Our life situations keep changing but the Living God, the Great I Am, is in control. Nobody had imagined that the year 2020 will bring such great calamity on mankind that we shall be pushed behind the curtain of isolation and separated from others. Nobody can predict the future nor give an assurance that such calamity will not come again. God’s promise of being with us in every situation encourages and strengthens us to face every challenge through faith.
Sinful man is separated from God and every other religion has been preaching worship of God with righteous deeds to be saved by God. The actual state of mankind and our deeds of righteousness that we have been depending on to save us are not recognized by God. ‘All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags, we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away’ (Isaiah 64:6). Mankind needs a reversal of the process followed by all other religions to be saved by God. Man must first be redeemed from the clutches of the darkness of his sins through forgiveness so that he can then present himself before his Creator. It is only in that blessed state can one follow the commands of God and worship Him. Worship will only be acceptable to God if one has access to Him and knows Him through close fellowship.
The Israelites were first redeemed from the slavery and then led by God to Mount Sinai to give them His law and the Ten Commandments. It is impossible for man to follow God’s commands without redemption and in obedience to that get close to Him in worship. The layout of the Tabernacle was given only after completion of the first two stages so that they could enter His presence through the mediation of a High Priest. Even after the design was given God equipped Bezalel and Aholiab to do all the work under the guidance of the Holy Spirit for man is unable to make something suitable for God without His help and guidance. When we are not in a position to communicate with God, there is no way that we will be able to hear His command and obey.
In his sinful state man first needs a redeemer, after redemption God’s commands can be obeyed and then in faith and close fellowship with Him and with others can we worship Him. Over time we shift our focus from God on to the surrounding cultures and traditions that tend to lead us away from God and then get and stay out of touch with God. The last verse of the Old Testament declares a stern warning to the people, to mend their ways ‘lest I come and strike the earth with a curse’ (Malachi 4:6). With this warning the heavens were closed and for four hundred years there was no word from God.
How did the Israelites live through such a long time? They waited eagerly for the fulfillment of God’s promise of the coming of the Messiah as prophesied through the prophets (Isaiah 11:1 & 7:14 besides others). God never leaves us and in His love is ever ready to bless. But eventually when the news of the Redeemer’s coming and His birth was received people reacted in different ways. First, acceptance and obedience – Mary received the message from angel Gabriel with submission, ‘Let it be to me according to your word’ (Luke 1:38 & 41-43). John the Baptist in his mother’s womb ‘leaped’ and Elisabeth rejoiced that ‘the mother of my Lord should come to me’. An angel told the shepherds about the birth of the Savior, they went into Bethlehem to see and proclaimed to others (Luke 2:11-17). Joseph accepted and obeyed the message of the angel (Matthew 1:21). Second, rejection of the news and the Messiah – The chief priests and Jewish elders confirmed to king Herod about the birth place being Bethlehem but did nothing to seek the Son of God, the God whom they worshipped (Matthew 2:4-6; 11 &16). Third, desire to meet and worship – The Magi who had travelled thousands of miles to see the King of the Jews, worshipped Him and offered gold, frankincense and myrrh. Four, attempt to kill – King Herod considered the ‘King of the Jews’ as a competitor and tried to kill Him and all children ‘from two years old and under’ were killed in Bethlehem.
How do we prepare to receive the Savior? – Lord Jesus has declared, ‘You did not choose Me, but I chose you’ (John 15:16). Should this mean that we should do nothing? No, the steps that we are required to undertake have first step as repentance. John the Baptist preached repentance but is that necessary to come to God? Yes and no. Repentance does not define what we must do before coming to God but it is about what coming to God means.
It is an action word about making a change of the mind and thus change the direction of life for we cannot come to God’s kingdom without leaving our sinful selfish life behind.
Repentance is virtually the first word of the Gospel. It was the first word of John the Baptist’s gospel (Matthew 3:1-2). It was the first word of Lord Jesus’ message to us (Matthew 4:17 & Mark 1:14-15). It was the first word in the preaching ministry of the twelve disciples (Mark 6:12). Repentance was also the first word of the Risen Savior’s instructions to His disciples (Luke 24:46-47). It was the first word of the first Christian sermon (Acts 2:38). It was the first word Apostle Paul preached through his ministry (Acts 26:19-20).
Second, the disciples witnessed the ascension of Lord Jesus into heaven and took three steps to wait for the power of the Holy Spirit promised by the Lord (Acts 1:8-10). First was obedience for they returned to Jerusalem as directed by the Lord. Many times we hear God speak to us and forget to obey. Second, they continued with one accord and this was despite their various differences including who will be the first. Third, they all continued in prayer and supplication. Supplication is about a sense of desperation and earnestness where the depth of the prayer displayed the depth of their dependence. The three points of obedience, unity and prayer are essential for preparation for a walk of victory in any and every situation.
Dietrich Bonheoffer says, ‘The cross is God’s truth about us, and therefore, it is the only power which can make us truthful’. When we become aware of this, we are no longer fearful towards the truth and gladly receive the same.
Apostle John defined the identity of the Savior Lord as ‘The Word’, that was with God, ‘and the Word was God’ and that the ‘Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory’ (John 1:1 & 14). And Apostle John described himself as the one who could lean on the bosom of the Lord for he was loved by the Lord (John 13:23). The same disciple who had seen the glory of the Lord and who had experienced His love through close fellowship with Him, ‘fell at His feet as dead’ when he saw the Lord in His Divine glory (Revelation 1:17). It will be only after the curse has been removed shall we be able to see God’s face (Revelation 22:3-4). However we want to see the Lord, feel His presence and His touch and repeatedly pray for this. But God is Spirit and His worship can only be in the spirit and in truth (John 4:24). Any effort on our part to physically see and feel His presence may not succeed, though He can and does reveal Himself to some chosen ones.
Know yourself or know God – Almost four hundred years before the coming of Lord Jesus Socrates preached, ‘Know yourself’ to know the truth, for as per him knowledge is gained through self efforts. On the other hand Lord Jesus declared ‘I am the truth’ and truth is known through divine revelation only and knowledge and wisdom are gifts of God. Most people tend to follow Socrates more than the Lord. We as believers emphasize personal faith in the Savior, for God said, ‘You must be born again’ and He desires that our knowledge from Him must change us (John 3:7). Socrates’ way then gives us assurance that once we have put our trust in the Lord our work is over and then we focus more on the act of faith rather than on the Object of that faith. In actual fact the Scripture teaches us that this is just the beginning and seeking Him, knowing Him, loving Him, following Him and then proclaiming Him to others are some more few steps and this is about surrendering to Him.
How to come to God – The first beatitude in the Sermon on the Mount is, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ (Matthew 5:3). Greek word ‘ptochos’ (ptoxos) means ‘poor, deeply destitute, pauper’. It is about recognizing the depth of our spiritual poverty for ‘we are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23). Oswald Chambers says, ‘If I know my abject state of lack, then Lord Jesus says, Blessed are you. It is in that destitute state only can I enter His kingdom so that I cannot claim any glory for myself. It is only as a pauper must I come to Him, like a dying patient’s dependence on the doctor treating him. King David admitted this lack to say, ‘My soul thirsts for You; my flesh pants for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water’ (Psalm 63:1). It is a confession that my very survival is at stake and I seek You to save me. But only that patient can be healed by a doctor who goes to him and submits to his treatment. We limit our submission to God to our salvation alone and miss out on all that He can, and desires to do with our lives. Only through daily submission to God can we tap into all that He can and desires for us for that day.
Biblical concept of salvation is three phased – First, we have been saved and justified (1 Corinthians 6:11); Second, we are being saved and sanctified (1 Thessalonians 5:23) and thirdly, we will be saved and glorified (2 Corinthians 3:18). Stopping on the first step only will result in our missing out on the second and will remain totally unprepared for the third, which is the most priceless gift of God. The secret to life of abundance or even life itself does not rest in Socratic belief of ‘know yourself’ but to ‘know Jesus’ intimately with total dependence on Him. Our God is not only loving but also extremely patient to change our faith from religion to His world which alone is the real world.
God comes looking for us to come into our heart to share all of His spiritual bounties with us and to strengthen and enlighten us (Revelation 3:20). Lord Jesus called Himself ‘the bread of life’, the bread from heaven (John 6:35). We must receive Him like the Israelites received the ‘manna’ – as hungry, aware of our need; each for himself – family by family; everyday; humbly, with gratitude, knowing that we do not deserve it; eating and taking it to our inmost being. We receive without getting hold of the source, though in His Divine grace He may bless us with a glimpse of Himself and His kingdom in heaven like He did to Apostles John and Paul. His Spirit in us is given to us to learn about Him through His Living Word and rejoice in that knowledge and then use that authority of His Word as a blessing for others.
Should we seek to see or hear the Lord? – God became man to reveal Himself to us and seeking such physical manifestation of His glory, to my mind, is not wrong but I should not get disappointed at this not coming through. Lord Jesus has clearly taught us about His oneness with God the Father on one end in heaven and with the believers on the earth also (John 14:20). God in His grace and mercy raised us up from the deadness of our sins together with Lord Jesus ‘and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus’ (Ephesians 2:5-6). God the Father ‘has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 1:3). ‘The Lord is the Spirit’ (2 Corinthians 3:17). We rarely think of the air around us, we do not see it, yet we are aware of being surrounded by it all around. Every believer is sent in the power of the Risen Lord and this connection is ensured by the indwelling Holy Spirit who teaches us, fills us with His power and gives us a sound mind. We are required to use God’s Word and power to fulfill His will on earth as it is in heaven. This God given power fills us and surrounds us completely.
Caleb and Joshua perceived that cities with high walls have citizens who are scared of being captured and likewise the ‘roaring lion’ who comes seeking ‘whom to devour’ (1 Peter 5:8) is actually afraid of us and makes a noise to try and scare us. The Redeemer Risen Lord is seated at the right hand of God the Father with absolute power, wisdom, riches and authority. He is connected permanently to us through His presence in us, provided we know who we serve. The power and authority of the Son of God is unlimited and ‘no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man, the things God has prepared for those who love Him’ (1 Corinthians 2:9).
Apostles Peter and John healed a man, born lame, telling him, ‘Silver and gold I do not have; but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, rise up and walk’ and the man’s feet and ankle bones received strength. They did not pray for healing or ask God to heal but told him ‘what I do have I give you’ with a command to rise up and walk. With a close relationship with the Lord we can experience and exercise the gifts of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:7-11). The Holy Spirit manifestation and His gifts are given to us ‘for the profit of all’. When we step forward in faith to bless someone, God is ever willing to ‘confirm the Word through accompanying signs’. I may or may not physically hear His voice or see Him or feel His presence but I am assured of His presence with me to the end of the age for He is true and His promises are true. This is enough for me to walk in victory in my life.
By faith in the Son of God we are blessed to be part of His Divine family. The heavenly Father, being true to His name, will ensure victory for all of His children who walk in submission to His authority and are ready to use the same with love and self control. The only requirement is for us to remain in close fellowship with Him through daily prayer, worship, reading and meditating upon His word. The Word of God must then become our ‘shield, strength and refuge’.