Loud Voices In Heaven

“Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices shouting in heaven: “The world has now become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign forever and ever.“”
Revelation‬ ‭11:15 NLT

Once again, an angel with a trumpet readied himself for his task. I’m reminded this morning of a regimental bugler, playing in a military campaign, sounding a call to change the events in a battle. his clear tones penetrating across the noise of the battle to ensure all the troops hear the message. This angel, the last of the seven, sounded a clarion call preceding the final terror, the final woe. 

And after he sounded his note, there was a response. John, in his vision, heard, “loud voices shouting in heaven”. And what he heard marked a significant change in the status of the world. The ”loud voices” said, ”The world has now become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign forever and ever”. The message cannot be clearer. Finally the time has come for the Kingdom of God to be established on earth. God’s Kingdom, to be ruled over by His Son, Jesus. 

Jesus taught much about the Kingdom of God, (or the Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew’s Gospel). All through His ministry He, by means of parables and illustrative stories relevant to His generation and the peoples around Him, taught what the Kingdom of God would be like. In Luke 17:20-21 we read Jesus’ response to a question offered by the Pharisees, “One day the Pharisees asked Jesus, “When will the Kingdom of God come?” Jesus replied, “The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you””. So in this season of God’s grace we are in a time when we pilgrims are enjoying the benefits of His Kingdom. But it is obvious that the world we live in is not God’s Kingdom. Rather, the world as we know it is still under the curse of sin and the devil still rules. So we pilgrims are in the apparently anomalous situation of being citizens of God’s Kingdom but living in a world’s kingdom. Paul wrote in Philippians 3:20, “But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Saviour“. And the second part of this verse is connected to our verse from Revelation today. One day Jesus will return as our Saviour to reign for eternity. We will be familiar with the verses from Isaiah 9:6-7, “For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity. The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!” Zechariah prophesised that Jesus will reign from Jerusalem (Zechariah 8:3). 

So when will the “Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ” be established? The details appear at the end of the Book of Revelation so we will consider them in due course. In today’s verse, however, the “loud voices shouting in Heaven” declare its arrival is imminent. 

Dear Lord. We look forward to that day when You will come to rule and reign in a time when this world becomes Your Kingdom. In faith, we welcome You this day and every day, for the rest of our lives. Amen.

Three Terrors

“Then I looked, and I heard a single eagle crying loudly as it flew through the air, “Terror, terror, terror to all who belong to this world because of what will happen when the last three angels blow their trumpets.””‭‭
Revelation‬ ‭8:13‬ ‭NLT

An eagle with a message appears. It flew across the devastation below crying out a message warning of terrors to come. He said the word “Terror” three times, warning those still alive of that three more judgements were on their way. Each preceded by a trumpet blast.

But note those to whom the eagle’s message was directed. It wasn’t God’s people, but instead it was addressed “to all who belong to this world”. I don’t know about you, but I would like to think that should I have just lived through the first four trumpet judgements and the previous six seal judgements, then by now I would be on my knees before God begging for His forgiveness. But apparently this was not the case for most. We will read in the next chapter of Revelation that wickedness on the earth continued unabated, in spite of all the woes they were experiencing.

I wonder why it was an eagle that brought the message, and not a dove, which is often portrayed as the Holy Spirit? The eagle is a bird of prey, but, particularly in the Old Testament, an eagle is used in descriptions of God, referring to His strength. One of my favourite Scriptures is in Isaiah 40, and verse 31 reads, “But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint”. So was it God Himself visiting earth delivering a message of terror?

But coming back to the few words referring to those “who belong to this world”. We pilgrims might suggest that we live here on Planet Earth so we must belong here as well. However, nothing can be further from the truth. Jesus roamed the Palestinian paths preaching about the Kingdom of God. And His message taught that everyone had the opportunity to leave behind the earthly kingdom and instead embrace His Kingdom. Jesus taught His disciples to pray, and the famous prayer includes the line, “May Your Kingdom come“. Before Pilate, Jesus made the incredible statement, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.” (Matthew 18:31). 

We pilgrims belong to the Kingdom of God. It says on our spiritual passports that we are citizens of God’s Kingdom. There was a time when we were birthed into God’s Kingdom, and at that time we left behind us the earthly kingdom. So we pilgrims are living as foreigners, temporary residents, in the world around us. In 1 Peter 1:17 we read,  “And remember that the heavenly Father to whom you pray has no favourites. He will judge or reward you according to what you do. So you must live in reverent fear of him during your time here as “temporary residents””. We transitioned from the kingdom of darkness into God’s Kingdom. Colossians 1:13-14 reads, “For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of His dear Son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins“. Yes, through Jesus mankind experienced the greatest rescue mission in all history.

So we look upon the end times events in a kind of detached way. Experiencing the pain and grief, but knowing that there will be a time coming when our exile on Planet Earth will come to an end. 

Dear God. Thank You for Jesus. He paid the price required to rescue us from this dark and wicked kingdom and bring us into Your Kingdom. We are so grateful. Amen.

Key of David

“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Philadelphia. This is the message from the One who is holy and true, the One who has the key of David. What He opens, no one can close; and what He closes, no one can open.”
Revelation 3:7 NLT

In his revelation from Jesus, John moves on to the church at Philadelphia, addressing the angel there with his message. Philadelphia was a city in what is now Turkey, and in those days it was on a trade route of strategic importance. Not much remains of the First Century city because of earthquakes in the region, but when John wrote his revelation it was a thriving place extending Greek culture to surrounding nations.

In Revelation 3:7, Jesus once again establishes His credentials. He is the holy and true One. In Hebrews 7:26 we read, “He is the kind of high priest we need because He is holy and blameless, unstained by sin…“. He is true as we read in John 14:6, “Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life..””. But what is this “key of David“? Jesus was repeating the prophecy made about Himself from Isaiah 22:22, “I will give him the key to the house of David—the highest position in the royal court. When he opens doors, no one will be able to close them; when he closes doors, no one will be able to open them“. Jesus was often referred to in Biblical literature as being the Son of David, indicating His royal ancestry.

So what is it that only Jesus can open and close? The Isaiah prophecy mentions doors, and that would seem an obvious target of Jesus’s keys. But doors to what? And what is so important that only the Son of God has access to them? In Matthew 16:19 the words of Jesus, in a conversation with Peter, were recorded: “And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven”. So perhaps this “key of David” unlocks the door into the Kingdom of Heaven.

Heaven is a special place, of complete holiness and purity. A place where God lives. A place that, although we only get a glimpse of it through the Bible, we still gain something about its wonder and ultimate desirability for our eternal home. There is a script used much in old cartoon films and pictures, of a person who has just died arriving at the gates of Heaven. Everything is white and shining, and Peter is sitting behind a desk looking down at the person, consulting books to see if he can be allowed in. But nothing can be further from reality, from the truth. The door into Heaven isn’t opened by a key when we die. There is no Peter, or even Jesus, waiting to let us in, in that respect. There is a process that has to be gone through first. A process that will unlock the door ready for us at some time in the future.

Jesus, while He walked the paths in Palestine, didn’t focus on the place called Heaven so much as He talked and taught about the Kingdom of Heaven. We have to understand that there is no sudden transition between life and the after-life, between our earthly kingdom and the Heavenly kingdom to come. There is a choice to be made, and Jesus was teaching that the Kingdom of Heaven is here right now and we can access it, and live in it, through the One who has the keys to open its door. We start our journey to enter Heaven at the Cross, where Jesus went through a horrible death so that we would gain entry into His Kingdom. By accepting in faith that He is the Son of God, believing in our hearts that He died for us and only salvation comes through Him, then Jesus will unlock and open the door for us, into His Kingdom.. 

There are only two kingdoms accessible to us in this life. The kingdom of darkness, or the Kingdom of Light. The devil’s kingdom or God’s Kingdom. The earthly kingdom or the Heavenly Kingdom. Whatever we call them, there are only two kingdoms. And there is a sobering and important fact about these kingdoms – the default kingdom is not God’s. If we want to spend eternity with God then we can only enter His kingdom by choosing to do so.

Going back to our Scripture in Matthew 16, Jesus very publicly gave Peter the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. If we read a few verses before, we see that Peter had just made a statement declaring Jesus’ divinity. We read in verse 16, “Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God””. On the back of that statement of faith, Peter went on to make very effective use of the keys to the Kingdom – after he preached his Acts 2 sermon, 3,000 people were added to God’s Kingdom that day. He unlocked the door into the Kingdom of heaven for them and they subsequently chose to enter.

But Peter is long dead. Did the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven die with him? Thankfully not, because when we become a child of God, we not only receive the free gift of salvation, we also receive the key that will enable us to unlock the door into God’s Kingdom for anyone we meet. We have a responsibility to fulfil our Kingdom commission by firstly telling others about the Kingdom of Heaven and secondly by telling them how to enter. That is unlocking the door. And for those who reject the free gift of salvation from God, the door remains locked. By default, they will continue to live in the earthly kingdom, and will find, when they cross the Great Divide, that the door into the Heavenly Kingdom is locked and they cannot enter. Instead they will join the devil in the other place. For eternity. 

One last thought today. We are living in a period of unmerited grace. A time when God has graciously made entry into His Kingdom possible for all. There is no monetary charge for entry – salvation is a free gift. In Romans 10:10 we read, “For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved”. That’s what God requires. A choice that will allow Jesus to unlock the door for us. So the question for everyone today is this. Which kingdom do you want to live in? please, folks, make the right choice before it is too late.

Dear Lord. How can we ever thank You enough for Your amazing grace and mercy. Please bring to us those who are open to the Gospel and who are looking for the Kingdom of God, so that we can show them the way. For Your sake. Amen.

Heritage

“Remember me, Lord, when You show favour to Your people;
    come near and rescue me.
Let me share in the prosperity of Your chosen ones.
    Let me rejoice in the joy of Your people;
    let me praise You with those who are Your heritage.”

Psalm 106:4-5 NLT

The Psalmist, in these two verses, seems to have adopted a position of observing the benefits of being a member of God’s “chosen ones“, without being one of them. He recognises God’s people as being prosperous and full of joy. He thinks that God every so often favours and rescues them. And the Psalmist wants to join them. He wants to be part of that sharing, praising and rejoicing people. Part of God’s heritage.

Heritage. That’s an interesting word. It’s usually used in connection with possessions such as valued artefacts or buildings. But in this context it is used as referring to God’s people. His valued possessions. If I floated the idea that we are someone’s “valued possession” the thoughts of slavery and a loss of freedom start to emerge. But if that idea was associated with being a member of an exclusive club with many benefits we might think differently. We would weigh the apparent loss of liberty with the benefits of being a “possession”. But all this is a worldly perspective. 

Taking the two verses today, the Psalmist seems to long to join God’s people but without the knowledge of how to do that. He asks God to “remember him” when His favour is dispensed. But as Christians we have the knowledge of how to become one of God’s people, because we have already transitioned from the kingdom of the devil to the Kingdom of God. How did we do that? There are many Scriptures in the Bible that show the way. Here are two verses from John 1. “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.” Because we believe in Jesus and all that he did for us at Calvary, we have the opportunity to become part of God’s heritage. We are born again into His Kingdom. I’m sure that the Psalmist would have fallen over himself to change his heritage, had he been able to read, understand, and apply these verses.

Do we know anyone today, who is longingly looking over the fence into God’s Kingdom? We have the Gospel message ready and waiting to help them. Let us polish up our stories of God’s grace and mercy – we never know when we might get an opportunity to help someone to climb over the fence.

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?

Memories of Zion

“Great is the Lord, and most worthy of praise, in the city of our God, His holy mountain.
Walk about Zion, go round her, count her towers, consider well her ramparts, view her citadels, that you may tell of them to the next generation.”

Psalms‬ ‭48:1, 12-13‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

Many years we used to sing the song derived from the first two verses of Psalm 48, and written by Steve McEwan in 1985. It’s one of my favourites still, over 30 years later. The contemporary Christian music genre is full of good songs, from worship powerhouses such as Bethel and Hillsongs, but also from individuals hearing from God and writing down what they receive through the Spirit. In it all, though, there is something significant about singing Scripture. It has already been “God-breathed” through Godly men and women, many centuries ago, and has stood the test of time in one of the most important written works mankind has ever had the privilege to hold, The Holy Bible.

Psalm 48, though, enthuses over Zion, the city of God. But what is all this about this place called Zion? It initially appeared in the Bible as a fortified part of Jerusalem, to which was added the Temple area, but became extended in scope to eventually mean a figurative description of the people of Israel, the Jews. And then in the New Testament it took on a spiritual significance as God’s spiritual kingdom. Today the word “Zionist” has become synonymous with the Jewish nation, and sadly has become a derogatory term for Jews adopted by anti-Semites everywhere. A situation which is not really surprising because the enemy of God’s people, Satan, does not like to think that there is a physical and spiritual domain belonging to God in this world, which he claims for himself. And so he whips up anti-Jewish feelings among other nations and peoples everywhere.

However, the Psalmist ends his Psalm with the instruction to “walk about Zion”. Imagine if someone had said to you that they want you to walk around, say, Edinburgh Castle or Westminster Abbey, observing and recording the layout, with all its artefacts and architectural features, making notes so that you can share everything that you have seen with your children, your next generation? It could be quite a project, I think you will agree. But what about doing the same with our spiritual Zion? Where God lives? That would be a project that will take a lifetime and more, because no matter how hard we try, and how much time we can devote, we will never plumb the depths of God and His Kingdom. We will never find the limits of His domain. But we can share the glimpses of His home that the Holy Spirit reveals to us. Sharing a physical picture of an earthly edifice is only of limited value to the next generation, but sharing a spiritual picture of God’s Kingdom, particularly through our own experiences of His grace and love, will save their lives.

So today, join me in “walking around Zion”. I find my “Zion” in the pages and verses of Scripture. In the highways and byways of my local prayer walks in Dean Woods. In the company of God’s people. But where do you find your “Zion”? The amazing fact about God’s Kingdom is that it is everywhere. No matter where we are, where we live, who we are with, even when using technology such as WhatsApp or Zoom, we will find God and His presence. If we look for Him.

The Refuge

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.” Psalms‬ ‭46:1-3‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

These three verses have been a tremendous comfort and support for many people over the years. They are often quoted in times of stress. They are the go-to verses read and uttered by God’s people when facing into some calamity or other. Look at the words the Psalmist uses; “Refuge”, “Strength”, “Help”, “Fear” and the very descriptive picture of an apocalyptic scene as our planet’s infrastructure collapses. Look at the contrast between the security of being in God, and the potentially disastrous state of being away from Him.

The contrast is between two kingdoms – the spiritual and the physical. Two worlds that we can access but so often we ignore the one and only dwell in the other. Of course this is perfectly understandable because we are physical beings with our feet firmly located on the home where we were born – Planet Earth. And we therefore try and look at everything around us through physical eyes and discount the spiritual world because we can’t see it. But it is there nevertheless, as many people over the ages will testify. How else do God’s people sustain themselves when tortured, imprisoned, and ill treated, all because of their faith in a God who one day will welcome them into His Kingdom, His world?

The wonderful and amazing thing is that we have an opportunity to be present in both worlds. Now. At this very moment. We can draw on the resources of God’s spiritual Kingdom to help and support us in our earthly world. God is inviting us to be part of His Kingdom, not just when we are facing into a calamitous situation, but all the time. And the access door is open this very moment – through God’s Son Jesus. Message me if you want to know more.

Although we start our life in the natural environment around us we will transition one day into a totally different spiritual environment, which itself consists of two worlds – God’s world, and another place where He is not present. Far better to enjoy the benefits of being a part of both God’s spiritual world and the physical world where we live while we have the choice. Because one day that choice will be removed from us.

The picture of an impregnable place in God that not only protects us from all dangers, but also resources us and strengthens us to face into impossible situations seems too good to be true. But it’s too good not to be true. Join me there today.

A Tale of Two Kingdoms

“I said to myself, “I will watch what I do and not sin in what I say. I will hold my tongue when the ungodly are around me.” But as I stood there in silence— not even speaking of good things— the turmoil within me grew worse. The more I thought about it, the hotter I got, igniting a fire of words:” Psalms‬ ‭39:1-3‬ ‭NLT‬‬

The Psalmist is in worldly company. This Godly man is in a quandary – the worldly talk going on around him is distressing and sinful. It probably contains language and humour he disagrees with, and alludes to practices he abhors. So he keeps silent. And becomes seriously upset internally – turmoil is the word he uses to describe his feelings. And eventually he is unable to hold within himself the feelings of frustration, and he blows up, blasting his companions with a torrent of words. Sound familiar? It’s a place where I have been during my work-a-day life. Conversations take place in the office that I find degrading and upsetting. Gossip, smutty jokes, character assassination, foul language, sexual innuendo. It’s all there and as a Christian it’s a place where I don’t want to be. But I have to be there because it’s a place where I earn the money I need for life.

But there is a different meaning in these verses. We see from later in the Psalm that the Psalmist is perhaps quiet before the “ungodly” because of his sins. And in the Psalm he goes on to reflect on the temporary nature of life, his sins, his hope in God, being disciplined by God and finally pleading with God for his prayers to be heard.

But whatever interpretation we choose, the message is clear. The dichotomy between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of the world is stark. We can’t have a foot in each kingdom. Jesus was clear about this in His teaching during what we call the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 6:24 Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.” Once settled in the Promised Land, Joshua delivered a rousing message to the Israelites which was recorded in Joshua 24:15, “But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.” The choice he laid before his countrymen was the same choice we have before us today. Whom will we serve? As for me I can say without hesitation – I and my family will serve the Lord.