It Is Finished

“And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.”
‭‭Revelation‬ ‭21:6-7‬ ‭NLT

These two verses encompass several encouraging messages from God Himself. 

First of all, God said, “It is finished!”, but what was He referring to? We will remember the final words of Jesus from the Cross, as recorded in John 19:30, “When Jesus had tasted it, he said, “It is finished!” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” At that time, Jesus was declaring that His redemptive work on the Cross had been completed. Through His sacrificial death at Calvary, we can now bring our sins to the foot of the cross, leaving them there in repentance, with the assurance that we are cleansed from our sins and can adopt His righteousness. The divine exchange. But this time, in our Revelation verse, it is God Himself who said “It is finished!”. Perhaps we can refer back to Ephesians 1:9-10, “God has now revealed to us his mysterious will regarding Christ—which is to fulfil his own good plan. And this is the plan: At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ—everything in heaven and on earth.” In Revelation 21:6, God was declaring that His plan to establish His Kingdom, under the rule of Christ, was complete. The “right time” had finally arrived. All the prerequisites complete. All the divine boxes ticked. The “plan”, the “it”, is finished.

Secondly, God reminded John that He was “the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End”. He was saying that He was eternal. He was there at the beginning and will still be there at the end. But because He is the eternal God, He has no beginning and end. This is a difficult concept for us to get our time-bound minds around. God has always been with us, and always will be. We enter the realms of eternity and infinity when we try and think through the implications of the One who is “the Beginning and the End”. 

We pilgrims have much to look forward to. Not only will we join God in Heaven, we will find ourselves also becoming a part of God’s eternal plan. John in his vision was shown a glimpse of these far-in-the-future events, and doubtless he struggled to articulate what was happening. But with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, and the occasional angel who popped into his vision, he was able to say all that God wanted him to say.

Of course, we as pilgrims mustn’t focus too deeply about what is going to happen, to the exclusion of all else, because we need to be concerned about what is happening in the here and now. Our faith must take us to people and situations where the love and grace of God can make a difference. Situations where the Gospel can be shared, and our family, friends and neighbours shown the way to eternal life. But we must also occasionally glance upwards to check in with our future Heavenly home and our Heavenly Dad. It is there we will find the Source of our faith. The eternal God, the Beginning and the End.

Dear Father God. There are no words available to totally describe who You are. But in our limited humanity, we worship You today, our Eternal God and Father. Amen.

Number 666

“And with all the miracles he was allowed to perform on behalf of the first beast, he deceived all the people who belong to this world. He ordered the people to make a great statue of the first beast, who was fatally wounded and then came back to life. He was then permitted to give life to this statue so that it could speak. Then the statue of the beast commanded that anyone refusing to worship it must die. He required everyone—small and great, rich and poor, free and slave—to be given a mark on the right hand or on the forehead. And no one could buy or sell anything without that mark, which was either the name of the beast or the number representing his name. Wisdom is needed here. Let the one with understanding solve the meaning of the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. His number is 666.”
Revelation‬ ‭13:14-18‬ ‭NLT

In John’s vision he saw a horrifying attack on the liberty of mankind. Everyone had to be registered. There were no exceptions. Of course, in the UK, registration, in one form or another, is already in place. We have National Insurance numbers. NHS references. Entries on the Voter’s Roll. My banking is defined by a sort code and account number. My driving Licence has its own unique number. We have passports. A young person sometimes has to have an ID card detailing their age, so that certain age-limited purchases can be made, or entry allowed into some premises. In many respects, personal identification details are essential in UK, and other Western, societies so that the lives we lead can be as smooth as possible. But what the devil had in mind was much more insidious than this. The identification mark was to be visible to all. And this mark was necessary to allow life to be lived the devil’s way. Without the ID, “no one could buy or sell anything”. But how could personal freedom deteriorate to become like this? And why would the “beast” require such a universal action?

First of all we already have the technology to give people a “mark” or ID. Think of bar codes, QR codes or the semiconductor chips contained within bank cards. Dogs in the UK are legally required to have a “chip” inserted in the loose skin around their necks. A few years ago, a media report disclosed that thousands of Swedes were having microchips inserted under their skin, to make life easier when faced with login requirements. So technology is not the problem. The world today has reached the stage where ID requirements have become ubiquitous.

So as populations increasingly become familiar with presenting their ID, perhaps a universal and unique code, visible to all, sounds like a good idea. No more fragmented login requirements. And if a universal login is used for good, I don’t think anyone would complain – it would make their lives easier. But what the devil is up to is more insidious. Once he has the world population marked in this way, he will be able to exert total control over them. And that is really the problem – God created mankind to be able to think for itself, but our enemy the devil wants to control us, thoughts and all. And those who refuse to be “marked” will be effectively outcasts and unable to function within society.

I believe the mark the devil wants to apply will ultimately be capable of being remotely monitored and controlled. Where God created human beings with the ability to make their own choices, the devil’s world wants automatons. John’s vision described a scary world. If the population behaved in a way that suited the devil, the people would be able to live their lives without too much hassle. But the lack of individual freedoms would increase as the rules governing and controlling the population start to be ratcheted up. If we allow our thoughts to extrapolate what technology might be able to achieve, think of how the devil could control and even prevent what he disapproves of, such as going to church. Or something else that doesn’t fit within the devil’s world view.

These verses today from Revelation 13 end with a reference to the number “666”. What is all that about? Over the millennia there have been numerous attempts to decode what this means but no definitive solution has been found. So I’m not going to add my tuppence worth to the debate. Suffice to say, that the number refers to something we don’t yet understand, something in the future, technology or a process. However, with the scientific advances being made, the required technology is probably not far away over the horizon of human understanding.

So we pilgrims plod on through life. Grateful for the revelation and support of the Bible and the warnings of what is to come from John’s vision. Forewarned is forearmed. We know what the devil is up to, so we pray. And keep on praying. For our countries, our political leaders, our communities and families, and finally, for ourselves, that we will stand firm through all these troubles, affirming our faith. God is our loving Heavenly Father and He will lead and guide us through the devil’s schemes. The Apostle Paul helpfully set out some practical ways in which we can live in a devil-influenced world. In Ephesians 6:11 we read, “Put on all of God’s armour so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil“. God’s armour indeed has the capability of preventing the devil from overwhelming us. And Paul finished his armour verses with Ephesians 6:18, “Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere“. So that is what we pilgrims will do.

Dear God. I thank You for John’s faithfulness in recording his vision. I pray for us all, that we will stand firm in the face of the devil’s attacks, looking to the One who defeated the devil at Calvary. Amen.

Flashes and Rumbles

“From the throne came flashes of lightning and the rumble of thunder. And in front of the throne were seven torches with burning flames. This is the sevenfold Spirit of God.”
Revelation‬ ‭4:5‬ ‭NLT‬‬

John’s field of vision becomes more focused as other features in his revelation are revealed. This is a place unbounded by the limitations of human sight and hearing, because John is in the spirit. He is seeing and hearing things that would be invisible to humans. So in the Spirit, the “flashes of lightning” would have been incredibly bright and powerful, far greater than the flashes we see on Planet Earth, should that even be possible. Perhaps with the inclusion of spectacular colours never before seen in a lightning flash. And they originated from the throne of God. The “rumble of thunder” too would have encompassed a range of frequencies totally beyond human comprehension. In our smartphone-dominated world, we are used to hearing sounds through tiny loudspeakers, where only a narrow range of frequencies can be transmitted. But what a difference there is, hearing the same sounds but in an auditorium with a professional sound system. The bass end of the spectrum will be felt as well as heard, with vibrations manifested in every part of our beings. That was John’s experience. In the spirit he was exposed to light and sound he had never experienced before. 

In front of God’s throne appeared seven burning torches. Flaming noticeably. And John intuitively knew that this is the “sevenfold Spirit of God”. We have twice before, in the early chapters of Revelation, encountered this image and can refer back to Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 11:2. The image too refers to the number seven, often used in Scripture to signify perfection or completeness. 

We pilgrims will often have difficulty in relating this vision to our work-a-day world. That is, until we too connect “in the Spirit”. What vision of God and His domain, whether here on earth or in Heaven do we hold? It is generally more difficult to hold on to our faith without some idea, picture even, of where we are heading. This vision of the Apostle John in Revelation grabs and intrigues our imaginations. It encourages us to think “outside the box” beyond our natural boundaries. And if, in times of need, we ask God for a vision to support our own faiths He will be gracious and help. Jesus gave John an amazing revelation of the future, and he faithfully recorded it for posterity. But the most important vision of all starts at Calvary, with the Son of God hanging on a Roman cross, dying for us, that we too can one day check out Heaven for ourselves. If we ask Him.

Dear Lord. We thank You for Calvary and selflessly sacrificing Yourself for each one of us. We are so grateful. And I pray that we all hold on to the mental pictures we have of Calvary, pictures and visions that are only superseded by the excitement of Easter Sunday. We praise and worship You today. Amen.

The Living Dead

“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Sardis. This is the message from the one who has the sevenfold Spirit of God and the seven stars: “I know all the things you do, and that you have a reputation for being alive—but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what little remains, for even what is left is almost dead. I find that your actions do not meet the requirements of my God. Go back to what you heard and believed at first; hold to it firmly. Repent and turn to me again. If you don’t wake up, I will come to you suddenly, as unexpected as a thief.”
Revelation‬ ‭3:1-3‬ ‭NLT‬‬

The church in Sardis had an angel as did the others listed in Revelation 2 and 3. And Jesus had a message for him. Sardis was another city in what is now Turkey, and was extensively excavated during the early part of the 20th Century. Several church buildings were found there, but of the original church and its congregation there is no information. Jesus had a message for this congregation that would have been hard to receive. He started His message by establishing His credentials. He “has the sevenfold Spirit of God and the seven stars”. Regarding the sevenfold Spirit of God, this may have been a reference to Isaiah 11:2, which reads, “And the Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord“. Isaiah’s prophecy pointed to the coming Messiah and here He is delivering His message to the people of Sardis. Jesus held the seven stars in His right hand and it is thought these are His messengers to the seven churches; perhaps they represent their pastors or leaders.

But John continues to relay Jesus’ message. And it makes for grim reading. Jesus knows what they are about. He’s had His eye on what they have been doing. And He points out that although to an outsider their church seems full of life, in fact it is just going through the motions. They are really spiritually dead. Well almost. It seems that there are a few dying embers still in the grate, but unless they are quick, they too will die away and become the ashes of another dead church. 

So there are some question here. And they are very relevant to us today. First of all, are we guilty of going through the motions of our liturgies, singing the great songs and hymns, sharing Holy Communion, reading the Bible and praying lustily, but our hearts are not in any of it at all? We are thinking of other things, caught up in the worldliness of life around us. About what films or TV we are watching, or games we’re playing. Yes, to an outsider, they might be impressed with the size of the congregation or the volume of the singing wafting across the graveyards, but deep down there may be more life in the tombs than there is in the sanctuary. Perhaps that is what Jesus was meaning. But we have to personalise it as well. Putting our own names in the frames. Are we more spiritually dead than alive? Perhaps we need to ask God for what He thinks. And be prepared for a shock. 

The solution to a dead or dying church, or individual, starts at Calvary. Where the Son of God gave His life so that we could find life. At the place where we ask for forgiveness and turn from our sins. And where we find a loving God delighted that we have turned away from a life of feeding pigs and eating pig swill, to one embraced by our loving Heavenly Father, who has been looking out for us to come home, a place where we can enjoy His presence and the richest of food forever. 

Another question is about where our actions do not measure up to God’s requirements. What are we doing that God doesn’t approve of? Have we allowed worldly activities to use up our time in the church? Perhaps by holding jumble sales when we should be having prayer meetings? Or by focusing on the flowers instead of their Creator. It’s all about priorities. Many activities we get involved in are not bad in themselves but, as with the Sardinian church, they don’t measure up to God’s requirements. Perhaps we should be asking ourselves the questions, “Is what I am involved in furthering the Kingdom of God or just using up my time”? Or, “Is there any Kingdom fruit from what I am involved in”? We can fill our lives with worldly busy-ness rather than God’s business.

Jesus ends verse 3 with a sobering thought. We could be sailing along oblivious to the coming Kingdom, busy with our daily lives, and end up totally unprepared for the sudden arrival of Jesus when He returns. We never know when our house would be burgled until after the event. So it is with the coming of Jesus – but knowing after the event will be too late.

So back to Calvary, where we can gaze upon the One who gave His life for us. His sacrifice is all-sufficient. At the Cross we can fall on our knees in repentance, tearfully reaching out to the only One who can connect us to a life with God. It’s no good turning to Allah or Buddha, or any other world religion. They can’t help us. The only solution to our lives of sin is forgiveness from Jesus, the Son of God. He said in John 14:6,  “… I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me“. Only Jesus has the words of eternal life.

Dear Lord. We confess before You today our sins. We confess that we have allowed our hearts to grow cold. Please forgive us and help us to return to the place You have prepared for us. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Jesus Calling our Name?

“They trust in their wealth and boast of great riches. Yet they cannot redeem themselves from death by paying a ransom to God. Redemption does not come so easily, for no one can ever pay enough to live forever and never see the grave.
But as for me, God will redeem my life. He will snatch me from the power of the grave.”
Psalms‬ ‭49:6-9, 15‬ ‭NLT‬‬

The Psalmist was obviously having a bad day. He looked around his community, perhaps his nation, and observed that there were a lot of rich people, who arrogantly lived a life of luxury. But he pointed out that there was one thing that their money could not buy and that was eternal life. He said, correctly, that they couldn’t take their wealth with them to the grave and beyond. They could not, as one of today’s verses points out, pay God a ransom to keep them alive forever.

In the world today there is a growing business in cryopreservation, where rich people or their families pay large sums to enable their bodies, or the bodies of their loved ones, to be preserved in liquid nitrogen in the hope that advances in medical science would one day enable them to be resurrected from their frozen state and brought back to life in a Lazarus-like resuscitation. An added twist sees some just having their brains frozen, perhaps in the hope of adding their intelligence to a robotic entity. But all with a faith that one day they will suddenly find themselves lying on a slab, waking up in a new age. It begs the question, would I really want to wake up in this sin-ridden, war-striven, disease-ravaged world? Will mankind ever get its act together to save this world and assure a future for Planet Earth? And all by effectively cocking a snoop at God by saying we can achieve what is needed without His help?

But I can’t help thinking how stupid the cryopreservationists are. God Himself has given everyone the opportunity to live forever through His Son Jesus. And it won’t cost them a penny. Rich or poor, we can embrace a hope for the future purely by accepting that God is who He says He is, the Creator of everything. That He loved mankind so much that He sent His Son Jesus to die for us at Calvary, offering the breathtaking exchange of our sins for His righteousness. And the Psalmist records his personal assurance that God has redeemed him from death, from the power of the grave, such was His faith in his relationship with his Father God.

And the Psalm ends with the following, “So don’t be dismayed when the wicked grow rich and their homes become ever more splendid. For when they die, they take nothing with them. Their wealth will not follow them into the grave. In this life they consider themselves fortunate and are applauded for their success. But they will die like all before them and never again see the light of day.” Psalms‬ ‭49:16-19‬ ‭NLT‬‬

I don’t know about you, but I would much rather put my faith in the Creator of Everything, than in the hope that one day someone will wake me up from a frozen state. After all, why would they want to anyway?

The story of Jesus and His friend Lazarus is interesting. Lazarus dies and is buried and has languished, wrapped in his grave clothes, for four days before Jesus came to see his tomb. And we have the amazing spectacle set out in John 11, of Jesus commanding that the stone sealing the mouth of the tomb is rolled away. We then read in verses 43 and 44, “Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in grave clothes, his face wrapped in a head cloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!”” These few words can never adequately describe the drama that unfolded before the observers. Gob-smacked would be too tame a phrase to describe it. Here was a man physically dead and starting to rot in the heat of that climate, and yet the power of God working through His Son Jesus was able to resurrect him from his dead state. Lazarus died and the next thing he knew was Jesus calling his name. Now I don’t believe for a minute that God has special favourites. He treats His children equally. As some have said, the ground is level at the foot of the Cross. So I sometimes wonder, after we die, will the next thing we hear be Jesus calling our name, waking us up to a glorious future with Him forever?

Praises

“Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy.
Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises. For God is the King of all the earth; sing to Him a psalm of praise.”

Psalms‬ ‭47:1, 6-7‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

Imagine a whole nation clapping its hands! And shouting joyful shouts! All to our wonderful God, our Creator. But in our secular society, clapping and shouting is retained for sporting events or concerts, temporal activities that provide a brief time of pleasure, soon to be replaced by the more humdrum activities of everyday life. In our church we are sometimes encouraged to offer up a clap offering to the Lord, or make a vocal contribution in praise. But a whole nation…?

The Psalmist goes on to encourage his readers to sing praises to God. And he provides a reason – God is King over all the earth. Praising God produces a peculiar effect within us, because it lifts us out of ourselves into Heavenly places with Him. I recently heard a quote saying, “Praise is the spark plug of faith”, and that is true because you cannot praise God if He isn’t who He says He is, doing the things He says He does. And in the praising process our faith grows and something changes within our spirits.

Saying that God is King over all the earth is disputed by most people. They ask questions such as, “How could a loving God allow that accident to happen?”, or “Why does God allow such evil people to flourish?” And many more similar questions. But in our sin-soaked world, where mankind seems set on self destruction in so many ways, there is still a King behind the scenes. A loving King who breaks His heart over the rebellion of mankind, a righteous King who has to allow man to make choices, no matter how devastating they can be. A faithful King who continues to supply all we need for human life. And a redeeming King who sent His Son to die for us at a place called Calvary, where He took on the sins of the world, past present and future.

So as His people what else can we do other than praise Him? Other than shout our praises to a wonderful God, the King over all the earth. In the quiet of my early morning prayer walks in Dean Woods I sometime shout out the name of Jesus, listening to the echo from the created world around me. Listening to the trees and plants joining with me in a time of praise. I’m not alone in singing my psalm of praise to my wonderful God.

So will you, my reader, join with me today, clapping your hands, shouting and singing your praises to God? If you have never done so before, give it a try. And feel the lift in your spirit as you connect with our wonderful creator God.