Friday, January 11, 2013

John 14:1--3

"Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.  In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also."

Through years of watching and listening to the Master, His chosen men had often been awed by His actions, intimidated by His power, worried over His waning popularity... but now He is talking of leaving them, and their hearts are troubled.
He had been their shield in so many ways...calming a storm that threatened to capsize their boat... defending them against accusations and attacks from the religious leaders, such as when the disciples picked grain on the Sabbath... even diffusing the anger of mobs intent upon killing Him (and them)...  So, now that He is talking of leaving them, their hearts are troubled.
He had also been their spiritual Protector, as well.  At one point, He revealed to Peter that "Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail," (Luke 22:31, 32a).  Such, indeed, was one of His greatest means of spiritual protection on their behalf:  intercessory prayer (John 17:6--19).  The other was the sheer force of who He was (John 18:6).
And His presence was now being taken from them... their hearts were troubled, indeed.

Our Lord's first comforting assurance dealt with His divinity.  "believe in God, believe also in Me."  In truth, it was at the heart of His relationship to them.  Their total acceptance of His equality with the Father was a non-negotiable, the very foundation under-girding what He was about to promise.  They had to embrace who He was, the God-Man, in order to trust Him (as He knew they would) in the future.  Psalm 9:10 speaks to this:  "And those who know Your Name will put their trust in You; For You, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek You."  Those trust God the most who know Him the best.  The reason we do not trust Him more is because we do not know Him, really.  The more intentional we are in hearing, reading, studying, memorizing & meditating on His Word, the deeper will be our knowledge of Him.  And the more faithful we find Him, the greater will be our confidence in all that He promises.
It was so that evening in the upper room... the Lord Jesus sought to comfort their troubled hearts by revealing (1) heaven's accommodations, (2) His provision there for His own, and (3) His imminent death on the cross would only be a temporary separation from them-- there would be an eternity-long enjoying of His presence in glory.

(1) Better than "mansions," "dwelling places" (or apartments) conveys the layout our Lord is describing.  The disciples were no doubt familiar with the practice of adding rooms to the main house when children would marry, elderly relatives would need a place to spend closing years, or for extending hospitality to visitors.  How many "dwelling places" the father could add on was, of course, limited by his financial resources.  In contrast, heaven has no such restriction... limited only in the number of the elect ones who will reside there.
(2) The Lord Jesus Himself will make the needed preparations... matching each deceased (or translated) saint with a dwelling place suitable for his/her glorified existence.  Such a loving Lord!  Numberless angels could have been sent for this task, but no... the sovereign Shepherd Himself will tend to His sheep (John 10:4).  From eternity past when we were chosen in Him, through our days on this earth as we are led by His sent Holy Spirit, and into a heavenly eternity... we have been graciously provided for by our faithful Savior.
(3) His promised return was based on the pledge of preparing their (and our) heavenly home.  "I will come again" is the confident hope that everyone who has been changed by the Lord Jesus holds tenaciously.  
Note:  our Lord did NOT say that He would come again and take us to heaven...rather,  "I will come again and receive you to Myself.."  In a wonderful sense, going to heaven is not so much going to a place, as it is going to a Person.  Heaven is being with Him, forever!    

"...if it were not so, I would have told you."  With their winsome wooing, these assurances by the Savior draw my heart back time and again... for, who among us hasn't had a troubling thought about death and its hidden coming..?  The enemy of our soul knows only too well the tendency we have, as people, to dread the unknown, to fear the unseen, and to doubt what is beyond our senses.  How gracious and compassionate of the Lord Jesus to give us the written Word of His immutable promises of: His preparations for us, His provision, and His Person.  Such a joy it will be to praise Him more worthily than we do now... and forever, at that!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

I Peter 5:8

Howard Kuljian and his family were out for a walk on a damp, overcast morning at Big Lagoon beach, playing fetch with their dog Fran as 10-foot surf churned the water just feet away like a washing machine.
Signs near the beach warned of "sneaker waves," the kind that suddenly roar ashore.
Kuljian tossed a stick that took the dog down to the water's edge, and in an instant, authorities said, a wave swallowed it, setting off a nightmarish scramble.
"Everything kind of snowballed from there," said Coast Guard Lt. Bernie Garrigan.
Kuljian's 16-year-old son, Gregory, ran to save the dog, only to be captured by the surging surf himself. Kuljian, 54, followed, and then his wife, Mary Scott, 57. On shore, their 18-year-old daughter, Olivia, and Gregory's girlfriend could only watch.
Both parents' bodies were later recovered, but the boy -- presumed dead -- is still missing."      -- Fox News

"At Big Lagoon beach, a short drive from Arcata, signs posted near the parking lot warned beachgoers not to turn their back to the surf and to pay special attention to sneaker waves." --By JASON DEAREN AP reporter.

"Be of sober spirit, be on the alert.  Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour."   I Peter 5:8

Peter's warning is timely, his image is vivid, and the need to be reminded of it, unceasing.  

Through Peter, God's first command is to be sober and alert.  A sober spirit is one characterized by maintaining a discerning perspective on life, with eternity in view.  This spirit is in contrast with being dominated by emotions and passion.  Rather than being ruled by feelings, the sober-spirited believer lives daily in the light of eternal priorities.  How?  The senses are trained to maturity by continuous time in the Word of God.  As our thoughts are taken captive to His obedience (II Corinthians 10:5), a sober spirit develops and leads to alertness.  For, the believer whose mind is saturated by Scripture learns to never underestimate two things: (1) the power of the flesh, and (2)  the subtle stealth of the Enemy and his forces.  Like the warning signs posted at Big Lagoon beach, the Bible warns complacent Christians of the constant, continual warfare that is going on in the unseen realms.  A classic example is the 10th chapter of Daniel.  There Daniel is given a glimpse of the angelic warfare that transpires when God's children pray.  Another is Ephesians 6, where, in verses 12--18, the apostle Paul warns us to be alert and armed... for our struggle involves various levels of spiritual opposition: "...against rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places."  With such formidable forces arrayed against us, it is little wonder that we are admonished to continually keep alert.  

As for Peter's vivid imagery, it is a powerful one.  Likening the devil to a roaring lion carries with it intriguing physical characteristics, as well as sobering spiritual applications for every believer.  In his sermon entitled "Roaring Like a Lion" pastor Leith Anderson of Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, MN., cites formidable facts related to lions' traits:  "The lion is called 'the king of beasts.'  It is a fitting title because lions have virtually no natural enemies, other than humans.  Male lions can grow to 550 lbs. in weight, 4 ft. tall at the shoulder, and 10 ft. long in the body (not including the tail, which adds another 3 ft.).  [Its roar] can be heard as far as five miles away (!).  But never believe anyone who tells you that the roar of a lion is worse than its bite.  He has 30 teeth: large canines that grab and kill; razor-like molars that slice through flesh; and small incisors that are especially good for scraping the meat off of bones.  When the other lions in the pride surround a victim, it doesn't matter which way the antelope or zebra runs because there is a lion waiting to pounce.  The weight of the lion takes the victim down, as sharp claws tear through the toughest hide.  Actual death comes by biting the neck or snout and suffocating the prey to death.  Once dead, the victim is ripped open and the big male lion comes in to celebrate the victory by consuming up to 80 lbs. of meat at one meal (!).  It is only when the large male lion has finished his meal that he will leave whatever remains for the other members of the pride."  Satan, too, has a  pride, consisting of a third of the heavenly host who revolted with him in his pride and rebellion (Isaiah 14:12--14; Ezekiel 28:14,15; Revelation 12:4).  Their number is humanly incalculable, their power superhuman, and their subtle movements relentless.  Like their leader, their two-fold aim in the universe is to hinder the knowledge of God, and, to steal His worship.  Without regard for whatever means are necessary, they purpose to be as unnoticed as possible to the destruction of souls.  

The third part of God's warning through Peter describes the devil's desire to devour.  Like lions, who hunt, surround, chase and pounce, going for the throat, so, too, the demons do their Master's bidding that he may devour men's souls.  Through the world system, their tools are three: "the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life," (I John 2:16).  With them, Satan and his forces foster ignorance of God through fear and idolatry.  
By contrast, those who belong to the King, the Lord Jesus Christ, are "not [to be] ignorant of his schemes, (II Corinthians 2:11), [in order] that no advantage  would be taken of us by Satan."  NOTE: in context, Paul makes it clear that one key means by which we can be taken by surprise is through unforgiveness (v. 10).  An unforgiving heart is one that (a) has failed to take sin seriously, and (b) has forgotten how freely he/she has been forgiven by the Lord Jesus.  

"Father,  Impress upon us afresh the ongoing reality of spiritual warfare revealed in Your Word.  Grant maturity of our senses to discern the enemy's schemes, deepening our determination to walk daily in Your provided armor.  May Your blessed Spirit continually prod us to praise You for the victory the Lord Jesus won on the cross!  Be pleased to reveal ways we fall into fear and idolatry, with an ever-increasing desire to repent and be restored...moment by moment.  Thank You for not being through with us, yet.  And for the certainty of Your acceptance & forgiveness wrought by Your Son's flawless life, atoning sacrifice, and victorious resurrection!  In His Name, Amen."