Saturday, March 17, 2007

Look and See

Matthew 27:39-46

The Word of Regeneration

Whether it takes the form of a drive-thru sampling of what the church has to offer or of drive-past sniping at the target which is Christianity, a merely dilettante acquaintance with the cross of Christ will prove to be unsatisfactory.

Nor is merely academic interest to be much preferred. Knowing the texts is of little use if there is no interest in the big picture as it presents itself in redemptive history.

We need to linger here and really look at that centre cross to really see what it is that is happening there. As we hear that deep sorrow expressed as inflicted in the fierce anger of God upon his servant we are drawn to two intimately related conclusions; that Christ (God having determined to save the 'others') must suffer and that you (God having been gracious to bring you to the cross) must be born again.

The Stemming of our Revolutionary Unbelief.

Matthew 27:39-46

The Word of Regeneration

To stem Revolutionary unbelief we will need more than slogans and opponent's thoughts brought captive. Into every circumstance we need to import our full assurance of understanding that God knows what he's doing and that his Word is his Word indeed; to be trusted in and acted on.

We need to reverse the order as a matter of urgency; starting and staying with appropriate Scripture in it's context we can proceed to bring thoughts captive and sloganize to our hearts' content.

Maybe we could call the 'thought capture
:' 'theology' and the 'sloganizing:' 'preaching.'

Face up to the Taunts and to the Forsakenness.

Matthew 27:39-46

The Word of Regeneration

Hear the words and meditate on their meanings. What does it mean that he should be forsaken, that he could not save himself, that he would not come down from the cross?

Friday, March 16, 2007

Current Discussion of the Creation Days

Thanks due to the PCA Creation Study Committee
MK has a summary and supplied the link.

The Word of Regeneration

Matthew 27:39-46

Passing By the Crossroads of all the Ages.

Three Easy Steps to Taunting God in his Face.

Borrowed Words Incoherently Spoken

With the light extinguished, the temple deserted and the curse placed firmly on the crucified one, the almost incoherently spoken words are borrowed from the despairing part of the Psalm and left hanging without resolution as the Word of God himself (of whom it must be said that he is with God and that he is God) speaks to God (who stands silent) out of his own darkness, desolation and accursedness. His cry of agony in death is blended with the incoherent cry of the new birth.

Borrowed Words Incoherently Spoken

Matthew 27:44-46

44 • And the robbers who were crucified with him
also reviled him in the same way.
45 • Now from the sixth hour
there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour.
46 • And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice,
saying, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?"
that is, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

What has been spoken from the cross up till this point?
• The 'only one who knows what's going on' prays for everyone else.
• The man without a shirt on his back settles his family's affairs.
• The 'king for a day' makes a promise about tomorrow.

Thus far a line could have been traced through the words spoken by Jesus on the cross which would make some sense even to the casual onlooker who thought him to be deluded. If this were a show of defiance then it's magnificent and even if only mere delusion there is true grandeur and real pathos to be seen. But that sort of reasoning comes to a halt right here with the fourth word spoken from the cross.

Not just the mob and the authorities are against him, he is, to everybody's certain knowledge, at odds with reality even although there is a certain internal logic, up to this point, that can be traced. 'What would Jesus do?' we ask but if they ask, 'What will Jesus say next?' the answer will surprise them beyond measure. What the crowd is shouting is also following a line and it is very clear that the two lines are not parallel: sooner or later they must meet.

It is at this shocking juncture that the two lines do meet. The acting out of Psalm 22:7 and the taunt-song lifted up from Psalm 22:8 lead us to think that just perhaps a further text from Psalm 22 is suitable for a further flight of fancy from the centre tree? Maybe Psalm 22:26 will fit:

The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD! May your hearts live forever! [Psalm 22:26]
but instead the words that are borrowed from Psalm 22 come from the other end of the Psalm, from the Psalmist at his most disconsolate, from:

To the choirmaster: according to The Doe of the Dawn. A Psalm of David. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? [Psalm 22:1]
we hear words that, up until that 'Preparation Friday' no one had been prepared to hear from a Messianic pretender.

But putting aside all pretence that we are not reading this with the hindsight of knowing that he was the Messiah — the Resurrection rather spoils any other posture — we ought still to be shocked by the words. All we can do is to recognise that these words were placed in the experience of David the king (great ancestor of his greater son) so long before in anticipation of when the agony of Calvary would be so great as to necessitate recourse to a script of words to say what was at the heart of so great a death as he had to die.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Three Easy Steps to Taunting God in his Face.

Matthew 27:41-43

41 • So also the chief priests,
with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying,
42 "He saved others; he cannot save himself.

• He is the King of Israel;
let him come down now from the cross,
and we will believe in him.

43 • He trusts in God;
let God deliver him now, if he desires him.
For he said, 'I am the Son of God.'"

It all started with a simple slogan about him having 'saved others …,' which none of them believed but it was worth it for the dramatic effect of the taunt it led up to, 'He cannot save himself.' Simple and effective it might have been but you could only repeat it once or twice and then there was a need for some other witty comment to call out.

Before the taunting started some of these men went to Pilate in high dudgeon, complaining that the sign over the head of Jesus said, 'This is Jesus the king of the Jews' but that was hours ago. The need for a claim to ridicule overcame the political objections as satire often does, and the 'King of Israel' was taunted to come down from the cross. The form was the same as the 'He saved others' slogan but the content was bolder with the challenge to authority in revolution mood around the cross.

Revolution is closely allied with unbelief so it ought to be no surprise that before the darkness was over these masters of wit and repartee were plundering Scripture for their ammunition. Perhaps it was the wagging head of some passer-by that 'inspired' them to take up Psalm 22 at precisely the point where the wagging heads lay off:
"He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!" [Psalm 22:8]
perhaps they had no recollection at all of where the words came from.

How can those men be restrained who in a few hours go from coining their own phrases to quoting Scripture itself in a challenge to Almighty God?

They were quoting Scripture (and Scripture that spoke prophetically and appropriately to the unfolding event at that) in derision of the one who was being punished because he dared to see himself prophesied in Scripture.

Passing By the Crossroads of all the Ages.

Matthew 27:39-40

39 • And those who passed by derided him,

• wagging their heads
40 and saying,
"You who would destroy the temple
and rebuild it in three days,
save yourself!

• If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross."

For those who passed by — and Jerusalem was thronged with pilgrims for Pesach / Passover — it seemed little more than an excuse for headshaking. The claims of a destroyed temple being rebuilt in three days seemed an idle boast to those who didn't get the personal reference (and would they have been any more receptive to a man who called his body, 'this temple' and prophesied that he would rise the third day after death?)

For such passers-by the words, 'the Son of God hanging on a cross' seemed to be made up of two ideas utterly incompatible with each other and therefore signifying nothing.

Pilgrims they might have been but the passers-by don't seem to have recognised that they were acting out a couple of significant Scriptures as they went. The reading of the book of Lamentations takes place at
Tisha B'Av, the commemoration of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, and not at Pesach but the references in Lamentations to passers-by are quite prophetic of these headshakers:

"Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow, which was brought upon me, which the LORD inflicted on the day of his fierce anger." [Lamentations 1:12]
All who pass along the way clap their hands at you; they hiss and wag their heads at the daughter of Jerusalem; "Is this the city that was called the perfection of beauty, the joy of all the earth?" [Lamentations 2:15]
but, as remains to be seen as this story unfolds, the most significant verse prophesying these words and that behaviour is Psalm 22:7

All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
the full magnitude of what they were seeing opens up to us when we see the significance in what they were doing, just passing by.


(An Outline of two sermons preached by Thomas Boston at Ettrick in June 1717 Complete Works VI 486ff.)
Text Luke xxiii. 42, — And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.
1. As a vicious stomach corrupts the best of meat; so impenitent sinners abuse the best things to their own ruin:
2 There is a particular disposition in the hearts of impenitent sinners to abuse and wrest the Scriptures.
3. Abused Scripture is one of the chief pieces of Satan's armour,
4. Reigning love to sin makes people very dexterous to find out shifts to preserve their lusts;

I. There is ground of hope for trembling sinners.
1. They may go long on, and far on in the way to hell, whom yet God may bring home to himself.
2. Grace sometimes catches them that in appearance, and to the eyes of the world, are farthest from it.
3. Grace makes a vast difference betwixt those betwixt whom it finds none.
4. Lastly, While there is life there is hope.

the use that is to be made of this, is,
1. Let those that seek God early be encouraged from this, that they shall find him:
2. Let not those whose day is almost gone, before they have begun their work, despair.
3. Lastly, Let us sow beside all waters, in the morning and in the evening.

II. But there is no ground here for the crafty delaying sinner to put off repentance,
1. It is a most rare example.
1st, What less could there have been to have cleared a possibility of acceptance with God,
2dly, As one swallow makes not spring, so neither can this one event make a general rule
3dly, Are there not eminent instances to the contrary,
4thly, The most that this so rare an example can amount to, is a possibility.

2. Though there were two thieves on the cross at that time, yet it was but one of them that got grace to repent.
1st, Is it not possible that thou mayst die blaspheming, if thou do not repent now in time?
2dly, It is at least an equal venture, that thou mayst die impenitent, as that thou mayst die a penitent.
3dly, It is inconsistent with common sense, to leave that thing to a venture,
4thly, Nay but the venture is very unequal;

And what casts the balance here in case of likelihood, is,
(1.) Common observation, that tells us, that most people even die as they live.
(2.) It is certain that few are saved, in comparison of them that are left:
(3.) The sad threatenings denounced against sinners going on in their sin,
(4.) Corrupt nature sticks fast in thee;
(5.) Repentance is not to be wrought by the sinner's being brought to an extremity,
(6.) The most powerful and likely means of grace will not prevail, unless accompanied with a special operation of the Spirit.
(7.) They that delay repentance till a dying hour, readily find they have another thing to do then, than to repent;

3. There is no evidence that this thief had before such means of grace as you have.
1st, It is unreasonable to think, that it should fare at the last with those who have had means of grace all their days, and despised them, as it may do with those who never have such means till they come to die.
2dly, This conversion of the thief doubtless was a perfect surprise to him,

4. This thief was converted, when by the hand of public justice he was to die.
lst, It is evident, that wicked men who are running on in such courses as will bring them to an untimely death, by the laws of the land, such as thieves, robbers, murderers, &c. have a fairer ground from this to delay repentance till they come to the scaffold, than you have,
2dly, If we compare the case of this thief put to death for his crimes, and of other malefactors so dying, with the case of men that have lived impenitently dying in their beds; though grace is alike free to both, yet, humanly speaking, there is more hope of the repentance of the former than of the latter.

(1.) It is more easy to convince a malefactor upon the scaffold,
(2.) The view that the thief had of eternity upon the cross, and that other malefactors have in such a case, is more certain than what impenitent sinners generally have on a death-bed.
(3.) If we except the time wherein both are actually grappling with death, the one with a violent death, the other with a natural one; the former have less hinderances from the body to prepare for death than the latter;

5. The conversion of the thief on the cross was an extraordinary manifestation of our Lord's power,
1st, It was done in such a juncture of time,
2dly, It was a wonder wrought in a time allotted

(1.) The sun was under a dreadful eclipse, for the space of not a few minutes, but three hours,
(2.) The vail of the temple was, without hands, rent from the top to the bottom,
(3.) The earth quaked at the dreadful fact of crucifying the Lord of glory,
(4.) The hard rocks rent,
(5.) The graves were opened, and many of the dead saints arose,
(6.) The spectators of those strange things smote their breasts,
(7.) Lastly, The centurion and his soldiers were convinced,

[1.] Is it reasonable, because the thief was converted at the last hour, in a time that the like never was, nor will be, for thee to expect that it shall fare so with thee?
Thou mayst as well throw thyself into a burning fiery furnace, and hope to come forth safe, because Daniel and his fellows were once so delivered.
[2.] Is it any wise strange, that amongst all these wonders of justice, power, and faithfulness, there was one wonder of mercy upon the thief on the cross?
But how canst thou think, that the time of thy departure will be a time of such wonders?
[3.] Was it not very becoming the divine wisdom, that when the divine glory of the Son of God was veiled upon the cross, a ray of it should break forth in the conversion of one of two that were hanging there with him?
but what is that to thee in a day wherein it is long since Christ was set down at his Father's right hand, and his glory published through the world by the gospel?
[4.] Is it any thing strange, that when our Lord was triumphing over principalities and powers, he set up one trophy, one sign of his victory, in the field of battle?
But what encouragement can that be to thee to delay to the last, when that nick of time is over long ago?

6. Lastly, The penitent thief on the cross was not only sincere, but he glorified Christ more in his late repentance, than thou art capable to do by thine, nay more than if thou hadst lived a penitent all thy days.
1st, When our Lord was in his lowest step of humiliation, he professed his faith of his divine nature, and his being King of the other world:
2dly, When others had crucified him as a malefactor, and were mocking him, and railing on him, as one that deserved not common compassion, he was praying to him,
Lastly, All this he did, and more, publicly before a multitude of spectators,

To conclude this matter:
1. If it be got, death-bed repentance is the most unuseful repentance for God, and the most uncomfortable for one's self.
2. Death-bed-repentance is seldom sincere.
3. Lastly, Many trust to deathbed repentance that never see it.

A Bible for the Intermediate State?

2 Corinthians 5:5-10

The Intermediate State

If we are to be judged at the judgment seat of Christ for what we have done in the body, how come older (wiser) believers seem to spend so much of their time reading their Bibles? Is the intermediate state going to be a sort of heavenly Sunday School where there will be sweets on offer for answering Bible knowledge questions?

Right, before you start rhapsodising about what literally heavenly sweets might taste like, let me remind you that we won't have bodies in the intermediate state (so what good would sweets do you?) and let me confess that I don't tend to think of reading as something done either, but it is.
• We think wrong if we think that time spend Bible reading could be better spend doing something 'useful.'
• We ought not to think of time spent in prayer as time taken away from doing something useful.
• Do we think that Mary (as in Mary-and-Martha) will have lost her reward in heaven because she chose the better part of sitting, listening to Jesus?

Prayer, Bible reading and meditation are all works that will stand in the judgment as good and for pursuing them there will be the reward for the faithful servant but the wise pursuit of these things is not entered into merely to lay up treasure in heaven. These things are 'means of grace' whereby we practice the presence of Christ now in the hope of being in his presence ere long.

And it isn't as though the Word of God isn't going to be in heaven!
• There will be no temple in the New Jerusalem because 'its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb' [Revelation 21:22.]
• There is no need of either Sun or Moon because there is no night; 'the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb' [Revelation 21:23.]
• And we won't need our Bibles there because the Lamb is the Word of God.

But Revelation doesn't talk about there being no Bibles there. Instead it says, 'No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him' [Rev 22:3.] Because of the one who was once accursed there will be no longer anything accursed. Be encouraged in the faith to do well, not for merit but for Jesus, who, needing no merit for himself, did all and bore all for us.

Prayer is a Pre-Trial Hearing

2 Corinthians 5:5-10

The Intermediate State

Since we are twice-over encouraged to live life here in the Spirit and to face dying and being with Christ without fear, surely we ought to be encouraged to face the judgment seat of Christ without fear

These things do not just hang together loosely. It is the Spirit of God who gives us access to God in prayer as we cry 'Abba Father':-
• Jesus addressed God as 'Abba Father' in prayer while facing impending death [Mark 14:36.]
• The Holy Spirit as the Spirit of adoption enables us to pray, 'Abba Father' [Romans 8:15.]
• The Holy Spirit himself, as the Spirit of the Son, cries 'Abba Father' within our hearts [Galatians 4:6.]

Similarly, to be absent from the body will be to be at home with the Lord and what is it that Jesus is doing right now? Believers ought to be encouraged to face the judgment seat, which is after all the judgment seat of Christ, because he has both passed through judgement and condemnation in our place and is now in heavenly session interceding for us [1 John 2:1; Romans 8:34.]

None of us need fear the trial since it is God himself who prepares us for it and he is available to us any time we approach. One of his purposes in adopting us is so that we might have access into his presence as a privilege of sonship so we ought to use the privilege.

Anticipation of Heaven the 3rd Dimension of Life in the Spirit.

2 Corinthians 5:5-10

The Intermediate State

The two aspects of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the believer that get most of our attention are the anointing on our present lives [2 Corinthians 1:21f.] and our expectation of having God himself as our inheritance [Ephesians 1:13f.] Alongside these two we ought to cultivate the anticipation of heaven.

It ought not be lost among our other reasons for gathering together that we do so with the object of sharing anticipation of heaven. It isn't that we know a great deal about what it will be like to be there, but our fears of being bodiless for a season are removed by the experience of life in the Spirit here and now. Praising God in the middle of the assembly of his people ought to be a foretaste of heaven to those anticipating going there.

Heaven isn't filled with dread about what it will be like to get new bodies either since it isn't a case of spirits good / bodies bad, despite there always
having been some people who have thought that way. There are none such in heaven and in fact patience about things being put right and the resurrection of the body is needed by and given to those in heaven who have been martyred [Revelation 6:9-11.] While we are in the body we ought to look with joy both for the upward call and for the return of Christ. Whichever shall come first, the return of Christ for all who believe is certain so that provides a central plank of our spiritual comfort and anticipation of heaven in the meantime ought to comfort us also.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Thanks to David Anderson.

The Intermediate State

2 Corinthians 5:5-10

A Trinitarian Impression of Heaven
Heaven is a Christ-Centred State of Mind
The Due Anticipation of Judgment

The great separation of the eternal state is anticipated by the great gulf fixed in the intermediate state between those who have done good and gone to their reward and those who have done evil. The intermediate state lasts from the the surrendering up of the spirit at death until the reception of new bodies at the general resurrection of the dead. Preparation for the intermediate state begins now as the Father adopts us, the indwelling Spirit encourages us and the Son prepares a place for us so that all our desire is to be sure of our place there, to lay up treasure for there and to be there.

The Due Anticipation of Judgment

2 Corinthians 5:5-10

10 • For we must all appear
before the judgment seat of Christ,

• so that each one may receive what is due

• for what he has done in the body,
whether good or evil.

Because heaven is the place where rewards are to be received and loss suffered [1 Corinthians 3:15] we ought to live in the light of going there in the here and now, storing up the proverbial treasure in heaven. Jesus said:

[Matthew 6:19-21] "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, (20) but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. (21) For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

and the consideration of what reward will be received out of the body ought to govern our service for him while still in the body.

The flip side of all this is of course that those who put no trust in Christ, who have no hope in God, who do not know God's Spirit, are neither ready for heaven nor can hold out any real hope of going there. The contemplation of how awful their judgement in the intermediate state will be ought to spur them to seek mercy while it may be found to avoid the 'second death' of their resurrected body, which is too awful to contemplate.

Heaven is a Christ-Centred State of Mind

2 Corinthians 5:7-9

7 • for we walk by faith, not by sight.
8 Yes, we are of good courage,

• and we would rather be away from the body
and at home with the Lord.

9 • So whether we are at home or away,
we make it our aim to please him.

We are encouraged to look forward to heaven through faith in Christ and are confirmed in our courage as we do so. We have a longing to be gone from here for no other reason than that we might be with him, where he is.

That being said, whether we are here or there is neither here nor there when it comes to fulfilling the desire we also have to please him rather than ourselves [Philippians 1:23f.]

A Trinitarian Impression of Heaven

2 Corinthians 5:5-6

5 • He who has prepared us for this very thing is God,

• who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
6 So we are always of good courage.

• We know that while we are at home in the body
we are away from the Lord,

To explain the 'this very thing' of verse 5 we ought to expand it with words from verse 4 to: 'He who has prepared us for [what is mortal being swallowed up by life] is God.' It is God the Father who has prepared us for the mortal being swallowed up by life — or in less expressive language — he has prepared us for the life of heaven after we die.

The Father prepares us for heaven in three ways:
• He adopts us into his family so that we have a title to go there.
• He gives us his Holy Spirit now, not only as a guarantee — 'guarantee' doesn't convey the whole meaning — but as an earnest to encourage us. An earnest is more than a guarantee because a guarantee can simply be a token whereas an earnest is a down payment of what is guaranteed. When the Spirit is given as an earnest of our inheritance [Ephesians 1:14] it is because God is our full inheritance so the Spirit given now as an earnest of the life we will live in heaven enables us to anticipate without anxiety life without the body in the intermediate state.
• He retains his Son in heaven preparing a place for us [John 14:2] so that we no longer feel fully at home in the body and look to be at home where Jesus is and to go home to there.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Here it is with Jam on it.

Luke 23:39-44

The Word of Justification

Salvation is a time changing and universe changing event. It is a word spoken from the edge of darkness to usher in a brand new dawning. Today is when you should make your own very big ask of the man whose central cross presents the very biggest of answers. Lewis Carrol's complaint might well be right for lots of applications,
'The rule is,' he said, 'jam tomorrow and jam yesterday - but never jam today.' but with Jesus Christ there is no such deadly denial masquerading as delay. Here the law is neither yesterday nor tomorrow, but 'Paradise, Today!'

Recognising Christ's Righteousness

Luke 23:39-44

The Word of Justification

At the heart of our justification is a recognition of Christ's righteousness and, while justification is a once for all act, such a recognition ought to be a constant part of our praise. The recognition of Christ's righteousness is a major element of our remembrance of him in the breaking of bread.

Self-Condemnation is not Enough!

Luke 23:39-44

The Word of Justification.

When we get to self-condemnation we don't stay there — as though the thief on the cross had realized his condition years ago and saved up until this moment to repent. As if — If we truly understand the condemnation in which we stand we won't want to linger in it for a second, so self-condemnation passes quickly on to repentance and faith in Jesus. The thief on the cross was justified by faith and so must we be justified also; by faith in the crucified Jesus.

The Word of Justification

Luke 23:39-44

Atypical Change of Direction
Patently he has done Nothing Wrong
Our Times are in Whose Hands?

In this life absolutely anyone — at any time, in whatever condition of life — can get right with God by confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord and believing in their heart that God has raised him from the dead. [Romans 10:9.]

Dying the Death Deserved by us.

Job 30:16-23

The Pointer to the Point of No Return

The question of who was responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ was answered by Peter on the day of Pentecost. Pulling no punches he makes no excuses for the way the crucifixion was carried out, saying, 'this Jesus, … you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.' Nevertheless Peter's full intention in mentioning the lawless men who laid hands on Jesus is to show how the sinless God sinlessly used their sinful actions to
put an end to sin for Jesus was '… delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God' [Act 2:23.]

Subjected to the cruel persecution of being reduced to 'dust and ashes', bearing our sins in his body and having his cries unanswered by a God who only looks on his agony without response, Jesus knew everything there was to know about Job's complaint and then some. To see him die the death deserved by us is to see salvation from the penalty and the inevitability of death. Gazing on Christ drawing the sting of death provokes us to join in the rejoicing of him, '… who … endured the cross, despising the shame,' because he 'is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.'
It was by this very endurance of separation from God on Calvary's cross that Jesus became both 'founder and perfecter of our faith' [Hebrews 12:2.]

The death of Christ comprises of his lying in the borrowed tomb for the prophesied three days, his giving up the ghost at the end of his trial and, most especially, of his dying during those hours on the cross. By the time he committed his spirit to God and breathed his last, the work of salvation was accomplished so now we must deal with death during our dying. Now is 'the favourable time' [2 Corinthians 6:2.] Even now death has its grip on your throat so why would you hesitate any longer? His death in the midst of his years took place so that we might find life in the midst of our dying. Choose life!

Preparation for Death

Job 30:16-23

The Pointer to the Point of No Return

It isn't morbid to take out a life assurance policy so that loved ones don't have a financial burden to bear when we die. It might be a bit strange that we call it 'life assurance' when the assurance we are talking about is that we shall assuredly die but we are not wrong to take comfort from the knowledge that all the finances are covered, perhaps even all the arrangements.

Nor is it morbid to think about what is to happen after death. Life is a voyage and while as a small boy I would have wanted to search all over the ship and in manhood take the opportunity to meet interesting people at dinner, near the end of the journey I expect to be more and more interested in the voyage being ended. Here is a thing though, since we don't know when our particular voyage is going to end, sparing a thought for what comes after the journey at any point during the journey is the sensible thing to do.

Living with Death

Job 30:16-23

The Pointer to the Point of No Return

Whether we are tempted to catalogue all our petty ailments or to be in denial about serious illness, we need to face up to the challenge of death in the midst of life. The early onset of evidence that life is extremely time-limited ought to be a spur to us not only to show wisdom by discerning our latter end in the midst of life [Deuteronomy 32:29] but to live life thankfully and joyfully in the midst of death [1 Corinthians 1:10.]

The Pointer to the Point of No Return

Job 30:16-23

The Valley of the Shadow of Death
Death by Instalments
Death by Appointment

Just as the great transition from the original creation to the present evil age involved both the fall of mankind and the expulsion from the garden so the transition of each individual from this world to the next involves both dying and death.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Death by Appointment.

Job 30:22-23

22 • You lift me up on the wind;

• you make me ride on it,
and you toss me about in the roar of the storm.

23 • For I know that you will bring me to death
and to the house appointed for all living.

Even though the wind goes where it wants to, and a journey on the wind would be full of disorientating turbulence and contrary motions, in the end the one lifted up in the wind would return to earth with a bump. So it is that life seems so disordered and life in crisis even more so yet the inevitable end is death for 'it is appointed for man to die once …' [
Hebrews 9:27]

Death by instalments.

Job 30:19-21

19 • God has cast me into the mire,
and I have become like dust and ashes.

20 • I cry to you for help and you do not answer me;
I stand, and you only look at me.

21 • You have turned cruel to me;
with the might of your hand you persecute me.

Job's friends argued that he'd brought his troubles on himself, he must have done by their reckoning because such trouble wouldn't be visited on anyone without a reason, would it? We know better, knowing that the devil was very active in Job's troubles because we've been given an insight into how Satan was operating in this case in the first couple of chapters. But our insight isn't enough because Job, with all his lack of objectivity about the case, knew best. God is active in visiting death upon all mankind. The threat that at the death of every individual we shall return to our constituent dust is lived out in the lives of those who suffer, whose lives are cast onto the waste-heap when they would have thought of themselves as being in the midst of their years.

The worst thing about death is the feeling that God has forsaken the one who is dying. If there is, as there genuinely often is for the believer in Jesus Christ, an assurance of his accompanying them through the valley of the shadow of death then it is not death to die. But such assurance is not always vouchsafed to those who are wrestling with pain. Sometimes it seems that it is God who is wrestling with us and sometimes he seems just to stand there and watch. 'How long O Lord?'

It is small comfort to know that if God did not stay his hand we would be utterly overwhelmed but it is a comfort. Whose hands would you rather be in? The capricious hands of man, knowing your own clumsiness, the hands of the evil one who is always racking his brains to find new ways to torture his victims or the hands of God? Job like David would have chosen to have his life in God's hands even if that meant death. (Job 13:15 Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face.) If we get who God is then we will wish for the same.

The Valley of the Shadow of Death

Job 30:16-18

16 • "And now my soul is poured out within me;
days of affliction have taken hold of me.

17 • The night racks my bones,
and the pain that gnaws me takes no rest.

18 • With great force my garment is disfigured;
it binds me about like the collar of my tunic."

We get ourselves involved with our ailments in various ways. Some of us like to catalogue them while others are in denial. Some are polite to the point of absurdity: 'How are you?' / 'Oh! I'm fine!' in every possible combination of accident or illness. Others are ready with the details of the most minor inconveniences. We might either find the longest Latinest name to comfort ourselves that we at least know what the illness is or we might shroud everything in Anglo-Saxon mystery: 'I've got the Lurgy.' / 'Well, there's a lot of it about.'

As they say and so we say dividing up our day ailments and our night ailments. Waiting for the morning to come so that we can get up and longing for night so we can switch out the lights and escape to sleep. What is this thing that has got us by the throat and is slowly choking us? In spite of all the cataloguing and all the mystery, our problem is Death, with whom we have an appointment, but who will not wait for his time before he sends messages of his impending grip upon us. If we were to answer the questions thus honestly we would be done with the 'How are you?' / 'Let's talk about the weather instead.'

Except that that's worse nowadays with all this talk of global warming, what we ought to do about it and the stark warning that in the last analysis there's nothing you can do about it. Death sends its shadow over us all and there is no comfort in it's prospect if we don't see beyond that fact.