We live in an age of influence. There are more and more celebrities who have an impact on what people do. We are bombarded with advertisements and Youtube channels. Influencers can drive us; they can change the way we look and how we talk. Influencers can change the way we shop. If influencers haven’t got Jesus as king of their lives, it’s going to distract you. This past year we have seen a change in the way we have been influenced. It’s been complicated. We want things to be better than before.
As Christians we need to be thankful of those who have influenced us. Paul is writing to Timothy and reminded him of the influence of his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice. This morning we should be utterly thankful to those who have influenced us. Paul, in prison, is writing to Timothy in Ephesus. Paul is reminding Timothy as he goes forward, of what he needs to be influenced by, of what is going to shape his ministry in the church and the future. Today we hear so many voices, like the voice of the government. If you listen to too many voices, it becomes confusing. This letter to Timothy is really helpful for us; it has key doctrines of what must always be at the heart of our Christianity.
This letter reminds us of the impact of the Spirit of God. In verse seven we read,“For God gave us a spirit not to fear but of power and love and self-control.” As we have seen this week, the media can break a family, a relationship, in one single image on the front cover. But God sees and hears everything. He can reduce everyone’s lives in a moment, but he doesn’t. He offers his grace. The Holy Spirit brings new life. Our life begins to change. He moulds us to be more Christ-like. His spirit helps as to apply and understand God’s words. We’ve been bought by the precious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ and called to live for him.
The beginning of verse 8 reads, “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord.” We are called not to be ashamed, not to be worried about what others think of us. All of us are sinners. We need to be saved by grace. We are reminded in verse nine that it is God, “who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace which He gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.” There are somethings none of us can do or be able to do, that only God can do. God alone is the one who can rescue us from the Kingdom of darkness and bring us into the Kingdom of light. We can explore the universe and go to the ends of it, but we will never be able to save ourselves from the sting of death. The gift of God is eternal life in our Lord Jesus Christ. The power of God makes it possible to be made right with God.
As we start to rebuild churches and ministries, what are we then to do? To declare that God alone can do what we can never do. In verse 10 we read it is our “Saviour, Christ Jesus who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” Jesus Christ has destroyed death. He says in John 14 :6, “I am the way and the truth and the life no one comes to the father except through me.” Friends, are you reminded of that soul single truth this morning? Jesus Christ alone can destroy death.
In Christ alone my hope is found; He is my light, my strength, my song; This cornerstone, this solid ground, Firm through the fiercest drought and storm. What heights of love, what depths of peace, When fears are stilled, when strivings cease! My comforter, my all in all— Here in the love of Christ I stand.
We have to remember what Jesus Christ has destroyed. If you have put your trust in Jesus Christ, when He calls you home or returns, you are free. Why are we here this morning? To gather and worship God. But we are also here for a purpose, we are here to serve. What is God calling you to do? In what ways is God calling you to serve? Paul is writing to Timothy from prison, he is serving his life out in prison. Timothy is living life in Ephesus where people were trying to distract the church. We live in a fallen world, and we are called to serve in a fallen world. There are challenging times ahead. It is the Spirit who empowers us.
Verses 11 and 12 say, “I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I’m convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me.”Paul makes it clear that contentment requires effort. We have been called by God to live lives that are holy. We are also to be ready to give a defence for the hope that is within us. To have Christian contentment, remember God is with us in all things and in all times.
“Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith aunt love that are in Christ Jesus. by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” (2 Timothy 1:13-14).
“How dare you!” says another student teenager from Sweden to the most powerful leaders around. She carries on, “People are suffering, people are dying, systems and entire eco systems are collapsing. We are in the beginnings of a mass extinction.” What about the group known as Extinction Rebellion, who are actually having a protest this week at the G7 summit? Their website says this, “We are facing an unprecedented global emergency. Life on earth is in crisis. Scientists agree we have entered a period of abrupt climate breakdown and are in the midst of a mass extinction of our own making.” Now, I don’t want to minimise the importance of looking after the environment, caring for animals, keeping the oceans clean and reducing our emissions across the world. All that is important, all of that is vital and is part of God’s first great mission for us in Genesis chapter one, the very first chapter of the Bible. But what are we to make of this kind of talk that we’re in a crisis, that the whole world is in a crisis, that we’re on the brink of a collapse?
If you were to operate with the mindset of this world, that this is all there is, then we probably have a reason to be very concerned, perhaps even hysterical. But the Christian worldview should take a different view to this. In fact, the biblical mindset should actually heighten our concern for environmental issues, but it should do so with less of a hysterical attitude, less panic and less fear. This is not just about environmental issues, this is about many other things as well; we think of nuclear weapons and the potential for global war, we can think about the way there is such tension in the world that we live in, so much polarised opinions about what is right and what is wrong. We can even think, as we’re all too aware, and seeing your masked faces today, about the Pandemic. Should we be hysterical, should we be concerned that we’re on the brink of collapse because of Covid 19? Well, we’ve got Revelation 4 to help us here.
For the churches of the 1st century, as this was written to them, were facing all kinds of issues themselves. But when you look at chapters two and three, for example, there are all kinds of issues in these seven historical churches: there was a church that needed to recover its primary love, a church that needed to cling on in light of the suffering that was about to come their way, there was a church that needed to watch out they didn’t compromise with the world, a church that needed to bring back some spiritual life because they were all but dead. There’s one that needs strength in their weaknesses because there were some of their community that were trying to get rid of them. There’s a church that needed to stop being so self-sufficient in their wealth.
There are churches facing all of these kinds of issues today around the world but also here in the UK. We might think that if there are churches facing all these issues today, churches that are compromised, churches that are as good as dead, churches that are faithful under great suffering and persecution, is there a hope for the future? Can we adapt the words Extinction Rebellion and say this about the church, ‘We are facing an unprecedented global ecclesiastical emergency, the church on earth is in crisis.’ Theologians and missiologists agree that we have entered a period of abrupt ecclesiastical breakdown, or we are in the midst of a mass extinction as Christians of our own making. So, our planet in crisis, our health system is in crisis, the church is in crisis. Shall we ramp up the fear? At the risk of giving the game away far too early, the answer is ‘No.’ But why is that? Well, you’d have to read the whole of the book of Revelation to find that out, because that’s what the rest of the book is essentially about. But for this chapter today, what we need is a vision of the sovereign Lord, the God who is in control of everything.
You are probably familiar with the book of Acts which tells the story of how churches spread across the world in the 1st century up until the 60s. In many ways, Revelation is a retelling of the history of the Church, of the church in the 1st century, but from a very different angle.
We are given a heavenly perspective of what is going on. We see that clearly in the first verse here. John sees this door in heaven and he’s invited to go into heaven and see what is going on, what is going on behind the scenes and what will take place. He is in the spirit (in verse two) and he enters into this continuing vision that actually began in chapter one of Revelation. He goes right into the most sacred part of heaven, the very throne room of God. The immediate focus as he gets into the throne room of God is, of course, on God Himself. He is the one who is sat on the throne, He is the one who sits in the position of sovereign rule over all things. Imagine if you were in John’s shoes – you went into the throne room of heaven. Perhaps one of the first questions you might ask is, ‘What does God look like?’
Whatever image of God is presented in the Bible, we are never shown a direct image of God. We don’t see Him directly. We are given indirect allusions to His appearance. That’s because the core truth of who God is, is that we cannot look at Him and live. He, in His Holiness and brilliance, is so awesome that if we saw a direct image of God, or even if we conceived of a direct image of God, we would melt before Him because we are mortal, fallible creatures.
One vision of God that this chapter particularly refers to and draws on, is the material from Ezekiel. It is one of those books that we perhaps struggle with and perhaps don’t spend too much time reading. But it’s a wonderful book. In Ezekiel chapter one Ezekiel is given a clear vision of who God is. It’s just an amazing image. So, Revelation here particularly draws on Ezekiel chapter one.
Ezekiel sees the throne of God and as Ezekiel spends time describing what is going on, he describes what goes on around the throne of God rather than describing the One who sits on the throne. Ezekiel says, “Above the vault over their heads was what looked like a throne of lapis lazuli, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. Above the vault over their heads was what looked like a throne of lapis lazuli, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him.” (Ezekiel 1:25-27).
He’s describing what goes on around the throne rather than One who is on the throne. So back in Revelation chapter 4 verse three you have John saying that God’s appearance is like all of these precious gems. His appearance is something like Jasper, a ruby which has very bright, luminous colours as it reflects and refracts light and spreads and shines it out. Surrounding Him was the full spectrum of colour, so that the whole rainbow is encircling the throne. Also referred to in Revelation chapter 1, there’s a rainbow there as well, but somehow this rainbow looks like a shining emerald, just part of the contrasts that go on in Revelation, things that can’t quite square up in in our understanding.
So, where it is the fieriness of Ezekiel, with a bright glowing metal that looks like there is fire there, or whether it is John seeing these beautiful gems that are there before him, shimmering and sparkling, the point is that the any image of God is just far too overwhelming, and brilliant and bright, awe-invoking. But that’s all we are given because we can’t see God Himself. Using the brightest, most colourful, most wonderful things that we’ve got in this world of gems and fire, that is all we can muster up to describe God. Actually Ezekiel, at the end of chapter one, says, “This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking.”
John is not seeing the Lord, he is not even seeing His glory, he is not even seeing the likeness of His glory. He is seeing the appearance of the likeness of His glory – that’s four times removed from a direct image of God. So even these visions of God in the Bible, even this vision of God in Revelation chapter one, there is barely a hint of the wonderful appearance of God Himself.
So then John, having given us a hint of the appearance of God, then moves on to describe who else is in the throne room of God. So, he begins in verse four with these 24 thrones, along with these 24 thrones are 24 elders, every one dressed in white, gold crowns on their heads. Wonderful imagery. White clothing, as we may know, is the picture of God’s people in purity. Crowns represent the victory of having kept faithful to God throughout their lives, having reached the end of the goal of their faith.
I think these 24 beings, these heavenly elders, represent the fullness of the church, both before and after Jesus. Before Jesus came, we had 12 tribes of Israel. In Jesus’s time and beyond we have 12 apostles who are the foundation of the church. Simple maths, 12 and 12 is 24. It’s something that crops up throughout the whole Book of Revelation. So, you’ve got these representatives of the whole of the church, both before and after Jesus. They are then representing us before God in the throne room of God, which is wonderful.
But then the drama ramps up from here. From the throne comes these flashes of lightning. There are rumbles or possibly shouts and then you’ve got these peals of thunder. I’m sure you all remember when we’ve had a dark, stormy night and been woken up by a thunderstorm. Perhaps you’ve seen either flashes of lightning or heard the distant rumble of thunder? It can be fearful. These thunderstorms in heaven, around the throne room of God, are there to invoke a sense of awe within us.
Then, because this throne room is the temple, it needs a few temple artefacts. In fact, Hebrews tells us that the earthly temple in the Old Testament was actually modelled on the heavenly temple. So here we have some of the objects that were in the Old Testament temple of God. We’ve got the lampstand, which is the next thing to capture John’s attention, the sevenfold lampstand. And that is, as we are told, to represent the 7 spirits of God (by the way, that’s not to say there are seven Holy Spirits of God. The number seven is simply used that to show completeness and perfectness of the Holy Spirit). Then you have this sea of glass that was like crystal.
But then there’s one last thing that captures John’s attention – and they are very weird. You’ve got these four living creatures who were introduced to us at the end of verse six. We are first told that they are around the throne of God. They have eyes all over them, even under their wings, which is pretty strange to think about. It just means they see everything, I think. They have six wings. The first creature is like a lion, the second one is like an ox, the next one has a face like a man and the fourth is like a flying eagle. Those four creatures are the four pinnacles of their territory: the lion is the king of beasts, the ox is the strongest of all of the domesticated animals, the human is the ruler of all the creatures and the eagle is the king of the sky.
The number four is used to talk about geographic completeness: north, south, east and west. We have four creatures covering the entirety of the earth. So I think these four living creatures represent all of the creatures from all across the world, from all different animal kinds, including the human beings and pets.
As we allude back to Ezekiel, these living creatures are mentioned in Ezekiel chapter 1 – four of them again, except they are slightly different. It tells us in Ezekiel chapter 1 that that all of these creatures have four faces, “Their faces looked like this: Each of the four had the face of a human being, and on the right side each had the face of a lion, and on the left the face of an ox; each also had the face of an eagle. Such were their faces. Each had two wings spreading out upward, each wing touching that of the creature on either side; and each had two other wings covering its body.” (Ezekiel 1: 10-11)
So, they are a little bit different in Ezekiel, but nevertheless it’s the same kind of creature representing all creatures before God’s throne. It’s just overwhelming, isn’t it? To think about these creatures with their faces, with their wings, their eyes all over them.
Now so far everything seen is pretty much in static. It’s as if you put on the film in Revelation but you’ve put it in pause and all you see is this static image with the exception, perhaps, of the lightning that needs to move, doesn’t it. Everything else hasn’t needed to be in motion yet. So, it’s come on in pause and we’ve yet to press play. But because it’s being paused we’ve been able to glance at every detail that is on the screen. So, we’ve been given a hint of the One who’s at the centre of it all. The Sovereign Lord rules from His throne in His brilliance and in His splendour. In accord with His brilliance we have glimpsed all of the brilliance going on around Him: the temple, the 24 elders on the throne that represent the entirety of church, the four living creatures that represent all creative beings. So we had a glimpse of it all. But what are we to make all this so far?
I think one thing is for us to recognise that God is so unapproachable, He’s so incomprehensible, He is so unseeable. We could never grasp the entirety of God. He is far beyond our reach – and that’s not least because of our limited brain. We don’t have the capacity to fully grasp Him because of the limitedness of our brain but also the limitlessness of God because He is beyond limit, so it is impossible for us to grasp it. But it’s also because His brilliance emanates from His holiness; His brilliant shines out of His Holiness. When we compare ourselves to him in His Holiness, we are nothing. We see our imperfectness, we see our sinfulness, we see all of our flaws before this holy and perfect God. It’s because of that that we can’t fully grasp God. For us, trying to approach God and trying to understand Him in our sinfulness is a bit like a refuse worker or someone who collects the rubbish coming straight from work and trying to get into a fancy, Michelin star restaurant, dressed in their work clothes and not had a shower. They will be refused entry. It’s like us trying to grasp God in our simpleness and His holiness.
If we tried to grasp God in our simpleness, if we tried to enter His presence as flawed as we are, then we would simply melt before Him. He is so perfect, especially compared to us. On one hand God is far beyond our grasp and yet He is also not completely unknowable. John, in his vision, doesn’t have nothing of God, he’s able to grasp something of Him. That’s because he’s been invited up. He has seen something and so we too should be able to recognise how privileged we are to know something about God.
The Bible tells us that everyone knows something about God just by looking at the world around us. What a good thing that is for God to give us this world, to look at it and see He is powerful, He’s made everything, He is eternal and stands above the creation. Jesus had invited John to see something of who God is. He has shown us who the Father is. When we look to Jesus we are privileged to see something of who God is. It’s wonderful, isn’t it?
Well, to finish up our time in chapter 4, as we’ve seen everything in pause so far, we need to press play. At the end of verse eight we are told what these living creatures say. It’s put in several Bibles as a quoted section, formatted slightly differently so it stands out. They say “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to Come!”
They don’t just say it once, they don’t just sing that at the top of their voices once and think ‘We’ve done with that now, we’ve said it don’t need to say it again.’ No, they never stop saying it. In fact, day and night they say it over and over again. It’s not just them saying something here; whenever they say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to Come!” it is almost like a starting pistol for the 24 elders, who then respond by doing something and saying something.
So whenever they hear that phrase, they then respond by bowing down before God, they take off their crowns and put them in front of God, and they say (which is seen in verse 11 and is also formatted differently), “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”
But no sooner had the 24 elders finished saying that, finished bowing down, then saying, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created,” then the four-legged creatures will say their bit again, and as soon as they finish saying “… by your will they existed and were created,” then you’ve got for living creatures, who once again say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to Come!”
What happens when they say that? Well, that triggers the 24 elders again to bow down before God, cast their crowns before Him and say, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” And so it goes on – back to the living creatures, back to the elders, in this constant cycle of praise as they recognise who God is.
But when we look at those things they tell us a few things about God that are important for us to hang onto. It tells us He’s absolutely holy – that’s why they say it three times, to really emphasise that He’s absolutely holy, that He’s the Lord God Almighty, that He’s eternal, that He is worthy of praise, that He deserves recognition and esteem and authority. Everything that is and everything that continues to exist is by His will. He’s made everything in the first place, and He keeps everything going. Therefore, He is worthy of worship.
So, from all this, we see that God deserves our perpetual worship. He deserves all of the perpetual worship that ever there could be. He deserves that worship to go on forever and ever. He deserves one choir to declare His unique being, only for another choir to declare His sovereign worth. He deserves it! He deserves our worship.
Do you ever find it repetitive coming to church every week? You come week after week. We do the same thing week in, week out – a slightly different hymn, slightly different reading, a different preacher this week to last week. We’re doing the same thing over and over again. Do we ever find it repetitive? Maybe we do, but that’s because of our sinful nature, that’s because of our flaws.
But God he deserves our praise. Perhaps you find it hard coming in these in these times we’re living in, with these restrictions? You hate wearing masks? I hate wearing masks, I hate that we can’t sing, that we’re not supposed to talk to each other too long at the end of service. These are frustrating times. Perhaps it makes our repeated worship, week in week out, even harder to do. But God is worthy of it. He deserves our worship and He deserves it to be done over and over and over again. And after all, if God is, as we have said, beyond our full grasp, then we will never be able to declare the fullness of who He is. We will never be able to tell Him fully how amazing He is.
Coming week by week and telling Him something a little bit different each week, something a little bit more of God’s glorious splendour each week, will build up into this big picture of who God is and how He deserves our worship. We need to remember that every time we gather in worship, when we spend time throughout the week, morning, evening, reading your Bible and praying, that God is worthy of our repeated worship everyday of our lives. And when we do that, when we read the Bible on our own and pray, when we gather each Sunday and worship, we’re joining in the perpetual worship of heaven. As the temple of God is meeting, even right now, we’re joining in their worship. Our worship started at 10:30 a.m. this morning but we joined in what was already going on in heaven. Revelation 4 is always going on in heaven. We are simply joining in this morning. He deserves our worship. He deserves us to join Him and declare His work.
So, as we began, is the world going to end? Are we on the edge of collapse? Are we in danger of mass extinction? Is the natural order about to cease to exist? Are humans going to be wiped out by Coronavirus? Well, we need not be fearful. Everything that exists is by God’s control, by His sovereign hand. It will not cease to exist except for Him allowing it to stop. It is by God’s will that anything exists, and it is by His will that we, as humans, and every other creature on this Earth, continues to have their being. It is by His will. We see He is the sovereign Lord who is on the throne of heaven, who is in control of all things, who holds all things His hands. He is unapproachable yet He has revealed Himself to us and He is worthy of all of our worship.
The first chapter of Esther is so relevant to our situation today. Hebrew Ahasuerus. His Hebrew Persian title is Xerxes. For the purpose of this sermon he will be referred to as Xerxes.
This scripture is so relevant to our situation today. Esther is one of two books in the Old Testament that actually never mentions God. The other is the Song of Songs. But it would be wrong to think that this book of Esther is just a book of history. The fact that God’s name is not mentioned is deliberate because the message of the book of Esther is this: behind the scenes of life lies the unseen God whose hand controls the movement of individuals and empires. God is not directly mentioned. Why? Because the message is although God is not acknowledged and is unnamed, He’s clearly there. His will is sovereign, and His will and sovereign purpose is being worked out.
Here we are in an age of pandemic. How many people have thought about God? People believe He’s a God who is not relevant; our trust is in science, in SAGE, the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies. The government says we’re following the science, it doesn’t say we’re following God. We live in an age when the church of Christ is struggling in some lands. Perhaps, even as Christians, we are tempted to say, ‘Where is the God of the revivals of Welsh history? Where is the God of times past of salvation of large numbers of people? Perhaps, as individuals, there may be circumstances in our lives when we ask ‘Where are you God, have you abandoned me? I see no evidence of your presence.’ The message of the book of Esther is that God is at work, constantly accomplishing His will and purpose. He’s at work in and through the pandemic, He’s at work in and through the church and He’s at work in and through the life of His people.
The opening two chapters introduce us to the main characters. In chapter two we see Esther, her cousin Mordecai and the ‘baddie’ in the story, Haman. Esther is going to placed on the throne alongside King Xerxes (Ahasuerus) to be the instrument by which God saves His people, the Jews, from annihilation, and therefore assures that the line of the Messiah continues and Jesus is born to be Saviour of the world.
But before chapter two we have a look at chapter one, where the other main character is introduced to us, King Xerxes. Xerxes the First, son of Darius the First, who ruled over the Persian Empire from 486 – 485 B.C. He is presented to us in this chapter as the master of all of the civilised world, as his kingdom stretches from India in the East to modern day Ethiopia in the West, a kingdom that was organised into 127 provinces. He is now in the third year of his reign.
From history, we know that he has just successfully put down a rebellion in Egypt and is now turning his attention to Greece. His ambition is to conquer and subjugate the Greek world. He gathers together his commanders and all of the chief of officials of the various provinces to come to his palace in Susa, the capital, to plan the attack on Greece. The Persians believed in mixing business and pleasure and so the occasion of the planning of the campaign is elongated by many feasts. After about six months the preparations have been made, a plan has been drawn up and so the time is being drawn to a close by a great feast. Herodotus, a Greek historian of the period, says that Xerxes was going to raise the largest naval and land force the world had ever seen, numbering 2.6 million men. A huge, huge military operation. Having planned it all out, there was now this great climatic feast.
It was held in the opulent luxury of Xerxes’ palace, which was tastefully decorated for the occasion. It was a fitting backdrop to this display of his royal liberality. Xerxes provides abundantly for his guests, no expense spared. He is magnanimous; there are people from different cultures, different backgrounds with different attitudes. Protocol would be that if the king drinks everyone else drinks. But Xerxes is not going to force people to drink, he allows them to follow their own customs. Here he is, this great king, commanding a vast army, ruling over the greatest empire, fabulously wealthy, but he’s not going to force people to follow what he does.
The man sits upon the throne with total dominion over many nations, with absolute authority. But we know from history all of this went to his head. One of his royal palaces had this inscription written on its foundation stone, “I am Xerxes, the great King, the only King. The King of all countries that speaks all kinds of languages. The king of this big and far-reaching earth.’ But what Xerxes failed to see is that there is a greater King. There is a greater King who dictates the course of Xerxes’ life and the course of his empire. The great, unseen, almighty God who, for His own purposes, raises up Xerxes. The rulers and leaders of the nations feel themselves important. They have their trappings and power and authority. But it is God who appoints governments of all descriptions (Romans 13:1-2). We are to give due regard to those whom God appoints. But we must also expect them to realise that they are answerable to God. They will have to stand one day before their Creator and give an account of themselves, as all men will.
As we look at this man Xerxes I am reminded of another King who has all power and authority, the one before whom every knee must ultimately bow, the Lord Jesus Christ. Xerxes felt he was the ultimate power. But ultimate authority is given by God to only one, His beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. He always uses His power for the good of His people. Xerxes could be generous to a point but King Jesus, who has the wealth of all creation, His generosity is boundless. He pours out grace upon grace upon those He loves.
Here is a king who provides a regular banquet, a great and glorious feast. No banquet on earth is like it. Xerxes threw a great banquet, but nothing compares to the great banquet our King regularly provides for us – the Lord’s Supper. Here we feast upon Him. It’s a love feast for pardoned sinners, whatever their status in human society. The bread and the wine are the symbols of His broken body and His outpoured blood, all for the sake of our salvation. This banquet is the foretaste of the great eternal, never-ending banquet in glory to come.
King Jesus eclipses Xerxes. What a blessing it is to be Jesus’s subjects. Nothing compares. We see Xerxes as a powerful king but then we see Xerxes sees as a drunken king, as frail as all men. On the last day of this feast we find him in high spirits from wine. It impairs his judgement. He commands Queen Vashti to appear before him and his men. He wants them to be impressed by her beauty, he wants them to acknowledge that he is the one with the most beautiful wife in the world. He wants his officials to admire her regal beauty.
But such a request was degrading for Vashti. It was an affront. Vashti was also giving a great feast for women because that was the norm. The women and the men did not mix on these occasions. It was regarded as being wrong for women, particularly women of importance, to be involved in these male-only booze-ups. So, when Vashti is commanded to come, she refuses. She is not going to be belittled in this way. She is not going to be subjected to this demeaning behaviour. Whether she was wise to refuse is a matter for debate, but it is wrong that she was commanded. Here is, perhaps, one of the most telling examples in scripture of drinking to excess. It is said that Joseph Stalin seldom drank himself, but always plied his visitors liberally with alcohol! He knew that when they were drunk they would let slip secrets.
All men are sinful and subject to the same temptations, therefore, all are equally under God’s judgement. All are equally in need of salvation through Jesus Christ, the rich and the poor, the famous and the unknown There is no greater place of equality than before the law of God and the cross of Christ. We are living in an age that speaks of inclusivity and equality. Well, there is inclusivity, there is equality. Not found in the ways the people of our day think, but found before the law of God. We are all included. Everyone. On exactly the same basis, exactly the same level – as sinners. There is no-one righteous, no, not one. That is equality before the Lord of God, for all are condemned. There is wonderful inclusivity in the Lord Jesus Christ. It doesn’t matter what gender, social class or race we are, no one is more saved than anyone else, no one has a greater place in the Kingdom of God than anybody else. Here is true inclusivity. That’s the true meaning of conversion.
The Bible, and the New Testament especially, warns of the dangers of alcohol (Ephesians 5:18). We must never put ourselves in a position where something or someone else has control over us, where we succumb to another influence. We are to be Jesus’ alone.
Finally, we see a furious King. Vashti’s refusal sends Xerxes into a rage. He’s no longer proud of his Queen’s beauty, instead he’s irate. He calls together his seven closest advisors, men who aren’t concerned to see justice done. They think if Vashti gets away with it, what about their wives? And so they counsel that Vashti be disposed and Xerxes finds another queen. This Xerxes readily does.
Interestingly, at the start of chapter 2, Xerxes begins to regret this, but at this point he’s going to teach her a lesson. He doesn’t acknowledge his own guilt. He would have been better apologising. He sees Vashti’s refusal as an affront, but of course this lays the groundwork for Esther to become queen – Esther the Jewess, the one who at the telling moment is going to announce to Xerxes that it her people that Haman wants to destroy, that she is a Jewess. In that moment God is going to use Esther to overturn Haman’s plan and ensure the safety of the Jews, and therefore of the line of the Messiah, that the Saviour of the world might be born. That doesn’t mean that what Xerxes did was all right. But God worked though Xerxes’ bad temper and drunkenness. God is at work God bringing about the circumstances whereby Esther will be placed in that most significant position.
We’re all like Xerxes; we find it easier to be angry with someone else than acknowledge our own sinful faults. So, we asked that the Lord gives us grace to see our faults first. How thankful we are that our King will never lose His temper, despite our disobedience. He deals patiently with us.
We may deserve to lose our salvation, but we never will because God is faithful. Our king has given us a counsellor who always advises us – the Holy Spirit (John 16:7). He will never flatterer us but will always tell us what we need to know – the truth that sets us free. In Xerxes we see an all-powerful king who seccumbs to drink and a furious rage. But it is God who is at work. God, through all of this, will ensure the great King will come, King Jesus, the one whose rule is righteous and true, the one who rules for the good of His people. His love always ensures they are safe in eternal salvation. He loves them and guides them by the Holy Spirit and ensures they will always be co-heirs in the Kingdom. What a joy to be subjects of King Jesus. What a comfort to know God has ordained all things. May God be praised!
We glory in the fact we are redeemed, justified before God because of what Christ has done. When Christ rose, He rose to a new quality of life. He was transformed. He earned this for us too (Ephesians 2:5-6). This is what we will experience. By coming to faith we’re made spiritually dead to the world. Our spirit has been renewed (Colossians 3:1-2). We still have to deal with the same bodies, the same weaknesses and sicknesses, but we’re to seek heavenly things. The power used to raise Christ from the dead is the same power He uses to sustain us. If we try to do something in our own strength it is like going in second gear. We need to surrender to God, to truly trust in God, not our limitations (Ephesians 1:19-20).
When we fully trust in God He infuses every aspect of our lives. This starts with regeneration – it is only of God. Its impact upon our lives should be ongoing and obvious.
Regeneration is a work of God alone.
The life of faith is initiated by God (John 1:13). When we are born again all three persons of the Trinity are involved. It is the Father who initiated our faith (James 1:17-18, 1 Peter 1:3). The Resurrection of our Saviour is the means used to obtain our regeneration. Our rebirth is of the Spirit (John 3:8).
He has raised us spiritually from death to life, to the realities of the spiritual realm. It is mysterious to us. We don’t understand it but we still give thanks. Scripture tells us God’s ways are not our ways.
Whilst regeneration is of the Spirit, it should affect every aspect of our life (2 Corinthians 5:17). I still have the same physical body but it now serves God. God’s salvation is holistic, it saves the whole person. Our bodies are a creation of God, originally described as ‘very good.’ Regeneration – God has done it all
Regeneration comes before saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Once regenerated we come to a saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. God has to work that in our hearts. We know that the faith we have can ebb and flow, but regeneration is from God (John 6:44, John 6:65).
Acts 16:14 is an example of this working out. God acted on Lydia’s heart so she would respond positively to Paul’s call. But the reverse can also be true (1 Corinthians 2:13-14).
Look for evidence to see if someone is regenerated. From the moment we realise we have been saved, we have a desire to read the Scriptures, a need to pray. We seek a meaningful ongoing relationship with God. God has done this and will not revoke it. God wants us to build upon the regenerated heart He has given us.
Regeneration is confirmed by a changed life.
It is an ongoing process fed by sanctification. The power of sin that used to be in our lives is no longer present. While sin continues to hamper us, God’s seed is in us. We penitently confess our sins, asking God to change us – we must have God’s help to do so.
We are a daily witness as we seek to put others first, not ourselves. Not to do this is to take on the world’s attitudes. (1 John 5:3-4). God has won the victory for us. Since we are regenerated we have overcome the world in God’s strength. Regeneration will protect us from Satan (1 John 5:18). Satan will bicker at us but God won’t let him succeed, He won’t let Satan pull us out of His grasp. Satan whispers doubts in our ears, but the fact you are grieving shows God at work in your life.
Regeneration is something we can depend upon as we live our lives (Galatians 5). The fruit of the Spirit should be nurtured. It is not a check list but character traits we will see as an ongoing basis in our lives.
Jesus tells us what He expects from our lives – fruit in the people we become. He looks at what we will become, not what we’ve done.
“Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me,” (John 8:42)
Some gifts can be received in a way we did not expect. The giving of God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, did not go the way we expected. Not everyone loves Jesus. There are those who militantly oppose Him and His name. His name has been used blasphemously. We see acts of great kindness but then His name is dishonoured. His name is also used blasphemously in anger. Also, there are those who claim to know and worship Jesus yet they do not know Him at all.
The Saviour often offended people by His words. In today’s reading, John 8:31-59, Jesus spoke to people who professed to believe in God. They argued their corner and said they were free men. Jesus’ response goes further in explaining they were slaves to sin. Only the Son could set them free. He goes further still; they desired to kill Him because they were children of the Devil. They responded by calling Christ a demon-possessed Samaritan! We need to critically hear that message at Christmas, New Year, Easter, Summer, Autumn and Winter to come – the message of our plight before God, of our sinfulness and God’s provision for salvation. It is a message many will find hard to hear. Light has come into the world. We live in the darkness. However, Christ did say that true children of God will love Him (John 8:42, Ephesians 6:24).
All who reject God’s Son will be rejected by Him. “If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come!” (1 Corinthians 16:22). Do you love the Lord Jesus Christ? Are you able to say, ‘I do!’ Does He mean everything to you? Yes He does. Jesus is mine and I love Him! You may rejoice in who He is, yet you do not see Him. You know what He has done in your soul, that heaven’s beloved one, Lord of Lords and King of Kings, came into this world to die on a cross, to give of Himself for me. I love Him! True children of God love Him as their greatest desire. We love Jesus more than we love any other. We love His commandments (John 14). This is the kind of love we have for Jesus Christ.
Psalm 110, we bow before Him, we submit to Him because we love Him. Our very lives are not as dear to us as the love we have for Jesus Christ. We put Him first. Jesus Christ came into this world to be loved by His people who He had redeemed.
Why should we love Him? The purpose of Christmas is to respond to the love of Jesus Christ. If we have failed to do this then we are wasting our time and have missed the point of Christmas. If today you do not love Him it has all been a waste of time. My plea is to look back again at the incarnation afresh – the Son coming into the world. Why? What is all the fuss about? Pray God will help you be a lover of Him. We love Jesus Christ. He came from the Father, from God. The man who walked on the shores of Galilee is the incarnate Son of God. The Son was always in the bosom of the Father, such was the intimacy of love and affection. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Tri-unity of God. He is not saying He is the Father, but He is in the Father. Even as the eternal Son came into the world, He could say ‘I am in the Father.’ So any child of God loves Jesus Christ because we love the Father.
We love Jesus Christ because He does the Father’s will. Such was His willingness, he was ready to do the Father’s will. There was never any doubt He would obey His Father. His purpose was to go to the cross, to feel and experience the Father’s wrath, His righteous anger poured out on Him. And we love Him for that.
We know how easy it is to argue, even in the most committed marriages, but Jesus is pure and holy, 100% of the time, always committed to doing the Father’s will. This teaches us also to be submissive, in our prayers to do the Father’s will.
It is important to notice we struggle with the will of God in our lives. Our daily attitude is to admit it – we struggle with the will of God. Ask God to help to see the wonder and beauty of His purposes.
We love Jesus Christ because the Father sent Him to save sinners. The Father has called you to joys that will last forever. The Father wants you to be happy. How greatly the Father loves us. We did not love Him yet the Father sent the Son to rescue us. He first loved us, “We love because He first loved us,” (1 John 4:19). Do you know that? Do you know your security and safety is not dependant on loving Him right now? He doesn’t love you because of that, not because you love Him – He first loved you.
When people receive a great gift, when the great reveal takes place, people say ‘Oh, I love it!’ There is great enthusiasm and passion for a gift. May our enthusiasm expand, may it grow and increase for the Lord Jesus Christ. Let’s pray for us to become more dedicated in serving our wonderful Saviour.
Have you ever wondered, ‘God, what are doing?’ We all live our lives and sometimes things go spectacularly wrong. We wonder why everything is a mess. Where is God then? We ask, ‘God, what are you doing?’ We see on the news wall to wall coverage of news which confuses us. Brexit. What is going on! Perhaps, it’s another situation in the Middle East. We may look at Syria and exclaim, ‘Where is God in that?’ Maybe it is not so much an international situation but a personal one. We have all experienced crunch points. We have all been through them, are going through them or will go through them. So often we wonder, ‘What are you doing God? Why is this happening?’ If you’ve ever wondered this question, you’re not the first to wonder that.
Let me re-introduce you to a man named Habakkuk. He was a minor prophet. The book of Habakkuk is only three chapters long. May be our spiritual pride boasts how quick we can find Habakkuk. He is a ‘minor’ prophet because of the length of the book, not the prophet himself. The book is equally rich in teaching.
Who is the man, Habakkuk? He was an Israelite, a prophet. Habakkuk was living in Israel in the waning years of the Syrian empire. The Assyrians were a nasty bunch. The Israelite nation is ruined by Assyrian oppression. Good news is mocked, evil is celebrated. Habakkuk is saying, ‘God, what are you doing?’
“O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save?” Habakkuk 1:2
Habakkuk has been calling on God but nothing is happening. The good guys are losing and the bad guys are winning. If sin bothers you, it bothers the Lord a whole lot more. Habakkuk stands in ruins, seeing his leaders take bribes, seeing destruction around him. The law is paralysed. He wants justice. He asks what the Lord will do. The Lord Almighty answers, saying, ‘You don’t even know the half of it! There are plans in motion you have no idea about,
“Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.” Habakkuk 1:5
Habakkuk thought things were bad but God says, ‘Just wait till the Chaldeans come!’
For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own. They are dreaded and fearsome; their justice and dignity go forth from themselves. Habakkuk 1:6-7
You can almost see Habakkuk thinking, ‘I wish I hadn’t asked now!’ In the ancient world the king was the most powerful person, yet these strong, reckless Chaldeans laughed at kings (Habakkuk 1:10). That’s not the answer Habakkuk wanted to his prayers – more evil, pagan conquerors. How can a good God send a bad thing? Hurting can be unpleasant but for a greater good. The Israelite corruption caused a lot of pain. The scalpel was the Chaldeans. Habakkuk doesn’t like what he is hearing.
We read of Habakkuk’s second appeal to God (verses 12-13). Habakkuk’s argument is why punish a less wicked nation, Israel, with a worse kind, the Chaldeans? Why is mankind left to his own wickedness? The Chaldeans prided is their strength. Habakkuk wants to know how long the judgement will last for. He finishes his appeal by awaiting God’s reply. He goes to the watch tower (Habakkuk 2:1). His argument is this: why punish the evil of Israel with a greater evil, the Chaldeans? The Lord answers. “The righteous shall live by his faith,” (Habakkuk 2:4). We don’t know what God is always doing but we trust God. God sees everything perfectly and we cannot understand that picture from the bit we have.
The Lord continues by proclaiming a judgement – five woes. That’s a lot of trouble! The Lord is in His holy temple. Israel has sinned. God had judged this by using the Chaldeans. The Chaldeans have sinned. God will judge them too. Israel will answer to God for its sin, the Chaldeans will answer to God for their sin too. We all stand before God to give an account.
How does Habakkuk respond? He reveres the Lord. He pours out his praise, his adoration for who God is (Habakkuk 3:2-6). Isn’t our God a great God! Habakkuk’s problems haven’t gone away. He still has questions but he’s beginning to realise a little more about who God is. He finishes his book by saying, ‘God, I don’t know what you’re doing but I know you are good, righteous and holy.’ (Habakkuk 3:17-19).
Ultimately, everyone will give an account. We know, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). We know, “The righteous shall live by his faith,” (Habakkuk 2:4).
The prophet Jeremiah is often overlooked, which is a terrible mistake. Remember, when Jesus asked, ‘Who do people say I am?’ some thought He was Jeremiah. Perhaps because the message of Jeremiah is so intertwined with the message of Jesus, a message full of compassion. Maybe that is why Jesus is compared to Jeremiah because of his compassion. When we are to present the truth we can’t escape sin. David, in Psalm 8, asks the question ‘What is man?’ We have to recognise our condition, our state. Even as Christians we wrestle with sin.
Jeremiah prophesied in some of the most turbulent times in Israel. The Assyrians, Babylonians and Egyptians were all vying for attention. Jeremiah’s mission is told in chapter 1:9. In essence, he is to build. He can’t build unless he takes the rubble of our lives and restructures. The opening chapters of Jeremiah are about repentance. We mustn’t skate over warnings – we’re here because Jesus died on the cross. He came to give us beauty for ashes. If you sin you face judgement. But Jesus is alive.
There are many images in this chapter. Every bottle is filled with wine. It was a place of plenty. Yet we must not focus on wrong things. The Lord instructs Jeremiah to get a sash, like a kilt that fitted around the waist and went down to the knee. It was a very useful garment and covered the main areas. It is described as linen. Linen is especially used for covering tables and precious garments (Revelation 18:16). It is used for angels’ clothes. Our Lord and Saviour was wrapped in fine linen. In Revelation 19:18 we read the Church is arrayed in fine linen, it is splendorous.
‘For as the loincloth clings to the waist of a man, so I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, declares the Lord, that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory, but they would not listen’ (Jeremiah 13:11)
Jeremiah was not really a priest but a prophet. Prophets weren’t finely dressed, so it would have been a shock to people to see Jeremiah dressed in linen. The sash was not to be put in water, showing it was a brand new, fresh garment. The reference to clinging reminds us of Genesis 2:24 and the relationship between Adam and his wife. It is an indication that the people of God are to be intimately connected with their God. God is invisible, so how can He be made known? He dressed Himself with His chosen people.
Why was the sash discarded? Jeremiah wore the garment but he was then told to hide it. He travelled 700 miles north to the Euphrates. This is significant; it was where Judah was to be taken into captivity. Jeremiah was then told to recover it. Unsurprisingly, it was ruined. Why did the Lord do this? What were the chief sins of this time? ‘This evil people, who refuse to hear my words, who stubbornly follow their own heart and have gone after other gods to serve them and worship them, shall be like this loincloth, which is good for nothing’ (Jeremiah 13:10). The people were guilty of two main things: they refused to hear God and followed their own ideas. Do we sometimes refuse to hear Jesus’ words?
The people were puzzled by Jeremiah. They thought they were still doing things God wanted them to do (Jeremiah 7). They loved the temple. We can say we love fellowship, the scriptures, but do we love the words of Jesus? We are influenced by science, by our culture. Are we being transformed? (Romans 12:12). What are we doing to remove ourselves from worldly thinking? It is very easy to be influenced by thinking of the old flesh. We are told to cast off the works of darkness and put on the armour of might, to deny ungodly and worldly lusts. The call for us is to get the Word into our minds and hearts so it is life. Putting God first can be a struggle. Get on your knees and eat the words (John 6). Do we hear God so much that we want to change things?
The people followed the dictates of their own hearts. God wants you to hear what He wants to say, to walk with Him. How do you stop following the dictates of your own heart? Read and devour the scripture (Hebrews 4:12). Judah was to face exile. The ones who were the clothing of God were now going into exile. They had the law, the tabernacle, priests. They were supposed to be the light of the world. But now they were ruined. They had not heeded Solomon’s wise words. Man, born of Adam, could never do what God intended us to do (Deuteronomy 26:16-19, Jeremiah 13:11). Judah had blown it. Is there no hope? Praise God, the second Adam came down and took the form of a human person, Christ is the true image of God.
Lesson to be learned:
Adam couldn’t do anything about his sin. There is hope because Christ came in my place. We have the hope of Christ. Those who put their trust in Him, He gave the right to become the Children of God. We now adorn God. We are to listen, hear and give ear. Look at the compassion of the Lord. It is so important we spend time humbling ourselves before the Lord, listening. Do not be proud. Pride stops you from listening. Humble yourself. The Lord Jesus Christ came as a humble servant.
When things go wrong, a lot is down to our sinful actions. To be clothed with Christ is to look to Him. In our lifestyle we are to seek to call upon the Lord to be more like Him (Romans 6:4). We are called to walk in the Spirit, not in the flesh, a walk worthy of the Lord. Let’s listen to Him and walk in His ways.
God is unchangeable. One of the names of God in the Old Testament is Yahweh. It speaks of the unchangeability of God. We vary from day to day, year to year. God is always the same. The temptation for us is to think of God in our terms. This is wrong. God is not a created being; He has always been. God cannot change. God is perfect (Psalm 50).
Because God doesn’t change, His purpose and His will don’t change either. His plans are the plans He has always had. He is all powerful. There is a certainty about God’s plans. We change our plans when we have new information. Sometimes we change our plans when we don’t have the resources. Sometimes plans change because we don’t have the strength to carry them out. Sometimes we change plans when we lose interest. Other times the world may change around us and change our plans for us. None of these things apply to God, He never changes His plans, ‘Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand’ (Proverbs 19:21).
‘The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations’ (Psalm 33:11).
The following verses may seem to contradict what has just been stated:
‘And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.”’ (Genesis 6:6-7).
‘The word of the Lord came to Samuel: “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.” And Samuel was angry, and he cried to the Lord all night.’ (1 Samuel 15:10-11).
‘When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it’ (Jonah 3:10)
These verses, and some others, imply that God has changed His mind about something. Are we to believe God made mistakes and changed His plans? No. These verses speak of God figuratively.
The Lord tells Samuel He regretted making Saul king, but we later read, ‘And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret’ (1 Samuel 15:29). God is described as ‘regretting’ to make things clear to us, showing His displeasure in a ways we would understand.
God’s actions towards the Ninevites changes but His plans did not. If you’re a Christian there has been a change of action, but not a change of plan. God is unchangeable. His plans are unchangeable. ‘God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? (Numbers 23:19).
God’s emotions are unchanging. Yet we read that our Lord Jesus Christ was moved to tears (Matthew 9), felt ‘righteous anger’ (John 2, Mark 3), and rejoiced (Luke 10). He was a ‘man of sorrows and acquainted with grief’ (Isaiah 53). Our Lord is God but He also became man. It is beyond our understanding. The passions He experienced refer to His humanity. As God, our Lord Jesus Christ was unchangeable. He became man for our sake and experienced joy and anger. His passions were pure. It is fundamental to our faith that God is unchanging. His character is one of complete stability. He is unmutable.
What does it mean to us? The Lord Jesus Christ is our great example as a man. There are things of God we are able to emulate, to copy, ‘For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy’ (Leviticus 11:44).
There are things we cannot copy, for example, being unchanging. We need to stand firm in faith, but no-where in the Bible does it say we are not to change. We are to become more holy because God is holy. We are to grow in grace. If you’re a Christian you’ve been through a major change and continue to change. We are not what we were but are on the move, to be conformed to the image of the Lord Jesus Christ.
When you read the Old Testament you read of prophets, sacrifices, circumcision. These seem very remote to us. We may also have trouble relating to characters. But the connection is not with characters but with God. We should relate to the entire Bible. It’s about God and His dealings with humanity. We have the same God and relationship as Abraham did. We are all saved by the same faith and stand on the same promises and have the same eternal life. Because God is unchanging we can absolutely rely on Him. Society changes, people change. People are inconsistent but God has perfect consistency.
Because God doesn’t change His standards don’t change. He gave the Ten Commandments 3,000 years ago. They still represent God’s standard and character. When God tells us what is good and bad it is true. Actions which offended God in the Old Testament are still the same actions which offend Him today. Actions which pleased Him then, still please Him today. He doesn’t need a sacrifice of two pigeons but a repentant heart (Psalm 51).
God will be our judge. You want consistency and fairness in a judge. His standard has always been perfection. We are guilty. However, we can rely on Him because He has a rescue plan. Salvation is always found in the Lord Jesus Christ, in His sacrifice at Calvary. If you’ve put your trust in Jesus Christ, that is guaranteed. God’s love is eternal, ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you’ (Jeremiah 31:3). This was spoken to Jeremiah 2,500 years ago, yet it still the same today.
‘For I the Lord do not change’ (Malachi 3). He is a covenant-keeping God, ‘The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness’ (Lamentations 3:22-23).
God wants us to live in His presence – that’s always been His plan. Nothing can prevent it, it’s His plan, ‘Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God’ (Revelation 21:1-3).
Sometimes we read unintentional funny mistakes; a church noticeboard read ‘Our God resigns’ instead of ‘Our God reigns!’ Do we think our God reigns? Does He reign over everything? It may seem like a silly question, but many Christians who say God reigns supreme, when it comes to day to day living, it appears that God doesn’t reign at all – it doesn’t make a difference to their lives. Things are getting worse and worse in our land. Doctrine is becoming washed out until it is not the Word of God. Christians are faced with danger and powerful enemies. This is what Zerubbabel faced. It was a bleak situation. We read in Haggai 1 the Persians were still ruling. People were side-tracked from God. They were called to build a temple with clean and holy hearts (Haggai 2:10-14).
Zerubbabel was given a message (Haggai 2:20-23), a clear message, to trust in God, the sovereign God.
God has a definite plan for history (verses 21-23). We see the use of a personal pronoun for God (NKJV). There is no uncertainty about what God is going to do. He has a plan which will be fulfilled because He is sovereign. His sovereignty doesn’t depend on His people, but rather His command and rule. So why do we retreat into a corner with enemies around us? We know He is sovereign, but we are live another week thinking things are going terribly. But God has a perfect plan which will come to pass. He is in control. There is no need to be afraid because God is with us and is in control.
God’s plan is carried out according to His choosing (verse 23). God chooses Zerubbabel, not Zerubbabel chooses God. God elects His people; there is nothing in us at all that makes God choose us, we are all sinful wretches. He chooses us because He is God, because of His goodness and mercy. God even chose Zerubbabel to cop-operate. He willingly followed God as a servant because God chose Him. We are dead in sin. It is the Holy Spirit that convicts us. A dead person cannot wake himself. God first gives life. Regenerations comes before faith. It is He who tells us He is sovereign: ‘But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the Lord!” (Jonah 2:9).
Was Zerubbabel ignored? For after all, Joshua was the one who would be crowned (Zechariah 6:9-13). No, great things were promised to Zerubbabel; he was chosen as a leader of God’s people. He isn’t called governor but ‘my servant’ (like Moses, David, Daniel and Jesus Christ). This is a title of honour in terms of Christian living. And, of course, we are all servants. God has chosen us to obey and work for Him.
What is the signet ring all about? (verse 23). It’s exciting! A signet ring was a ring a king used to stamp his authority. It was put in hot wax to seal letters. No-one could steal it or use it under a false claim. Zerubbabel was as precious as a signet ring for a king. He was given this exalted position because God had chosen him. He was in God’s own hands, the King’s hands. God has promised us He will never leave us or forsake us. He still has the authority.
God’s plan centres on Jesus Christ. Everything in the Old Testament points ahead to Jesus’ incarnation and death (Luke 24:27). Zerubbabel, in his own way, points to Christ because he is a type of Christ. Why? He led the remnant, the small group of 50,000 people, out of Babylonian exile. God has chosen a small number of His own people for Himself. As Zerubbabel led the remnant out of exile, a terrible place full of sin, so Christ has led us from the tight grasp of sin. He has chosen and led us, everyone who trusts in Him. Secondly, Zerubbabel built the temple, so Christ is building the greatest temple, the church. Thirdly, Zerubbabel was chosen to be God’s signet ring, so Christ is a signet ring that seals every promise and purpose.
Zerubbabel was a sinful man but Christ is a sinless man who came under the authority of God, His Father, who came in authority Himself as God’s Son. The cross is stamped in His authority, as is His Resurrection and coming again. Christ is the greatest signet ring.
We read in Haggai 2 this will happen ‘in a little while.’ To us, a little while may be a few hours, weeks or years. However, to God it is different (Psalm 110, Revelation 19). The promise is not fulfilled in Zerubbabel’s time or in Revelation. But it will be fulfilled!
What is the application of this passage of scripture? God’s servant should be encouraged to trust Him and do His sovereign will, no matter how much sin we see in the world. God reigns and we have to trust His promises, what He will do in the future. He gives us the strength to build His Church, whatever He calls us to do. God’s promises last. He is the Lord of hosts. It is a greatly encouraging book. Are you going to accept the call? Is He reigning in you? ‘And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee’ (2 Corinthians 1:21-22).
It is not enough we should worship God alone, we should also worship in the right way. The Bible is full of instructions how God is to be worshipped in our lives, especially corporately. Worship of God is far too important to be treated to man’s imagination, which is fallen and inclined to false worship. It is God Himself who declares the way He is to be worshipped. This declaration is found in the second Commandment.
The Roman Catholic Church includes the second commandment as part of the first commandment and splits the Ten Commandments in to two to make up the ten. The use of pictures and symbols is then permitted if they are said to be of the true God. To Roman Catholics, this is a continuations of the first Commandment.
Along with all Protestant churches, there should be no idols that represent God because any representation of God will be a misrepresentation. It will distort the truth concerning God. Why?
God is unique in His nature. There is nothing in the whole universe like God. Isaiah 40:18. People have tried to explain the Trinity as being like three states of water or a shamrock. However, all fall short of Biblical truth and is therefore blasphemous. You cannot make a true representation of God because He is unlike anything you have ever known or imagined.
Secondly, God is Spirit. John 4:24. He is not a spirit like angels, He is Spirit. God has no form or shape and is invisible to human sight. So it is that in Deuteronomy 4:12 Moses only heard God’s voice. When we read man was created in God’s image we’re often tempted to reverse this and create God in our image. We shouldn’t think that God is like the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. It might be a glorious piece of art but it is rotten theology. God is altogether different from us in nature and character. We are in His image in that He created us for a relationship in the spiritual realm. God is Spirit, He is not physical.
Thirdly, God is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent. He cannot be restricted and restrained and subject to human control. In the Old Testament we see time and time again God is not a tribal God. Psalm 22:27-28. The nations create idols and rituals around these idols. That’s the way in which human mind work. But Jehovah, the one true God, is a God above influence and control. He cannot be contained in time and space. He is omnipotent and omnipresent.
So this commandment tells us it’s blasphemy to create an image of God. No image can be used as an aid to worship God. They are misrepresentations and distractions and will lead to false worship of God.
There are those who would encourage us to imagine and visualise what God is like. Now of course we must think upon God. But to imagine and create an image internally of God is just as bad as creating an external image. No man has seen God. He cannot be dreamed about. You cannot have an image of His shape or form. These are equally idolatrous.
By nature, man exalts himself and brings God down. Many today seek to bring God within reach, within control. God does heal. Praise Him. But He’s not at our beck and call and under our influence. Others make Him human in His character and attributes and more like us. This is called the domestication of God – to bring Him under our control – all a direct breaking of the second Commandment.
At least twice in the Old Testament the children of Israel turned symbols into idols of worship: 1 Samuel 4 – they turned the Ark of the Covenant into some sort of talisman. They used a symbol of God’s mercy and grace and turned it into something to be worshipped in itself. In Numbers 21 we read of the bronze serpent. In II Kings 18 Hezekiah smashed the serpent because it had become an idol.
Man’s great weakness is he wants something to see or touch to aid his faith. Symbols of salvation are abused and become a snare, a cause of idolatry. It’s for this reason that the cross is absent from our buildings. It’s not the focus of our devotion. The Lord of Calvary is the focus of our devotion, not the cross on which He died.
Man wants something tangible to worship. It’s not only ornate Catholic cathedrals, but some today who turn worship into a show of lights and music, intoxication that whips up an atmosphere. God is mentioned but it is the experience of atmosphere that is worshipped, not God. Our desire must always be to go past symbols to substance of worship itself.
If we’re not to worship God by symbols or images, how can we worship God in keeping with the second Commandment? Worship Himself in our lives – in His Word and in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. God’s revelation of Himself; everything we need to know about Him is given to us there, the glory of His character is displayed before us. It is possible to know Him personally in repentance of sin and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. In plain black and white, it’s all there.
How are we to worship God? By immersing ourselves in His Word, by being a living testimony to His glory. That’s what the Saviour meant when He spoke to the woman of Samaria. Worship in Spirit and truth. The only way to worship God that is not idolatrous is to be Biblical, not to speculate, but know what He says in His Word. We need to know what is pleasing to God and acceptable to God. We worship God when we encounter Him in His real and living Word. Open the scriptures and prayerfully seek to know Him in His Word. God reveals Himself to us in the scriptures. It’s not we only learn about Him, but the Holy Spirit allows us to meet with God in His Word. The Bible is central to everything we do.
Here, the Lord’s Table is situated under the Word of God, so the pulpit is central. This is where God is known. There is one and only one authorised image of God. Colossians 1:15, Colossians 2:9. Jesus Christ is God’s revelation of Himself in human form. John 14:9.
If we want to know anything of God, we see it in the person of the Saviour. We serve Him, declare His glory and desire, by the Holy Spirit’s work, that we would be more like Jesus. The only way to be Christ-like is surrender. Worship God as we encounter Him in His self-revelation found in the scriptures, in the Lord Jesus Christ. Emmanuel, God in our midst. We worship God as we not only learn about Him in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ but as we come to know Him in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. As that happens we become more transformed by the Holy Spirit.
The second Commandment is so very important. It is the fundamental basis on which other commandments rest. We are not to worship false gods but worship the one true God, in the right way, in spirit and truth. There are to be no images, no imaginations or ritual aids to worship. These are only distractions. True worship is found in the living Word of God. May God truly reveal Himself to us in Scripture, may we truly worship Him in Spirit and truth.