Water to Blood

“Then the second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it became like the blood of a corpse. And everything in the sea died. Then the third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs, and they became blood.”
Revelation‬ ‭16:3-4‬ ‭NLT

This is a disgusting thought. The blood inside a decomposing corpse decomposes and rots too. And that is how John saw the oceans of the world. Vast extents of rotting bodily fluids. The smell must have been atrocious. John also discerned that everything in the sea died as well. No more fish and plant life. The ways of commerce and fishing for food would have been destroyed at a stroke. The beast’s economy would have been destroyed. The world’s food supply eliminated. Oxygen required to sustain life much reduced, and reducing.

Earlier in our journey through Revelation, we found, “Then the second angel blew his trumpet, and a great mountain of fire was thrown into the sea. One-third of the water in the sea became blood, one-third of all things living in the sea died, and one-third of all the ships on the sea were destroyed.” (‭‭Revelation‬ ‭8:8-9‬ ‭NLT). It is almost as though this plague was finishing the job started by the angel with the trumpet. Desperate times for the remaining people on Planet Earth.

Similarly, with the rivers and springs also turning to blood, the process started in Revelation 8:10-11 is completed. We read, “Then the third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from the sky, burning like a torch. It fell on one-third of the rivers and on the springs of water. The name of the star was Bitterness. It made one-third of the water bitter, and many people died from drinking the bitter water.” The bitterness of one third of the fresh water supplies was replaced by nothing but blood. For “water” read “blood”. Can you imagine it? Raining blood. Red snow and ice. What did people drink, being surrounded only by rotting, stinking, clotting, decomposing, blood? 

Do we take the references to blood literally, or do they instead have another meaning? Does the water everywhere really become like “the blood of a corpse” or blood itself, or is there some other meaning? We don’t know. Suffice to say, that the peoples on earth were at the end. That is, of course, unless they repented of their wickedness and sin, and turned to God.

In Exodus 7 we read about how Moses turned the Nile and all the water supplies in Egypt into blood, but even this miraculous sign failed to change Pharaoh’s resolve. The Egyptians were able to find fresh water by digging holes alongside the banks of the Nile. But in these End Times, that option would have been unavailable. Digging holes would have just exposed more blood.

In our society today, in 21st Century UK, or wherever we are, there is much to mourn. Not just the passing of our Queen, but also the rising cost of living. The sky-high energy prices. And we mourn the deterioration of the social values that we have enjoyed for so long. We mourn the breakdown of family life, the waiting lists for our medical facilities, the lack of dentists – the list seems to be endless. But all these things are trivial compared to what it would have been like living in the times of the beast. Faced with a catastrophic economic melt down, lack of food and acute difficulties finding water to drink, the remaining populations in these last days would have been gripped by fear, driven by panic, with scenes too desperate and graphic to imagine. 

In our times, many of us have a tendency to do a lot of moaning. When life seems hard, when depression seems to be just round the corner. When we lack the means to pay bills, or the car breaks down or whatever challenge we are facing into, we need to remind ourselves of what life will be like in the Last Days. In Philippians 4:12-13, we read about the Apostle Paul’s attitudes to life. “I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength“. In this season of grace, God is holding the world order together. Yes, there are wars and economic problems. Yes, diseases and medical challenges abound. But in the Last Days, His grace will have run its course and He will loosen His grip on the world, allowing the forces of darkness to be unleashed on whoever is still alive on earth. The beast has emerged, preceding a time of an outpouring of God’s final judgements. Like Paul, in this life we must learn “the secret of living in every situation”, grateful for God’s love and grace, and all that He has done for us. And in our work-a-day lives, we continually express our thanks to our wonderful Heavenly Dad, regardless of our circumstances. 

Dear Father God. How wonderful You are. We are so grateful for Your mercy and grace. Please help us to keep a balanced and thankful attitude for all You have done, and will still do, in our lives. Amen.

The Third Flying Angel

“Then a third angel followed them, shouting, “Anyone who worships the beast and his statue or who accepts his mark on the forehead or on the hand must drink the wine of God’s anger. It has been poured full strength into God’s cup of wrath. And they will be tormented with fire and burning sulphur in the presence of the holy angels and the Lamb. The smoke of their torment will rise forever and ever, and they will have no relief day or night, for they have worshiped the beast and his statue and have accepted the mark of his name.””
Revelation‬ ‭14:9-11 NLT

It’s time for the third flying angel to make his appearance in John’s vision. And his message is grim. It will obviously be delivered at a time when people are newly acquainted with the beast’s demands, and still have a choice about whether or not to wholeheartedly embrace the statue worship and accept the beast’s mark, the 666 reference, on their hands or foreheads. So just in case there were any who were having doubts about this, an angel appears. He gives them a stark warning – if they choose the way of the beast they will spend eternity in his company. He used words designed to instil terror into his hearers. Words such as fire, sulphur, continual torment. 

From the messages delivered by the three angels it is easy to question why the peoples in the global nations still rejected God and His grace. Everyone by now has heard the Gospel, the Good News about Jesus, the Son of God, and what He did for mankind through the cross at Calvary. They now know that the party is over. Their sinful and wicked ways, the immorality of their life styles, has come to an end. And here we have the last warning. Worship the beast, receive his mark, and there’s no way back. In spite of all this, most of the people still alive at this time rejected the angels’ messages. Why? What were they thinking?

In my meanderings around the community where I live, I occasionally have the opportunity to share about Jesus and what He did for mankind, and in particularly for what He has done for me. I find that most people I meet are aware of a spiritual life after death. Not something they want to talk about, but the awareness is there. But I have been taken aback by the anger in some that is directed against anything to do with God. They blame Him for so much. For the death of a loved one. For the state of the economy. For their ill-health. For a natural catastrophe (even insurance companies refer sometimes to an “Act of God”). And I have heard rants against churchgoers, and all that is wrong about them. Are these the sort of people who will hold out to the end, preferring eternal torment to repentance and a life with God? Do we find that inexplicable?

Jesus experienced unbelief and resistance even in the face of His miracles. We read in John 12:37, “But despite all the miraculous signs Jesus had done, most of the people still did not believe in him.” Why would that still be the case even in His day, when the people were in the presence of the Son of God? The Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:4 wrote, “Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God.” Scripture is even more revealing in 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12, where we read with a reference to the beast, “This man will come to do the work of Satan with counterfeit power and signs and miracles. He will use every kind of evil deception to fool those on their way to destruction, because they refuse to love and accept the truth that would save them. So God will cause them to be greatly deceived, and they will believe these lies. Then they will be condemned for enjoying evil rather than believing the truth.”

It is so sad when we read these verses. To think that eternal life with God is so close. So accessible. And what makes the situation even more distressing is that there are those in our families, and groups of friends, who will be counted amongst those deceived by satan. What can we do? Thankfully, we are not in a hopeless place, because our loving Heavenly Father is a gracious and loving God. He wants no one to end up in that place we call hell. So we pray. We passionately pray. We call out to Him for our loved ones, that His mercy and grace will somehow penetrate hardened hearts and draw them into that place of grace where they embrace God’s son with love and acceptance. 

Dear Father. We pray for our loved ones today. And we’ll keep on praying until they too find Your grace and mercy. Thank You for Your love and acceptance of every sinner who repents. 

Mounted Troops

“Then the sixth angel blew his trumpet, and I heard a voice speaking from the four horns of the gold altar that stands in the presence of God. And the voice said to the sixth angel who held the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great Euphrates River.” Then the four angels who had been prepared for this hour and day and month and year were turned loose to kill one-third of all the people on earth. I heard the size of their army, which was 200 million mounted troops.”
‭‭Revelation‬ ‭9:13-16‬ ‭NLT

The starting gun is fired. The four angels who had been prepared for this very time were “turned loose”. They had a vast army at their disposal, consisting of mounted troops implying they were well equipped. And they killed one third of the people alive on earth at that time. Tragic. John continued his narrative, recorded in Revelation 9:17-19. We read, “And in my vision, I saw the horses and the riders sitting on them. The riders wore armour that was fiery red and dark blue and yellow. The horses had heads like lions, and fire and smoke and burning sulphur billowed from their mouths. One-third of all the people on earth were killed by these three plagues—by the fire and smoke and burning sulphur that came from the mouths of the horses. Their power was in their mouths and in their tails. For their tails had heads like snakes, with the power to injure people.

Again, in his vision, John was able to zoom in to see more details of the main players. The vast army were identically dressed and armed. Colours of red, blue and yellow. Lion-headed horses. From their mouths was emitted “fire and smoke and burning sulphur”. And they had snake-headed tails. It all sounded like the description of a scene from a fantasy or horror movie.

Did John really see lion-headed horses breathing fire and brimstone? Or was this just a vision displaying something he could relate to? For example, it would have been no good for John to see a modern battle tank, because he wouldn’t have been able to understand what it was. In the same way, if we had the vision, what would have been shown to us would have to be understandable, so that we could receive the message in terms that relate to the knowledge we have. Weapons of war have changed over the centuries, and in particular over the past century or so. What new weapons of descruction are still to come? A scary thought?

The verses describe the “fire and smoke and burning sulphur” as three separate plagues. And for good measure, the snake-tails injured people. And the three plagues killed a third of the population. But we now come to an extremely sad fact. We read about it in Revelation 9:20-21. “But the people who did not die in these plagues still refused to repent of their evil deeds and turn to God. They continued to worship demons and idols made of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood—idols that can neither see nor hear nor walk! And they did not repent of their murders or their witchcraft or their sexual immorality or their thefts.” How sad is that? What is there about people that even when faced with the consequences of their rebellion and sin, “their murders or their witchcraft or their sexual immorality or their thefts”, they still refused to repent and turn to God. 

I have had conversations with people and have been struck by the apparent intransigence, even in the face of adversity, of some of them. They hold an angry and almost violent attitude towards anything to do with God. They speak out that they would rather end up in hell than have anything to do with God. Even if He exists, they say. How they can be so angry towards a loving, merciful, compassionate and gracious God totally beats me. But then I remember how I was before my heart melted in the warmth of God’s love. When I realised that Jesus was and is the ultimate loving Saviour. Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:1-2, “Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God.” But a couple of verses on (Ephesians 2:4-5), there is a description of what happened to me, “But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)”.

Those people, the two-thirds, who escaped the killing spree of the vast army, still refused to turn to God. Human nature being what it is, rather than soberly realise that they had had a lucky escape and had better now do something about it, they rationalised that they couldn’t have been so bad after all. Perhaps God had missed what they were up to. Surely He couldn’t have seen their misdemeanours – after all, they think, He can’t be everywhere can He? Perhaps their “demons and idols made of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood”  had kept them safe after all. In Isaiah 55:6-7 we read, “Seek the Lord while you can find him. Call on him now while he is near. Let the wicked change their ways and banish the very thought of doing wrong. Let them turn to the Lord that he may have mercy on them. Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously.” That is the message we pilgrims must propagate through out communities. Because today God is near. Tomorrow He might not be. Our message is focused and urgent. Let’s grab the moment.

Dear Father God. Once again we offer up our thanks for Your grace and mercy. Where would we be without You? Please lead us to those who are worried and harassed, that we can speak words of peace and grace to help them. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

The Lukewarm

“I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!”
Revelation‬ ‭3:15-16‬ ‭NLT‬‬

This is a verse that sometimes makes me feel a bit uncomfortable. An internal “Oh dear!” and a heavy sigh starts a few minutes of self reflection that usually ends up with me mentally on my knees before Jesus. Asking once again for forgiveness. And His love and grace floods over me once again.

Jesus used the analogy of water and its temperature and it would have been a significant metaphor in that culture. Lukewarm water in 1st Century Laodicea would have been a bit suspect. It brings to mind the picture of glass of water that has been sitting out in the sun, and consequently didn’t taste very nice. And, as well, it may have become polluted by whatever was flying around near it. One mouthful, and perhaps a response would be to spit it out. On the other hand, cold water was refreshing and wholesome, probably sourced from an underground spring. Hot water would have been used for cooking or for washing, with the benefit of knowing that it felt good through cooked food or through the refreshment washing brings.

So to translate that into spiritual terms, what do we get? What is the optimum temperature for a follower of Jesus? Obviously, being lukewarm is not an option – Jesus made very clear that His palate rejects it. Perhaps, a lukewarm “Christian” is someone who goes through the motions of church life, failing to engage with the spiritual aspects, but putting up with them so that they can enjoy the benefits of the fellowship and any secular activities that take place on their church premises. A lukewarm person is someone who knows all about the liturgy and even Bible passages, but tends to ignore them, being more interested in the display of flowers, how the chairs are laid out, the length of the sermon, or what they should wear to church. They see no reason to engage with our wonderful and amazing Heavenly Father in an abundance of praise and worship, in thankfulness and reverence. These people may also be resistant to responding to the Gospel, having hearts that are hardened against Biblical truth, or prayer and worship. Jesus doesn’t want them in His church – He will eject them forcibly.

A person who is cold is someone who has no desire to get involved with anything to do with God. They probably won’t darken any church with their presence, unless the service is a wedding, funeral, or christening/baptism. They may confess atheism or be an agnostic. I was one myself until God, through His Spirit, connected with me. He brought me into a situation where I had to decide and one night, in response to an anguished prayer, He graciously allowed me to know His reality and love. So a cold person can be reached by the Gospel, and warmed by the power of God. God’s grace extends to them – they only need to reach out and accept Him. Salvation is all by His grace and it’s a free gift, costing us nothing, though it cost Jesus His life.

A person who is hot, is someone who has fully and totally embraced the Gospel. And through faith he or she fervently pursues God, reading the Bible, praying, evangelising and serving God in the way He wants them to. When times are troubled their faith carries them through. And their pilgrimage through life bears fruit, both in their own lives and the lives of others. 

Jesus said He knew everything the Laodiceans do. Of course He did. And unlike the other 6 churches He had no praise or encouragement for them. At least the church at Sardis had a few dying embers that were possible to revive, but the Laodiceans had absolutely nothing – they had reached a spiritual entropy.

A sensible pilgrim will occasionally do a spiritual check up, just to make sure they’re still “hot” and not heading for being lukewarm. As water cools to room temperature and becomes lukewarm, they too will do the same unless they put in place the spiritual safeguards necessary to maintain temperature. But we must never forget our relationship with God. He is our loving Heavenly Father. Through Jesus He has welcomed us into His family. He has made it possible for us to live with Him for eternity. So how can we ever grow cold in our faith? And neither must we forget that he has given us the special task of sharing His grace and love with the lukewarm and cold people around us. While there is still time.

Dear Lord God. How can we ever forget You, the One who has graciously done so much for us. For our salvation and our adoption into Your family we are so grateful. We pray that You will never allow our hearts to grow cold. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Greetings

“John, To the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from Him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before His throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood,”
Revelation‬ ‭1:4-5‬ ‭NIVUK

John starts his writings with an introduction explaining who the letter is for and who it is from. It is addressed to “the seven churches in the province of Asia“. They are all listed later in the book. And then we have a detailed explanation of the contributors to his Revelation. For me, John’s words describe the everlasting God, because His throne is mentioned. And then we have the seven spirits. That can only be the Holy Spirit, the number “seven” denoting perfection or completeness, as it does in other parts of the Bible. And then we have a reference to Jesus, acknowledging Him as the faithful witness behind John’s Revelation. For good measure, we then are reminded of His death and resurrection, and His status as Lord of all.

John starts with announcing God’s grace and peace to “you”, who are the churches, the fellowships that he founded or spiritually fathered in the “province of Asia”. Again, the number “seven” is mentioned, perhaps indicating that it applies to all churches everywhere. There is no better introduction than speaking out a blessing of grace and peace. Oh, don’t we need both these qualities in our war-ravaged world. We need all the grace and peace that God has for us. Starting a letter or, to bring it up to date, an email or message, using a greeting, especially one including the words “grace and peace” is not a usual convention these days. But what a wonderful way to start. At a stroke of the pen, or tap of a key, it sets the scene for what is to come in the communication. It elevates the subject matter into Heavenly places, away from the mundane worldliness burdening our lives. Perhaps I’ll break with convention and start to use it more in my emails and messages, smiling at the thought of the quizzical smiles that will appear as the missive is read.

John finishes his greeting with a dedication, “to Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood”. We must never forget to dedicate all we do in our service to God to Jesus and all He has done for us. His love knows no bounds. His willingness to die for each one of us echoes through past, present and future generations, bringing salvation to all.

Heavenly Father, we pray for more of Your presence in this sinful world, bringing grace and peace where there is anger and strife. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Final Blessings

“Peace be with you, dear brothers and sisters, and may God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you love with faithfulness. May God’s grace be eternally upon all who love our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Ephesians 6:23-24 NLT

Paul finished his letter to the Ephesian church with a blessing. There is something powerful about speaking out a blessing. A God-focused blessing does something profound in Heavenly realms. As it is uttered, angels pause in their duties, enjoying the moment. Demons in other places cringe as the words echo around their spiritual realms. The devil moves away to find an easier place to undertake his nefarious works. 

Paul’s blessing included three fundamental God-principles. Firstly His peace. In this war-torn world, Russia and Ukraine are, as I write, fighting a war I thought I would never see in my lifetime; peace is a precious commodity and one I pray for daily. A lack of peace destroys us. There is so much strife in our relationships, our families, our communities. Sometimes it is despairing to see so many people who seem to prefer a lack of peace in their lives. A God-peace is precious. It soothes our troubled souls. It brings relief to our mental conflicts and distress. So at every opportunity, we must, as peace-loving pilgrims, speak out God’s peace, avoiding conflict wherever possible.

Paul’s second blessing was to ask God, our Heavenly Father, to give us ”love with faithfulness”. And Paul reminded us that God is also the Father of Jesus, making Him our elder brother. How amazing is that! And we open up our spiritual receptors to receive God’s love, which we can then faithfully pass onto others. We feel God’s love penetrating deep within our spirits, melting away the tensions, softening any hard bits that are calloused by contact with the unloving world around us. Our neighbours, friends, and family members, may not be feeling God’s love for themselves, so we have the opportunity to share our messages of hope and love with them. It’s amazing to watch a hardened God-denier soften when told that God loves them regardless of their rejection of Him. 

Paul finishes with his third blessing. Grace. Eternal grace. God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense is a great way of remembering what He has done for us. God’s grace covers us. It manifests in love regardless of how we behave. Grace sees Christ’s righteousness when we deserve judgement. Grace pours from God’s throne without limit. And it is there for us whenever we are feeling a bit wobbly. When we are unsure and feeling a bit insecure. And it never ends – Paul prays that it will be eternally with us. 

I love the blessing that we find in Numbers 6:24-26. Let’s finish with it today.

May the Lord bless you and protect you
May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you
May the Lord show you His favour
And give you His peace.

Compassion

The Lord is merciful and compassionate, 
slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. 
The Lord is good to everyone. 
He showers compassion on all His creation.
‭Psalms‬ ‭145:8-9‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Why is God ultimately so merciful and compassionate? We look around us at our world and wonder why He doesn’t remove all evil and, in particular, evil people. After all they get in His way. They frustrate His will and purposes. But as we muse about how wonderful it would be if God removed the wicked, we get a light bulb moment – He would remove us as well. As Paul said in Romans 3:23, “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” So it’s just as well God is merciful and compassionate. He gives us time. Time to repent of our sins. Time to align our lives to His. Thankfully He is “slow to get angry” with us. 

But that is not to say that God’s mercy will always be there. There will come a time when He can be merciful and compassionate no longer. There is a time of judgement coming. You see, our loving Heavenly Father is also a righteous Heavenly Father. He can tolerate nothing that is evil, and when we pass the Great Divide into a new life, anything that is evil will not be allowed in His presence. And so God has created a place apart from Him where evil will be allowed and confined. We can be assured that all the injustices, all the evil, all the wickedness, all the crime, all the bad things we experience in this life – none of it is going unnoticed by God. It is all being noted down in Heavenly life-logs. And one day God will open the data vaults and will publicly replay the videos before casting judgement. Thankfully there is a remedy for us – read on!

Today, in this life, we enjoy being showered with compassion. All of us, good or bad, live in a time of incredible blessing, a time of God’s patience and goodness, a time of God’s grace. As we take our faltering steps along the roads of life, His compassion helps us. His goodness is with us. His love is unfailing. His grace without limit. But God is not a passive parent. His mercy and compassion is active. He sent His Son, Jesus, to show us the way to a right relationship with Him. When Jesus takes on all our sins, we take on Jesus’ righteousness. If that isn’t the ultimate demonstration of compassion, of love, then I don’t know what is. And covered in Jesus’ righteousness, we today receive a “not-guilty’ verdict from the Righteous Judge. The Lord is surely good to everyone. Even me.

Loving God

O God-Enthroned in heaven, I lift my eyes toward You in worship.
The way I love You
    is like the way a servant wants to please his master,
    the way a maid waits for the orders of her mistress.
    We look to you, our God, with passionate longing
    to please You and discover more of Your mercy and grace.
For we’ve had more than our fill of this scoffing and scorn—
    this mistreatment by the wealthy elite.
    Lord, show us Your mercy!
    Lord, show us Your grace!”
Psalm 123:1-4 TPT

How would we describe how we love God? Wanting to please Him? As a servant waits for instructions? With passionate longing? Wanting to discover more of His “mercy and grace“? The very nature of this Psalm exposes the dichotomy between those that love God and those that don’t. Between those that have an intimate relationship with Him and those who would deny His very presence. But we who are His children love Him. How do we love Him? As it says in Deuteronomy 5:6, “And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.” A completeness surpassing all other loves. A commitment surpassing all other commitments. A relationship surpassing all other relationships. We love God. There is no alternative.

Amazingly, God loved us before we even knew Him. Romans 5:8 says,  “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” He showed us a love that transcends anything His creation can devise or implement. Any response from us cannot even register on the Richter scale of what love means. But we try. We respond to God as best we can, but how? We are drawn to Him by the Holy Spirit that dwells within us, but there’s more.

The Apostle John understood more than anyone about God’s love. He was the disciple that Jesus loved (John 13:23). And it was a love that transformed his life. We read in his first epistle (1 John 4:11-13 from the Passion Translation), “Delightfully loved ones, if he loved us with such tremendous love, then “loving one another” should be our way of life! No one has ever gazed upon the fullness of God’s splendour. But if we love one another, God makes his permanent home in us, and we make our permanent home in him, and his love is brought to its full expression in us. And he has given us his Spirit within us so that we can have the assurance that he lives in us and that we live in him.” We can’t get away from it, folks – because God first loved us, we can only respond by loving one another. And John said that when we love one another, God makes a permanent home in us. Sadly, the world would say that the only person worth loving is ourselves. No home or even a room for God there.

In our Psalm, the writer briefly shifts his adoring gaze away from God onto those around him, the God-deniers, who scoff and scorn. On our pilgrimage through life we will find plenty of them. And not just the “wealthy and elite“. And the Psalmist was so desirous to respond to God in the correct way, that he cries out for grace and mercy. And we echo his call – O Lord, please show us more of Your grace and mercy so that we can love others. Amen.

Ferreting

“I will not allow deceivers to serve in my house, 
and liars will not stay in my presence. 
My daily task will be to ferret out the wicked 
and free the city of the Lord from their grip.
Psalms‬ ‭101:7-8‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Removing the wicked from amongst us is a wonderful idea. After all, we would all like to live in a Godly and sin-free environment. We would all like to eliminate anti-social behaviour in our communities. Or drugs, or drunkenness, or ….. But how do we do that? The statute book in our societies lists what we should and shouldn’t do. Misdemeanours are treated according to their severity, and some miscreants end up without their liberty. Police forces do their best to uphold the law of the land. But who are the wicked the Psalmist was writing about? If we read through this Psalm, we find words describing people, including “vile”, “vulgar”, “perverse”, “evil”, “slander”, “conceit”, “pride”, “deceivers”, “liars” and “wicked”. Hang on a minute, though, I can’t somehow see a policeman arresting someone with any of these qualities. They need to be translated into something tangible that the person can be arrested for. Some crime defined by our laws. But here’s the thing – only God can see the thoughts in a person’s mind and so only he knows how to “ferret out the wicked“. Only He has that right.

Jesus taught about wheat and weeds in a parable in which the farmer planted good seed but the enemy, the devil, came along and scattered weeds. When the wheat and weeds started growing, the farm workers suggested to the farmer that they go into the field and pull up the weeds, leaving the wheat. But the farmer stopped them, because of the potential for damaging the growing wheat. We then read in Matthew 13 that Jesus said, “Just as the weeds are sorted out and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the world. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will remove from his Kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. And the angels will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” In other words Jesus was saying that there will come a time of judgement one day and the qualities of the “wicked”, the “weeds” in the parable, will be exposed and consequently dealt with then. 

Back in Psalm 101, the Psalmist’s intentions of achieving purity among the inhabitants of God’s city was a noble one. One that at least superficially sounds like a good idea. But then the thought crosses our minds – do we suffer from any of the qualities of the wicked? Have we never had a proud thought? Have we never gossiped about a neighbour? Have we never …? And before we know it, the application of the Psalmist’s “daily task” would soon result in no-one left in God’s city. We wouldn’t be eligible for citizenship in God’s city either. 

But there’s a tremendous section of Scripture in Romans 3. We read, “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus. So there we have it. Although none of us can meet God’s standard of righteousness, we can nevertheless have the right to live in God’s presence, in His city, through the blood of Jesus. Through His grace and mercy. Too good to be true? Too good not to be true.

Vengeance

“O Lord, the God of vengeance, 
O God of vengeance, let your glorious justice shine forth! Arise, O Judge of the earth. 
Give the proud what they deserve. 
How long, O Lord? 
How long will the wicked be allowed to gloat? 
How long will they speak with arrogance? 
How long will these evil people boast? 
They crush your people, Lord, 
hurting those you claim as your own. 
They kill widows and foreigners 
and murder orphans. 
“The Lord isn’t looking,” they say, 
“and besides, the God of Israel doesn’t care.””
Psalms‬ ‭94:1-7‬ ‭NLT‬

Is that really true? That God is a God of vengeance? Surely not – aren’t we taught that God is a God of love? Doesn’t His grace cover over all our sins? Sadly, there have been many people shipwrecked on a wrong view of God. Yes, He is a God of love and grace, but He is also a God of righteousness and justice. I’m sure that if more people realised what was coming down the track towards them on Judgement Day, they would change trains and get on the right track. But it is a frustration for God’s people, for you and me, that so much injustice is allowed to fester away in our nations. So many people break the laws, including God’s laws, in our societies, committing all sorts of heinous crimes. And because they apparently get away with such behaviour, escaping a lightning bolt from Heaven in the process, they think that God never noticed, let alone the authorities. Gloating, arrogance, and boasting are attributes often seen in the lawbreakers.

The Psalmist goes on to describe three categories of people – widows, foreigners and orphans. Those in his society least able to protect themselves. Today the same message rings out – there are social groupings today that are oppressed and undervalued in our societies. But the mention of “foreigners” is interesting. In British society today there is a growing anger about the scale of illegal immigration. We need to perhaps remember that Jesus was an economic migrant soon after he was born, when His earthly parents escaped to Egypt, getting away from King Herod’s murderous clutches. In the next village to me there is a Bulgarian couple that I sometimes meet when they are walking their dog. They have a very poor grasp of English, but I have managed to get across a welcoming message and soon I hope to share the love of God with them. I don’t know why they are in Scotland – perhaps I’ll find out one day – but they come into the category of “foreigners”. People from other lands and nations, from other ethnic groups, “foreigners”, get a special mention in Psalm 94.

But one thing certainly isn’t true about God, that He doesn’t care about the wicked behaviour of evil people. He just bides His time, in His grace and mercy giving plenty of opportunities for evil to be turned into good. And His people – you and me – mustn’t forget that we are the dispensers of His message of love and grace even to those who are the evil ones in our societies. Religious people will tut away in front of their TV screens as the newsreels roll, as they show yet another act of atrocity. But if the “religious” tag includes us then we need to turn tutting into praying, inaction into action, praying for our governments and societies, for those creating such mayhem, pushing back the tides of evil wherever and whenever we can. Oh – don’t forget we can help the disadvantaged in our societies as well – we just need to look out for them.