Saturday, April 07, 2007

The Eternal State

Matthew 25:31-40

To Make Up His Treasured Possession
The SheepfromGoats Protocol
As Close as we Come to as Good as it Gets.

Although the details of what we shall be in the eternal state are not yet known to us, nor can we (with the use of whatever kind of science) hope to grasp what hasn't even entered into the fringes of the imagination of the heart of mankind, we can anticipate its glory somewhat from such data as our own bodily experience here in the world of now, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit as the guarantee of our inheritance and the promise that, when we see him, we shall be like him, whom to know is already life eternal.

As Close as we Come to as Good as it Gets.

Matthew 25:34-40

34 • Then the King will say to those on his right,
'Come, you who are blessed by my Father,
inherit the kingdom prepared for you
from the foundation of the world.

35 • For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
36 I was naked and you clothed me,
I was sick and you visited me,
I was in prison and you came to me.'

37 • Then the righteous will answer him,
'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you,
or thirsty and give you drink?
38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you,
or naked and clothe you?'
39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?'
40 And the King will answer them,
'Truly, I say to you,
as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,
you did it to me.'

The eternal state is as good as it gets and this invitation is as close as we come in the here and now to getting a glimpse of what that will be like. Such will be the satisfaction of seeing the King —
Your eyes will behold the king in his beauty; they will see a land that stretches afar. [Isaiah 33:17]
— that all questions about what we shall be will be answered when and as we see him [1 John 3:2.] The questions will be about when we might have fed, watered, welcomed, clothed, visited or succoured such a glorious being, for surely we'd have remembered someone so bright. (You know, glowing/glorious, not someone like Richard Dawkins.) And what's more when would someone so glorious have needed sustenance, care or emancipation from the likes of us?

The question will be 'When?'
• Not, 'How?' Because the connections of how are obvious; when someone is hungry what else will you do but feed them?
• Not, 'Why?' For why else would you give a drink than if someone were thirsty?
• Not, 'Who?' Because it's not at issue that Christ has received these things. The question is, 'When?'

It will turn out that 'when' was 'whenever' — whenever the righteous have done to one another as they would have done to themselves. The King calls the recipients, brothers, because they are fellow heirs who have received the adoption.

Just as there is a fitness between the need felt and the help supplied and between doing it to the least and it being accepted as if having been done to the greatest, just so there is a fitness about believers inheriting the kingdom.
The kingdom will be inherited
• as it has been prepared from the foundation of the world
• by those who receive the familial blessing of the King of kings
• along with the King of Glory whose own entrance into the glory prepared for him is to be marked and made complete by his bringing many sons to glory [Hebrews 2:10.]

The SheepfromGoats Protocol

Matthew 25:32-33

32 • Before him will be gathered all the nations,

• and he will separate people one from another
as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

33 • And he will place the sheep on his right,
but the goats on the left.

Well, how do you go about separating sheep from goats? We're not talking about
classifying representative pictures of sheep and goats into order or arranging stuffed animals in a display, for although such a differentiation can be done quite 'scientifically' that task would be merely childsplay in spite of the obvious similarities between them.

If we try to separate sheep from goats on religious grounds we are in trouble for the opposite reason since both are kosher, parting the hoof and chewing the cud, and may be eaten by observant Jews accordingly, and when it came to sacrifice, a sheep and a goat were of roughly equivalent value, much as pigeons and turtledoves were.

The two main occasions where one kind was specified rather than another were when lambs were specified for Passover and goats for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Here we are getting closer to the idea of separation because on the original night of Passover, the lamb's blood was placed on the doorposts of the houses where the Passover was to be eaten to separate those inside from those outside the protection of the blood. On Yom Kippur the two goats were separated by lot (a good method to separate two goats but not sheep from goats) the one goat was for sacrifice to the LORD, the other
(the proverbial 'scapegoat') was 'for Azazel,' and whatever happened to that goat when it was led into the wilderness, its blood was not shed.

The clue about how the sheep and the goats are to be separated lies in the text itself. We need to ask how does a shepherd separate sheep from goats? And the answer is given elsewhere by the 'Good Shepherd' himself:
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. [John 10:27-29]
So, for such is human nature, there will be many from all nations who will be wondering, since they can't be sure of being among the sheep simply by belonging to the right nation, what is it that marks them out as a sheep rather than as a goat? Both goats and sheep are headstrong and will go their own way but those who know the Shepherd's voice will hear his clear instruction, 'Go to the right.' and they will never perish.

To Make Up His Treasured Possession

Matthew 25:31

31 • "When the Son of Man comes in his glory,

• and all the angels with him,

• then he will sit on his glorious throne."

The gloriously eternal God created both humans and angels for his own glory. Some of the angels and all of mankind fell short of God's glory because of the entrance of sin. In accordance with God's counsel, the Son of God, also eternally glorious (… not count[ing] equality with God a thing to be grasped,[Philippians 2:6]) left heaven's glory in order to restore fallen humanity through his death on the cross. On his being raised from the dead he returned to heaven with the promise that he would return in glory.

Here we have the tripartite glory of the returning Christ displayed. Two parts of that glory will be complete on his return (his own glory as the Son of Man, the judge and the glory of his glorious throne, the seat of judgement.) The third part of his glory will be to be completed, not that the angels are not glorious in themselves, but that this glory of his will be made complete when to the number of the angels will be added those (both male and female) adopted from among mankind to be God's heirs who, with Christ and the angels will make up the number of the sons of God at last.

The company of the holy, elect angels, saved from ever falling into sin will be joined by the complete company of holy, elect people redeemed from sin by the glorious death on the cross of him, who knowing no sin was made sin for us.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. [2 Corinthians 5:21]

Saving Faith in the Completed Work of Christ

Luke 23:45-52

The Word of Perfection

• It's no use just protesting Christ's innocence because even the centurion at the cross knew that.
• It's no use beating ourselves up emotionally over how terrible a thing it is that he had to die for even the crowd that crucified felt that.
• It's of no use just going through the motions of gathering round the cross with Jesus himself not present, though admittedly it was for Jesus' sake that the disciples did gather.

Here is God's perfect sacrifice, dead for you to believe in while you live. Confess with your mouth that he is Lord, just as Jesus himself heralded his victory over sin vocally, indeed, in a loud voice. Just as Jesus committed himself into God's hands in sure and certain hope of the resurrection so, if you believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, your faith will be of ultimate use to you. You shall be saved.

Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?

Luke 23:45-52

The Word of Perfection

We might be tempted to take comfort
• in only following orders
• in having just been temporarily caught up in what everybody else was doing
• in regrouping after having been scattered
thinking that our restored mercifulness, human feeling or solidarity is our default mode and that what we did at the cross of Jesus was somehow an aberration.

But what if that flit, looking out for oneself, that show of cruelty or that mob violence were to prove to be the default? What if it isn't about what the centurion said ("Certainly this man was innocent!") but about what the centurion did? Conversely, what if it isn't about what the crowd did (beating their breasts) but about what they said? Deep-in-the-heart darkness was on display at Calvary; that depravity of which the totality is never seen. What if it is the default for disciples not to gather but to run away?

If we would truly put to death the sin that remains and at the same time bring immortality to light, we must come back, continually, to the cross of Christ and, daily and always, repent of the sin for which Christ, once and forever, was the perfect sacrifice.

Unexpected Things Required for the Coming of the Kingdom

Luke 23:45-52

The Word of Perfection

Just as the colt, upon which no person had ever ridden, was surrendered to the disciples because Jesus needed it, so Joseph surrendered up to Jesus his new tomb, in which no human remains had yet lain. What unexpected thing might the coming of the kingdom require of me?

Friday, April 06, 2007

The Word of Perfection

Luke 23:45-52

Surrender of the Spirit
Tumult of the Soul.
Habeas Corpus: Having the Body

Christ's sacrifice of himself was perfect in every way; When the time came he was to be found, 'about his Father's business', so to speak, deprived of all help, he remained himself entirely and truly and when the work of sacrifice was over, he was prepared to rest his weight on it himself, surrendering his broken body to human hands and his triumphant spirit to God in submissive prayer to the Father.

Habeas Corpus: Having the Body

Luke 23:50-52

50 • Now there was a man named Joseph,
from the Jewish town of Arimathea.

• He was a member of the council,
a good and righteous man,
51 who had not consented to their decision and action;
and he was looking for the kingdom of God.

52 • This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.

Just while the desire to have the
killing of Jesus drawn out was ebbing out of the crowd and the centurion (too late) was protesting his innocence, a new determination entered into an erstwhile 'secret' disciple of Jesus to ask Pilate for his body to be released to him.

The Romans left nothing to chance on such occasions so as surely as they would have provided the right number of crosses, nails and soldiers to execute the three men they had led out to die, they certainly had three graves ready dug at the site, with the bags of quicklime ready to speed up the dissolution of the bodies. No doubt the bodies of the two thieves were thrown into their permanent graves but the body of Jesus was taken to rest in his temporary tomb.

It was not in God's plan for the body of Jesus to be reduced to dust and ashes so, although Joseph appears here somewhat like a suddenly convenient but not previously mentioned crucial character in a cheap detective novel, Luke wasn't concocting fiction; this man or his memory was to be found in the village of Arimathea. It was a matter of record that this Joseph had integrity as a person, that as a council member he had not consented to the death of Jesus and, crucially, that he had been looking for the kingdom of God before he went to Pilate.

Further evidence that this character was not conjured up by God at the last minute as a contingency to save the body from dissolution is to be found in the prophecy of Isaiah. The Roman preparations for disposing of the body of Jesus are found predicted in
Isaiah 53:9
And they made his grave with the wicked

but so is the intervention of Joseph
and with a rich man in his death …

Jesus committing his spirit into God's keeping was justified when we see the preparations made from eternity for the keeping of his body.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Tumult of the Soul.

Luke 23:47-49

47 • Now when the centurion saw what had taken place,
he praised God,
saying, "Certainly this man was innocent!"

48 • And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle,
when they saw what had taken place,
returned home beating their breasts.

49 • And all his acquaintances
and the women who had followed him from Galilee
stood at a distance watching these things.

It is much more likely that it was the sun's darkening that provoked the confession of Christ's innocence from the watching centurion than either that this centurion was the 'say-but-the-word' centurion whose servant Jesus had healed without even coming to his house (the Hollywood version) or that he had been able from where he stood to see the temple curtain tear (the new-site-for-Golgotha on the Mount of Olives version.)

Even a normal eclipse of the sun has extraordinary effects on people who witness it, so, given the heightened emotions that this crowd were displaying earlier, their powerful reaction and display of more than normal grief is not entirely unexplainable. This had, though, been more than just a rent-a-mob gathering so we must see more significance in their breast beating than mere recreational grief.

It was surely an extraordinary turnaround for the man in charge of an execution to declare the innocence of the victim as soon as that victim was dead. No less amazing was the action of the crowd, beating themselves up over a man they'd just been taunting as he died. It was as though the cruel skills of the soldiers and the antagonism of the people had just been necessary tools to get the job done so that as soon as
Christ had made atonement on the cross the anger disappeared and the very coalition that crucified him were at a loss as to why they had done it.

It is consistent with these changed attitudes being down to the restoration of normality that the sheep, which had been scattered at the beginning of Christ's trial, were gathered together as one flock, admittedly standing at a distance, by the time his suffering was ended.

Surrender of the Spirit

Luke 23:45-46

45 • while the sun's light failed.

• And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.

46 • Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said,
"Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!"
And having said this he breathed his last.

Of the three things that happened virtually at the same time that Friday afternoon, the least spectacular was the prayer uttered by the crucified man on the centre tree. If the three events are taken to have significance (and they are mentioned together because Luke considered them to be significant) then the prayer might still be thought to be the least of the three but when it comes to understanding all three it is the prayer that puts a seal on the things that happened and explains them.

It is the prayer of committal that explains the sun's darkening and the rending of the temple curtain. Come another day and the sun shone again. No doubt, when the temple custodians got over the shock of the curtain being torn and it was possible to do so, the curtain was sewn up again. But never again would Christ be on the cross so, as he gave his life into the Father's hands, we can see the sun's eclipse as mirroring the departure of the Light of the world from the world and also that access through the temple curtain opened up into the Most Holy Place just as the Great High Priest was entering into heaven itself.

This prayer puts a seal to the sequence of words from the cross which began with a prayer also. (
The Word of Pardon )

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

There is a Fountain

John 19:28-33

The Word of Perseverance

None of the wounds of Jesus were mortal wounds. Flogging could kill a man but care was taken to not prevent the people's choice (crucifixion or release) that was to follow. Similarly, the mockery of the crowning with thorns was intended to be more painful than the thorns themselves. The nails that pierced him had their utilitarian purpose to hold him to the tree and even the spear thrust that would have killed him if truly administered as a coup de grĂ¢ce was applied after he was dead just to 'mak siccar.'

The idea of blood 'speaking' is a trope found in Scripture starting from the record of the first human death, that of Abel:
And the LORD said, "What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground." [Genesis 4:10]
we ought to make sure that we are listening. The spear thrust produced a copious flow of blood and water that might well have caused the soldier to curse but, as a sign that the curse was over and dealt with, that fountain opened cries out with the force of an echo of the dying words of Jesus, 'It is finished!'

We had better believe it!

Deo Volente

John 19:28-33

The Word of Perseverance

If the will of God is done in spite of the best administrative efforts to contradict his Word
It shall be eaten in one house; you shall not take any of the flesh outside the house, and you shall not break any of its bones. [Exodus 12:46]
or the best professional care to extenuate his dying in spite of Christ's intimate knowledge of what was (consequently upon God's determining to save) absolutely necessary, then we ought to qualify all our planning with a, most likely silently added, but heart-felt, 'Deo Volente!'

A Declaration to be Believed.

John 19:28-33

The Word of Perseverance

The declaration from the cross itself that salvation has been achieved by the dying of Christ on the cross is a declaration that is to be believed.

• It is to be believed that God planned it so, so that the dead body of Christ would lie in the tomb for part of the Friday, all of the Sabbath Saturday and until the early hours of the first Lord's day Sunday morning; technically three days.

• It is to be believed that Christ himself 'gave up the ghost' so that the spirit departed at his will and the body left behind was massively disrupted internally, as he breathed his last, to produce the evidence of death when the soldier's spear pierced his side.

• It is to be believed that Christ knew that the work of salvation was finished and that his cry from the cross is the Word of God to us, 'It is finished!'