart.

Along with this, yearly, monthly, weekly, daily, sacrifices would be brought to the tabernacle, and as the blood flowed into the ground like the blood of Abel, and as the smoke of the burnt offerings rose into the sky as a pillar, the Israelites would be reminded that their God is a God of mercy, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love. They would come to the tabernacle with hearts weighed down by sin and shame, but leave with the assurance that their God forgives iniquity and transgression and sin.

As each priest helped them offer the sacrifice, as they placed their hands on the head of the animal and say its throat cut and its blood pour out, they were pointed to the time when a Great High Priest would come, and once and for all make the perfect sacrifice, and pour out the blood that would cleanse their hands and hearts and consciences.

And once a year at Passover their families would gather, eating bread and lamb and wine and bitter herbs and recall the goodness of their God who rescued them from slavery and death; when in love their God caused His wrath to pass over them.

Once in the Land, the people proved time and again that they remained the stubborn, hard hearted people they were in the desert. Judges came and went, and still each of them did what was right in their own eyes. Their eyes longed to have what the nations had; their hearts longed to be like the nations were. When they demanded a King, it was not so they may be ruled justly by God’s representative, but so they may be like the rest of the world. And so in love God gave them what they asked for – a king who fitted their own criteria. He was preparing them to receive the King of His choosing, the one who would foreshow and foretell of the Seed, the Lamb, the Prophet, the Great High Priest.

God spoke to this King, David, with promises of a Son who would be King and of the Eternal Kingdom he would establish; and David responded with songs and that told of God’s loving faithfulness, of His promises to save, and His comfort in trouble, of the joy He gives to those who worship Him, and of His call to the nations to serve him with fear and rejoice with trembling and kiss His Son who gives them refuge.

No King that followed was quite like David. Through a divided kingdom and kings who did evil in the eyes of the Lord, setting up places of false worship, making unholy alliances with pagan kings, assassinating their predecessors and eliminating their rivals, God was teaching His people to not put their trust in princes, in men with whom there is no salvation, whose breath departs and whose plans perish. No king could be quite like David, because David was not the paradigm – he was only a shadow of the real King who was yet to come.

In love, God sent His prophets. With tongues cleansed as if by fire from the altar, these men reminded the people of God’s covenant faithfulness, called them to remember and turn and believe the good news that their God reigns. They spoke of the judgement that would come to cleanse the world and humanity that He loved of sin and darkness and death. And they spoke even more clearly of the one who who accomplish this: the One who would be the Almighty God yet also a Son of Man; a great King, yet also a Suffering Servant; the anointed Messiah, yet born into obscurity; a lion of the tribe of Judah, yet also the Lamb who was slain. This One would bring about the Day of the Lord – a day of great wrath, yet also a day of great mercy; a day when justice and love will be shown to be one.

Yet, the people’s hearts remained unchanged. What the Law, weakened by the flesh could not do, could only be done by the Father sending His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh. Everything was imprisoned under sin, so that the promise of what was to come was the only option, and faith would be the only means of receiving it. But the fullness of time had not yet come.

To show beyond question that Israel’s – and the world’s – hope was to to be found not by might or power but by the working of the Spirit of the Lord, God’s people were sent into exile in a foreign land; their cities burned, their temple destroyed, their priests slaughtered, and the mercy seat lost, melted down to fill the coffers of their captors. Decimated and broken, the remnant languished in Babylon, asking, ‘How can we sing the song of the Lord in a strange land?’ They heard through the prophets that God’s presence had accompanied them into exile, and as they sat by the rivers of Babylon He enabled them to sing – of Jerusalem in her former glory; of the promise of a King, of the hope and a future that God had planned for them, when the Spirit would be poured out and bring new life to dry bones; where the Loin would lie with the lamb and a child would no longer be afraid of snakes; where the Temple would be rebuilt, and they once again would dwell with their God in a new heaven and a new earth.

Almost two generations later the remnant returned with laughter and joy, and were like those who dream. The walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt, and new temple took shape – yet nothing was like it used to be, and most certainly was nowhere near the promised renewal they had heard of in exile.

One more prophet came, and spoke one more time of the Day of the Lord: the day when the ‘sun of righteousness’ would rise with healing in its wings, when they would go out like leaping calves from the stall, and when all wickedness will be trodden down and turned to ashes. But they must wait. In the scale of human history; the millenia since Eve first heard the promise, the Day was just around the corner. The horizon of their future was starting to be faintly tinged with gold as the sun began to rise.

Two thousand years of history of this small, humble and hard hearted nation stand as a testimony to the nations of the love of God; a showcase of grace; a display of His unending patience; a picture of how the Father loves His enemies, the Spirit continues to strive with the hearts of sinful men and women, and the Son resolutely determines to prepare His bride.

The story of God dealing in love with His people Israel speaks of how He sets His favour on His elect from every tribe and tongue. From the nations around – Sheba, Moab, Egypt, Syria, Canaan, Babylon, Ninevah, people were drawn to this God who was close to His people when they prayed, who gave them such righteous statutes and laws. God was showing that while His special electing love was upon this people, He had also set His love on those from all the nations – true to the promise He had given to the one man from whom this nation had come.

Four years later – ten generations to us, but a blink in the timing of God – love was embodied. The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. The glory of the One and Only shone forth in the form of a helpless infant, laid in a feeding trough, in the town on David. Only shepherds and pagan astrologers came to worship him; the only King who acknowledged him tried to kill him. For thirty years he lived in obscurity, loving his parents by obeying them.

When the time came for him to appear in public, his Father publicly declared His love:

This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

Only two more times would the Father speak audibly – once to call us to

Listen to him

and again to declare His intention to glorify His own name through him. No other voice from heaven was needed, since Jesus was and is the voice of the Father embodied in flesh and blood. Anyone who has seen him has seen the Father because all he did was what the Father gave him to do; and anyone who has heard him has heard the Father, because he only ever spoke the words his Father gave him to speak.

Jesus embodied the compassion of God towards the sick and unclean, the lame and demon possessed, the outcast and the sinner. He gathered around himself of rag-tag team of men – fishermen, a tax collector, zealot, a traitor, and a doubter, and other nobodies, and entrusted with them the task of announcing the Kingdom of God to the world. He welcomed women and children, centurions, samaritans and canaanites. And he showed stern love and compassion to the self righteous pharisees and teacher of the law by exposing their hypocrisy speaking the truth.

As he knew his public ministry was drawing to a close, this King took the role of a servant, the humblest of all positions, and washed his disciples’ feet, loving them to the uttermost. The lamb that was decreed before the foundation of the world to be slain, ate with his friends the meal that had for nearly 1500 years been foretelling this moment. The Great High Priest was about to make the ultimate sacrifice of atonement – Himself. God had provided a substitute to save the lives of Isaac’s descendants – at that substitute was himself.

For three days and three nights the embodiment of Love was in the heart of the Earth. With troubled heart to the point of death; betrayed, abandoned and denied; falsely accused and mocked; handed over to Gentiles and shamed, and finally nailed to a tree as he became the curse that had first touched the ground when Adam and Eve first rejected love.

The Good shepherd became the prey, as bulls surrounded him like roaring and ravening lions; the King of Zion succumbed to the raging of the nations; the one in who the Father delighted became the man of sorrow, acquainted with grief; the Servant who was to be high and lifted up, was lifted up like a snake on a pole, and his blood fell to the ground like Abel’s, crying out for justice.

The Father’s face no longer shone upon him, and he cried word that had never before been heard in the eternal fellowship of the the triune God:

Why have you forsaken me?!?

Yet God was not not torn apart by this, because this moment was the moment when His love shone forth brighter than it had ever been before. The Eternal Spirit was in Him as he offered himself unblemished to God, and as he breathed his last he called to the Father he could not see,

Into your hands I commit my Spirit.

As he was laid in the tomb, and as his friends and family mourned, the Sabbath began.

There was nothing more precious to the Father, since the first word of creation, than these three days and nights. The Son had loved the Father to the uttermost, and for the joy set before him was obedient to the point of death. And the Son had loved to the uttermost the creatures made in his image, taking their sin and shame into the grave.

What else could the Father do, but raise Jesus from the dead, seat Him his right hand and give him the name that is above every name, and call all creatures in heaven and earth and below the earth to bow the knee and pay him homage. The resurrection is the Father declaring to the world,

This is my beloved Son, whom I love; listen to him! I have glorified Him as I promised I would.

Side by Side, in perfect unified Love, the Father and the Son together send the Spirit into the world, who poured into people’s hearts the love of God. He cased them to cry out,

Abba, Father dear!

and to kiss the Son in whom they have taken refuge.

Like a flood, the revolution of love began to wash across the world. Kings tried to crush it, but their swords were ineffective against the relentless love of God. Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and the ends of the earth became witnesses of the glory of the one and Only, and His family grew as more and more heard the Good News that the God, who is Love, reigns.

Scattered across the centuries are countless trophies of love. Frightened disciples turned into bold proclaimers; an angry murderous Pharisee, whose heart was softened and conquered; legalists turned to lovers of grace; pagan philosophers, prison guards, soldiers, tax collectors, widows and orphans, slaves and masters, all the beginning of the new creation.

As with the returned exiles of old, God’s people now wait for another Day. Again, the horizon is tinged with gold, as the cry of the Spirit and the Bride goes out, ‘Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus.’ On this day the curtain will be pulled aside to reveal the full glory of the One who has been with us always, and every soul will stand before Him. On that day no-one will dare say, ‘if God is Love, then why…?,’ because the God of Love will be before their eyes, and the sign of His love will be the nail-scarred hands – the only man-made thing that will enter the new creation.

On that day tears will be wiped from our eyes, and death and crying and pain will be no more. We will know as we are known. The Bride will stand before the Lamb without wrinkle, blemish or stain, and they will be one. Love will be complete.

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ef21d1d84ea14ba82a5045a3e48bb114Christmas is a time of year when we hear a lot of hopeful talk. Despite our culture’s loss of understanding about the real meaning of Christmas, there is still a strong sense that it has something to do with hope, peace, harmony. Something that’s often said is, ‘If there’s anything the world needs at the moment, it’s hope.’ The thing is, that’s what people say every year, and nothing much seems to change in the world. We have a sentimental, mushy sense of, ‘Maybe things will work out one day, if those other people in the world who are causing problems get their act together and change,’ and then a few days after Christmas is over we go back to living our own regular, self centred lives, and nothing much really changes.

Do you have a hope for the future of the world? If so, what is it?

And is your hope merely wishful thinking – ‘It would be really great if it were to happen,’ – or is it a hope that is grounded in a sense of certainty – ‘Despite the present circumstances, I know for sure that all will work out for good in the end.’?

I put it to you that we all, in some way or other, have some kind of perception about what the future holds, and some kind of longing or yearning that that future be good. Even ISIS is a movement based on a sense of hope. We might find that difficult to comprehend, however if we were to speak to any ISIS fighter and ask them why they do what they do, they would speak about their vision of a future world in which there is peace and harmony when all people everywhere submit to the rule of Islam.

World leaders recently gathered in Paris to discuss the issue of climate change. For some people this was probably an ethical issue – that it’s just plain wrong for human beings to disrupt the world’s finely tuned ecosystem, while for others – and I suspect the majority – the problem is that our future is at stake. They have an intrinsic sense that the future for humanity and this world should be a positive one. I think much of what motivates human beings to take action and world for a cause is the desire to remove any threats to a future that is good and positive for us and for the world in which we live.

Our passage this morning is about this hope. It tells us not only what is in store for the future of creation, but that that future is a good one. It tells us how that future will be accomplished. And the events that took place at the first Christmas are right at the heart of this promising story of future hope.

 11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister
(Colossians 1:11-23 ESV)

Paul, who wrote these words, is telling the Colossians – the Christians who received this letter – that they have an excellent reason for living in hope. He prays that they will be strengthened by God the Father so that they may have endurance and patience – words that speak of waiting for something good that is yet to come. And in this patient waiting, they are to have the attitude of joyful thankfulness. This not just grinning and bearing it, or stoically facing tough times just for the sake of it. This waiting is done with a deep sense of joy and gratefulness, knowing that what the Father has in store for us not only makes the waiting worth it, but actually gives a sense of purpose and glory in the waiting. This is because the hope Christians have is that we ‘share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.’ (12) I don’t have time or space now to to unpack all that that means; but those words alone show us that the future the Father has in store is pretty glorious, and far above all that we can ask or imagine.

This glorious hope has to do with a rescue mission, in which we are transferred from a kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of his Son; a rescue which is accomplished by the forgiveness of our sins. (13)

There is a reason why human beings universally have a sense, or longing, for a future for the world which is only good. It’s because that is actually God’s design or plan for creation. And as part of this creation, we have been designed for this good and glorious future. We live with a sense of awryness in our lives because deep down we know that this world, and we, are not the way we should be. And so most, if not all of human endeavour is all about us trying somehow to bring things back to the way we know they should be. Yet in all that there is a deep sense of dissatisfaction, because no matter how hard we try, the world and the future we long for always seem elusive, just over the horizon or just around the corner.

The Bible tells us that Jesus is the answer to this unfulfilled longing; the solution to a world and a human race that is not what it should be.

Verses 15-18 tell us many things about who Jesus is – ‘Image of the invisible God,’ ‘firstborn over creation,’ ’Before all things,’ ‘In him all things hold together;’ ‘Head of the church,’ ‘The beginning,’ ‘firstborn from the dead,’ the one who has ‘Supremacy in all things.’ Each of these things are tied together and summarised in the astounding statement, ‘God was pleased to have all his fulness dwell in him.’ (19) The complete fulness of God, dwelling in one man. The Christian doctrine of the Incarnation.

At a point in history, a little over 2000 years ago, something took place which would change the nature of the world forever. A biological process was miraculously triggered in the uterus of a young woman, and a human being began to form inside her. At this point, God Himself invaded this world, not with the armies of heaven or in visible power, but in a dividing cell, that nine months later would be born as a helpless child. As the old hymn says, ‘Our God contracted to a span.’ As many like to put it today: 100% God, 100% human.

God in his fullness entered this world as he had never done before, and we’re told that he was pleased to do two things: to dwell (19) and to reconcile (20).

At the heart of God’s covenant with His people was the promise that he would dwell with his people. This was more than just being present in some philosophical way. To dwell is to make your home; to pitch your tent. God looked at this world in all its awryness and brokenness and rebelliousness and said, ‘I will come and make my home here.’

The end result of this coming to dwell is all things – and all means all – will be reconciled to himself. He is not saying here that everyone will be ‘saved’ or ‘go to Heaven’. He is using the word ‘reconcile’ in the sense of everything being put into its proper place, so that there is justice. It is bringing about a harmony, where all who oppose God and his loving rule are finally put in their place, and in the words of Revelation 11:15, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever!”

The entry of God into this world in the person of Jesus is the guarantee that both God’s promise, and our yearning, to see this world retuned to the way it is supposed to be will be fulfilled in him.

Notice that there is not only a global, universal dimension to this. Not only will ‘all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven.’ be brought back to their proper place, but so will individual people. In fact, this personal work in you and me is the foundation for the global work.

Our awryness, our disfunction and alienation from God and one another is a result of our sin (22). Because we have refused to live in loving obedience to God, we deserve God’s wrath, and so we live our lives running and hiding in the shadows, instead of coming into the light. Notice that he says we are ‘enemies in our minds’ – the problem is not merely that we do ’naughty’ things, but that in our minds – the word encompasses thinking, feeling and desiring – we stand apart from God and refuse to acknowledge or come to him. Jesus solves this personal problem by bringing together in himself – literally – a union between God and humanity. So the reconciliation he brings gives us not only a ‘big picture hope’ for the world, but also an intensely personal and individual hope.

How can it be that the arrival of Jesus – God among us – heralds the solution to both the problems of the world and the problems of our own hearts? Our passage tells us it was ‘through his blood, shed on the cross’ (20) and ‘by Christ’s physical body through death’ (22). What actually happened in Jesus’ death is unpacked in chapter 2:13-15:

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

In Jesus’ cross (his death) he accomplished both personal and global reconciliation. His death was the payment for the debt we owe to God – the debt of sin which makes us stand guilty before him, and which gives Him every right to justly and fairly banish us from his life-giving presence forever. By taking our place and dying the death we deserve, he has opened the way for forgiveness and a re-entry in to a warm, intimate relationship with the Father. Not only that, but the cross was the ‘D-Day’ for the defeat of all evil in the world. Evil has been ‘disarmed’ (15), and like an ancient king who returned from victorious battle dragging his captors behind him for his citizens to mock and deride, the cross shows up all spiritual and human evil for the empty, foolish and pointless sham that it is, and it marks the downfall of all who choose to stand in opposition to God.

When God the Father raised Jesus from the dead in the power of the Holy Spirit, he not only secured the future of all who will put their trust in Jesus as Lord and Saviour, but he also guaranteed the eventual renewal of this world and all human systems so that peace and justice will reign forever.

The question for all of us is, which side of the cross do I stand? Do I stand on the side that simply displays my rebellion and sin – sin so serious it required the death of the Son of God for payment? Or do I stand on the side that means peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation – a reconciliation that was accomplished not by my efforts or good works, by by the lavish grace and mercy of this loving and merciful saviour who gave himself for me?

I urge you – if your faith is not in Jesus Christ, to come to him – flee to him and his abundant mercy, and know renewal of your soul and a hope for the future. Take the opportunity this Christmas to prepare him room, so that he may come and make his dwelling with you.

Recent events in Indonesia, with the execution of two men caught for drug trafficking, have caused many to speak out with their views on the rightness or wrongness of capital punishment.

There are two things that bother me when it comes to this issue.

  1. Christians (often of the evangelical variety) who declare capital punishment to be right and call for its reintroduction and application to all crimes touched on by Old Testament law.
  2. Christians (also often of the evangelical variety) who declare capital punishment as evil, primitive and barbaric, with no place in modern society.

Let me start with the second first. Such a view casts moral judgement on the principle of capital punishment by calling it wrong.

Straight away this view has a problem because it runs up against the God of the Bible who not only commands and upholds the death penalty in Old Testament Israel, but who Himself actually practices the death penalty. ‘The wages of sin is death.’ (Romans 6:23) ‘The day you eat of it you shall surely die.’ (Genesis 2:17) ‘The soul that sins shall die.’ (Ezekiel 18:20). Death is a fitting penalty for all who defy God and defame HIs glory. The punishment fits the crime. Any attempt to overthrow the eternally valuable Creator of all things deserves the fitting penalty of exclusion from His favour for eternity. Death is not merely the ceasing of animation of our physical bodies, nor the termination of existence, but existing under the curse of God, with all the blessings of ‘common grace’ removed. Death is ultimately God getting the justice that He deserves, and so He is perfectly within His eternal rights to see that justice is served.

For this reason – the eternal worth of His glory – God delegates to human beings, creatures made in His image to rule over creation, to be defenders of that glory by administering justice in creation. And so Genesis 9:5-6 he states:

‘…for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.’

The primary thing at stake here is the image of God, before it is the bearers of the image. This is not primarily a defence of the worth or value of human life, but a defence of the glory of God, which is supposed to be accurately portrayed and worshipped by all creatures under humanity’s headship. The logic here is that any person (or animal) who attacks the bearer of the image is essentially attacking God, and so forfeits their own right to live. This exempts their executioner from the same crime, because what is happening here is not revenge or retribution, but justice. Crimes in Old Testament Israel that were punishable by death all in some way can be traced back to this offence of attacking or defiling the image of God.

(If you think that makes God out to be selfish – in that He is only concerned with His own honour – that concern is answered by a Trinitarian understanding of God; but we don’t have time to go into that here. Wait for a future post in which I will address that.)

So, as I mentioned at the start, if we declare the death penalty in principle to be wrong, evil or barbaric, we risk being guilty of the heresy of Marcionism – the view that the god of the Old Testament was an angry, spiteful god who was replaced by the nice, loving tolerant God of Jesus and the New Testament. Or at least they portray God, who was angry and malicious in the Old, having been pacified by gentle, meek, pacifist Jesus.

We also risk cultural arrogance – assuming that somehow we today are more intelligent, morally astute, or just ‘better’ than those who came before us or who still practice capital punishment, because we have somehow ‘grown up’. That’s a very Western, arrogant stance to take.

Not only that, but we as Christians risk caving in to pressure from the world to conform to its values and principles, largely in the name of being liked by the world. Just because the world – using the rhetoric of compassion – declares something to be wrong and unjust, does not automatically mean that it is. We should be seeking to, ‘take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ’ (1 Corinthians 10:5), not accepting unquestionably every thought and making look like obedience to Christ.

So what about the second view? You may think that in light of all I have just said I would be an advocate of that view. I have just shown Biblically that capital punishment is right, right?

Not so fast. This second view, that we should insist and expect our governments to apply capital punishment can tend to overlook a significant shift that took place in the transition from the Old Covenant to the New. In the Old, God’s chosen people constituted a national, political entity. The Kingdom of God was expressed in the people of Israel, defined by their ethnic, political, and religious distinction from all the nations around them. All this was preparation for the coming of the Messiah, and when He came, personified in Jesus, a momentous shift occurred. Jesus stood before the representative of one of the most powerful human empires and declared ‘My kingdom is not of this world.’ (John 18:36) This statement signifies the change that would happen with the establishment of the New Covenant. No longer would any one nation be God’s representatives and mediators of His promises; the Kingdom of God was now being opened up to people from every tribe and tongue and nation, and its citizens will be defined as all those who declare, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ regardless of their earthly location or allegiance.

What this means is that Christians have no place to insist that secular national governments and rulers act as if they are administrators of God’s Kingdom. That place is reserved – and filled – by the risen Jesus. To try to get Old Testament Israel’s laws introduced as the foundation of secular government not only ignores the reality of Biblical fulfilment (that fact that Jesus’ arrival means that many of Israel’s ceremonial and civil laws are now obsolete and done away with), but also gives to that government a level of responsibility that God has not given it. Christians are nowhere called to lobby or campaign for change to worldly governments’ policy or practice, but rather to pray for, pay tax to, and honour their rulers, and by doing so honour God who instituted them (Romans 13:1-7). This implies living with laws that we do not necessarily agree with, or see as unrighteous.

This works both ways on this issue. Both sides can insist that their view is based on Biblical, Christian principles; one on the truth of the Bible, and the other on Jesus’ principles of compassion. Yet insisting that our government conform to either of these is still expecting the kingdoms of this world to adjust and conform to make themselves out to be the kingdom of God. And the Bible is clear: the rule and reign of Jesus Christ over all creation will not be made manifest by the kingdoms of the world conforming to His rule, but by their eventual fall and replacement by His rule:

‘…there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.’ (Revelation 11:15)

What happened in Indonesia in the execution of two Australian drug traffickers was a indeed great tragedy, but not because the Indonesian government has no right to enforce capital punishment on those who commit crimes it sees worthy of death. It was a tragedy because it highlights the fact that we live in a fallen world as fallen people in which death reigns – even before any executions have taken place. The fate of these two young men who faced the justice system of an earthly ruler should be reminder to all people that we all stand accountable before a much greater, infinitely more just, Ruler of our souls, who will never be unfair or mistaken in His verdict and sentence upon us. This is the Ruler who, in the face of our certain death, stepped down into our situation, placed himself into our chains and stood in the prison cell in our place. This Ruler faced the execution squad for the crime of treason that we are guilty of, and ensured that through faith we may receive not justice, but mercy. In the cross the Father’s justice was satisfied, as the blood of the true Image of God was shed in the place of the one’s who had taken the image and defaced and defiled it. Now this Ruler stands as our Judge – a judge who is ready to pardon death-row sinners on the basis of His own self sacrifice.

In His goodness and mercy, God brought these two Australian men to know and trust in this truth before they died.

Will you also believe and trust?

Doug Wilson is a great pastor and Bible scholar. I deeply respect him, and have appreciated his teaching ever since I subscribed to Credenda Agenda back in 1997.

As a young(er) upstart from backwater of the Evangelical world, I am reluctant to call out prominent Christian leaders when I disagree with them; and it’s extremely unlikely that he will read this anyway. However I want to point out an error that he made recently, not to make myself out to be smarter than him, but because it touched a raw nerve of mine: the need to be consistent when doing exegesis, and to avoid at all costs having our use of Bible texts influenced by our own Creed or Agenda.

Doug’s article Until Someone Unsettles It, posted on Feb 2, is a defence of young earth, 6 day creationism. I’m not going to tackle him on the big issues of this debate, but simply pick up on a text he uses where he argues for universal death (ie. humans and animals) entering the world at the point of Adam’s sin:

First, the Bible teaches from beginning to end that the plan of salvation is intended to restore the entire created order. In Genesis, we were banished from Eden and the tree of life, and at the end of Revelation, the tree of life is there beckoning us, with leaves for the healing of the nations. And in that return to the Edenic state, God includes the creatures, which means that these creatures were included in the bliss we fell from. Why would they be restored with us if they didn’t fall with us?

“The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, And the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: And dust shall be the serpent’s meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the Lord” (Is. 65:25).

Wilson uses Isaiah 65:25 to support the notion that animals will also be renewed in the new creation, with all their predatory and carnivorous instincts removed. So, he is reading this verse literally, using it as evidence that 1. animals will be in the new creation, 2. The way animals behave now in a fallen creation is a result of Adam’s sin that introduced death, and therefore 3. The scenario painted in this verse is what we will actually experience in the new creation.

Here’s where the problem comes in. This verse is plucked from a wider passage (17-24) in which God promises a new heavens and a new earth:

17 “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. 18 But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness. 19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress.

20 No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days, for the young man shall die a hundred years old, and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed. 21 They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. 22 They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.

23 They shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity, for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the Lord,and their descendants with them.24 Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear. 25 The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,” says the Lord. (Isaiah 65:17-25 ESV)

We see that our verse in question is a part of a bigger portrait of peace, prosperity and joy that God is promising His people as the fruit of the redemption he will be accomplishing through the work of his Servant (Isaiah 53).

The big question is: Are we to take this as a literal, actual description of the new creation – what we as Christians will actually experience, or is it to be taken as an image, described in local, cultural terms, to give us an impression of the nature of God’s saving work that leads to the liberation of all creation?

See, if we are to take verse 25 literally, we need to be consistent and take the whole passage literally. That includes:

  •  Confining the new Creation to the city of Jerusalem, or at most to the Holy Land (if ‘Jerusalem’ represents the nation) (18,19)
  • Old men dying at 100 years (20)
  • Sinners who are cursed for living up to 100 years (20)
  • People still marrying and producing more children (23)
  • Snakes remaining under a curse (25)
  • A specific mountain (probably Zion) being holy in distinction from the rest of creation (25)

All of these things, we know, need to be read in light of the coming of Jesus and the fulfilment of God’s promises in Him, for the Church, who are the continuation of God’s chosen people. We know that in the New Creation there will be no more death, no curse, no sin, and no human marriage (with the implication of no procreation). We also know that all of creation will be renewed, not just a pocket surrounding geographical Jerusalem. In fact, the New Testament presents the ‘New Jerusalem’ not as a geographic or architectural structure, but as the community of God’s family among whom He dwells forever.

What does this mean for our interpretation of Isaiah 65:17-25? I believe it means we must read it in the second sense I described above: as an image, described in local, cultural terms, to give us an impression of the nature of God’s saving work that leads to the liberation of all creation.

I actually agree with Wilson that there will be animals in this new creation, and that they will be peaceable and not to be feared. I just think this is the wrong verse to substantiate this claim, because to do so requires us to then take the whole passage literally on things that the New Testament requires us to take figuratively.  To take it one step further and present it as evidence that there was no non-human death before the fall is digging the hole even deeper.

To be consistent, if we are to take verse 25 as an indication of the result of God’s renewal of creation on animals, then we must also take verse 20 as meaning that this renewal will result in us all living to 100 years and then dying. Which kinda contradicts his thesis (which I agree with wholeheartedly) that there will be no death.

What it comes down to is that Wilson has taken a text out of context to become a prooftext for his pretext; something that he, with his usual passion for biblical truth and integrity, would reject wholeheartedly.