Sweet and Sour

“Then the voice from heaven spoke to me again: “Go and take the open scroll from the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.” So I went to the angel and told him to give me the small scroll. “Yes, take it and eat it,” he said. “It will be sweet as honey in your mouth, but it will turn sour in your stomach!” So I took the small scroll from the hand of the angel, and I ate it! It was sweet in my mouth, but when I swallowed it, it turned sour in my stomach. Then I was told, “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages, and kings.””
Revelation‬ ‭10:8-11‬ ‭NLT

A voice from Heaven jolted John in to action. He was told to go and get the small scroll from the angel and eat it. And he was warned that although the scroll would taste sweet, it would give him heart burn. What was all that about?

John was told that the scroll’s taste would be as sweet as honey. We heard much about this product of the honey bee in Israel’s history – their promised land reputedly would be found to be flowing with milk and honey. Moses was told by God in the Burning Bush episode, “So I have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and lead them out of Egypt into their own fertile and spacious land. It is a land flowing with milk and honey—the land where the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites now live”. (Exodus 3:8). To the Israelites, the presence of honey would be a sign that the land was full of natural resources. A wonderful place to be.

But more than that, honey has a spiritual significance. We read in Psalm 119:103, “How sweet Your words taste to me; they are sweeter than honey“. So perhaps John accepted and ate the scroll, enjoying the sweetness of God’s Word. But then in some way he found that the words written on it were not the sweet platitudes full of love and grace that he expected to find, but instead the consequences of the third terror or woe that was still to come. And the sweetness turned bitter to the very pit of his stomach. There is a huge gulf between the sweetness of God’s Word and the bitterness of our wicked and sinful world. The one provides nourishment to our souls. But the other leaves a sour taste in our mouths. There is nothing sweet about the sinful world in which we live. 

The last verse of Revelation 10 had an instruction for John. He was to prophesy again, “about many peoples, nations, languages, and kings.” But what was he to say? Perhaps it was to make known what was written on the small scroll that he had just eaten. Perhaps he had to communicate God’s mysterious plan, that we read about earlier. Perhaps he was to prophecy what would happen when the final trumpet sounded. John would not have been lacking material about his forthcoming prophetic announcement.

We pilgrims prophecy. Not just by words but by our lives. The ways in which we set an example to the world around us. We are prophetically counter-cultural in all we do. As an example, a group of us Christian men had breakfast together in a local restaurant recently. We had not long finished when the fire alarm sounded and we had to leave, to assemble in the car park. The manager said we were free to go and there was nothing to pay. But we insisted on paying for our meal anyway. That was a counter-cultural prophetic statement, declaring to the rest of those in the car park that God and His ways are true and righteous. The world’s ways are not God’s ways. We are called to live holy lives. 1 Peter 1:14-15 reads, “So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy“. 

Dear Father God. You are holy and righteous in all Your ways. Thank You that through Jesus we too can be righteous and holy, as You are. Please help us to declare You and Your ways in our families and communities. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Difficult Questions

The Lord says to my Lord: 
‘Sit at my right hand 
until I make your enemies 
a footstool for your feet.’”
Psalms‬ ‭110:1‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

Psalm 110 is another Davidic Psalm, full of prophetic and apocryphal language. The verse I’ve chosen today was quoted by Jesus during one of His conversations with the Pharisees; He used it to ask a difficult question of the religious leaders of His day, one that they couldn’t answer. The details of the conversation were recorded in Matthew 22. 

I read this Psalm, and find myself at a loss to understand at first how it will help the modern day pilgrim, in his or her journey through this life. There is obviously a time coming, prophetically laid out, of when Jesus, the Son of God, will rule and reign one day in the future. It will be a time of judgement, of battle, of triumph, of defeat of the forces that will be arraigned against Him. It’s encouraging to know the contents of a future chapter in the book of this world’s history. As I scan the verses in this Psalm, some nuggets of truth emerge. About God’s unchanging promise that His enemies will one day be defeated, by His Son Jesus ruling at the head of an army of His troops. About His priestly role, leading the spiritual future of His people. About judgement bringing about the justice God’s people can only dream of today. It is these thoughts that will sustain us when our lives are difficult and challenging. 

The Bible contains difficult questions, like the one Jesus asked of the Pharisees when He quoted this Psalm. And in some places the Biblical records and accounts can be interpreted in different ways. So how do we handle challenging Biblical and theological questions when asked by those around us? I’m sure some people lay awake at night trying to dream up traps to undermine us. A genuine seeker after truth should be answered and carefully helped to understand the answer to their difficulties; if necessary we must go away and research the answer with the help of the Holy Spirit; if we don’t know the answer we should say so. And we thank God for the apologists who interface the Bible truths to everyday life, and provide light in dark corners; such people we can refer our questioners to if necessary. 

In our everyday lives, we too can have questions about difficult-to-understand passages in the Bible. At such times, we keep close to our Heavenly Father, trusting Him to provide all the answers we need for our journeys. And we need to take our life-steps, with the faith that God knows what is best for us. Perhaps Proverbs 3:6 is a good go-to place today: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Sometimes we don’t need answers to difficult questions – we just need God.

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No-one Does Good

The Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. 
All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.
Psalm 14:2-3

This is a depressing Psalm in some ways, but full of hope in another. The phrase, “there is no-one who does good” appears in two places, in verses 1 and 3. And that’s the depressing bit, because David, the Psalmist, was perhaps meditating on what it must have been like to be God and, from his own experience of society, came to the conclusion that goodness was a quality severely lacking in the human race. Worse, he sees his fellow men as being “fools” because they deny that God exists and instead are riddled with corruption and do things he calls “vile”. Some of their nasty behaviour is listed further down in the Psalm.

The hopeful part of this Psalm appears in verses 5 and 7. In verse 5 David is comforted by the thought that one day, the evildoers will be terrified when they find out that, actually, there is a God, and He will be found in the presence of those who are righteous. But David’s cry in verse 7 was a prophetic glimpse, through the murk and mists of time, that there needs to be a Rescuer, from God’s mountain, who will restore His people. He was looking forward in time through a prophetic looking glass, yearning for the day when God’s plan of salvation would be enacted. We have the privilege of being able to look back in time to see that God sent His son, Jesus, who restored all those who put their faith in Him. The Apostle John wrote down the words of Jesus in John 3:16-17, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”  This was the fulfilment of the plan in God’s heart, that David only had a glimpse of all those years before. 

Verse 7 refers to Jacob and Israel rejoicing when salvation occurs. Perhaps there is a second part to David’s prophetic glimpse, and it is still to take place. That is the salvation of the nation Israel. But whatever our thoughts, we are truly a privileged people, living in an age of God’s favour. Let’s embrace it while we can.