Don’t Just Stand There

Let’s pick up where we left off with the book of Acts:

Therefore when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, are you now restoring the kingdom to Israel?”

7 He said to them, “It isn’t for you to know times or seasons which the Father has set within his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you. You will be witnesses to me in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth.”

9 When he had said these things, as they were looking, he was taken up, and a cloud received him out of their sight. 10 While they were looking steadfastly into the sky as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white clothing, 11 who also said, “You men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who was received up from you into the sky, will come back in the same way as you saw him going into the sky.”

Acts 1:6-11 (WEB)

A conversation is recorded between Jesus and the disciples, and we recall that this is happening between the Resurrection and the Ascension. Having seen all that they had seen, the disciples ask a question. Will you now be restoring the Kingdom to Israel?

It is hard for us to imagine what they had been through. They find a Man they believe to be the Christ, see Him perform many miracles, signs and wonders, and they watch as He is arrested and executed. Their hopes and dreams are dashed. Wasn’t He the One who was supposed to restore Israel to the good old days of King David?

jesus has challenged them all throughout, trying to help them understand that He is the Suffering Saviour, not the Warrior King they are expecting. One day He will come riding a warhorse, but not now.

Having seen the resurrection, they now think it is time for Him to rise up and conquer the Romans… it wasn’t the kind of King He was that they got wrong, just the timing right? Their question betrays all of this.

Jesus gives them something of a rebuke. It is not for you to know! Times and seasons are set by the Father, by and through His very own authority. He is in charge, and He calls the shots.

Jesus turns their thinking on its head once more. They are told they will be given power to be witnesses for Christ. yes, in Jerusalem of course, but also Judea, Samaria and the whole world. The mere mention of Samaria might have made them catch their breath, for the Jews and the Samaritans were not friends. Jesus tries to turn their Israel-centric thinking into a more global perspective. The Kingdom Jesus speaks of is not an Israeli one, but a worldwide one.

After Jesus had said these things, He ups and leaves – quite literally! The disciples watch as He ascends into Heaven, leaving them behind. They perhaps felt rather alone, His words ringing in their ears and highlighting that perhaps they had little idea of what was about to happen.

Verse 10 tells us that two men were standing by them, dressed in white clothes. The Greek word here is aner, and it means adult male. Some translate this as angels and many of us assume these are two angels standing there. And of course, it could well be.

The last time we saw Jesus enveloped in a cloud and touching Heaven was on the Mount of Tranfiguration, where there were also two men standing there.

About eight days after these sayings, he took with him Peter, John, and James, and went up onto the mountain to pray. 29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became white and dazzling. 30 Behold, two men were talking with him, who were Moses and Elijah, 31 who appeared in glory, and spoke of his departure,[d] which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.

Luke 9:28-31 (WEB)

The word “men” in verse 30 above is the very same word – aner – as in Acts 1:10. It could be, and I would not make a new doctrine out of it, that these two men of the Transfiguration (Moses and Elijah) are the same two who spoke with the disciples at Jesus’ Ascension. It is just an idea, but interesting nonetheless!

Our passage today started with a question – the disciples asking Jesus about the Kingdom, and it too ends with a question. The two men, whoever they were, asking the disciples why they stood gazing into the sky? Do you not know that Jesus will come back the same way that He went?

The implication is that there is work to be done. Don’t stand around staring at the sky, roll up your sleeves and get on with the work of witnessing. Wait, of course, for the coming of the Spirit, but then let’s get on with the job until He returns.

I pose that same question to you today. Are you standing around, or do you know that Jesus will one day return (and perhaps soon)? We have the Holy Spirit, so let us all get on with the job of telling the entire world about Christ! Amen!

Rainbows

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, you may have noticed the sudden appearance of rainbows in windows near where you live. It has become a symbol of hope for people, and a way of lifting our spirits in this difficult time.

The picture above was drawn by one of my budding artist daughters…

But did you know that the rainbow has a specific meaning in the Bible?

The rainbow was a symbol which God gave humanity shortly after the flood of Noah. Here is part of the story from Genesis 9.

God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying, 9 “As for me, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your offspring after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you: the birds, the livestock, and every animal of the earth with you, of all that go out of the ship, even every animal of the earth. 11 I will establish my covenant with you: All flesh will not be cut off any more by the waters of the flood. There will never again be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12 God said, “This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: 13 I set my rainbow in the cloud, and it will be a sign of a covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring a cloud over the earth, that the rainbow will be seen in the cloud, 15 I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh, and the waters will no more become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 The rainbow will be in the cloud. I will look at it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17 God said to Noah, “This is the token of the covenant which I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

Genesis 9:8-17 (WEB)

At the end of the global flood, God had preserved Noah and his family on the Ark. God made a covenant with humanity and all of the living creatures of the Earth, that He would never again destroy all flesh with a flood. God said that the rainbow would be a token between us and God of this promise.

So the rainbow in the sky is a reminder of God’s covenant. When God makes a promise, He means it. While the text above does say that God will remember the covenant when He sees the rainbow, there is no danger of Him forgetting. Rather it is for us to know that God remembers what He has promised us.

God did not promise that the world would never end, simply that all life would not be destroyed by flood. In fact, in Peter’s second letter to the church, he writes that the heavens and the earth will indeed come to an end but not in floodwaters, but burning heat (see 2 Peter 3:10).

I have not heard anyone suggest that COVID-19 will destroy all flesh, as Noah’s flood once did, but there are some asking if it is a sign of the End Times. The Bible does not appear to mention COVID specifically, although does say that pestilence is such a sign. Whether it is a specific sign of the End Times or not, I think it is a clear warning or opportunity from God for all of us to assess our relationship with Him and make sure we are in right standing with him.

The rainbow of Noah’s story is not the only rainbow we see in the Bible. In the book of Ezekiel, he opens his prophecy with a strange description of heavenly, angelic beings and even tries to describe the glory of the Lord.

In verse 28 we read:

As the appearance of the rainbow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around.

Ezekiel 1:28 (WEB)

So vivid is the appearance of the Lord’s glory, Ezekiel struggles to describe it. He likens it to the appearance of a bright rainbow in the sky on a cloudy day.

We also see a rainbow surrounding the throne in heaven.

Immediately I was in the Spirit. Behold, there was a throne set in heaven, and one sitting on the throne 3 that looked like a jasper stone and a sardius. There was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald to look at.

Revelation 4:2-3 (WEB)

We also see some angels wear the likeness of a rainbow.

I saw a mighty angel coming down out of the sky, clothed with a cloud. A rainbow was on his head. His face was like the sun, and his feet like pillars of fire.

Revelation 10:1 (WEB)

The rainbow, therefore, is a simile for heavenly glory. The glory of God and His heavens are such that they cannot be described in words. They can only be expressed in figures of speech to give us some glimmer of understanding.

Rainbows are an impressive sight. Whenever the sun and rain collide, you will often hear people mention a rainbow, and scanning the skies to find one. When they appear, bright and crisp above us, they can be breath-taking. God’s glory goes far beyond this.

As you take your daily exercise today, why not go rainbow spotting. If the weather is right, yu may see a real one, and if not, then there’s a good chance you’ll see them displayed in a nearby window.

Focus on that rainbow. It has a specific promise behind it, and yet also symbolises the very glory of God. Take the time to praise Him for His glory this day and always!

King of Angels (and everything else)

All the Benefits of Believing (ATBOB) #10

The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all. Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word! Bless the Lord, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will! Bless the Lord, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the Lord, O my soul!

Psalm 103:18-22 (ESV)

I’m slightly sad to say we’ve reached the end of this amazing psalm! But not quite the end of the series. I want to discuss the final few verses in this post, and then will put up another post next time summarising what we have learned.

Enthroned in the heavens

God is on the throne, and that makes Him King. And there is no higher throne in heaven or on earth. God’s throne is above all others, and He is the King of kings.

We must not forget this truth. God is indeed our Father, and He loves us as dear children (as we’ve seen in earlier verses). But He is also King, and One to whom we will all bow the knee one day. God is deserving of our fear (reverence and respect) even as part of His loving family.

God’s Kingdom rules over all

Again we find another use of the word “all.” This time it points to the fact that God is over all, and that He is Supreme in all creation. We may at times foolishly think that we’re in charge of our lives, household, family or career. While we have the God-given right to make our own choices and to choose our own path in life, we must all always remember that one day we will stand before Him and realise who is really in charge!

God’s kingdom reaches over us all. None of us are outside of His rule or influence, even if we say we don’t believe in Him. Some describe hell as a place without God, and with folly believe that is what they are experiencing now. Wrong! While God does not impose Himself on those who reject Him, He is still the One who holds the universe together. His grace is still extending to the earth and those who follow Him, so this is not a world untouched by God.

In our modern world, we’ve perhaps lost the impact of Kingship and royalty. I write this not long after the marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan in Windsor, UK, and while millions watched and thousands lined the streets to see “royalty”, they are seen as are many celebrities in our culture. Less than 500 years ago, the Kings and Queens of Europe had great power and wealth, and commanded as rulers with the authority to give and take life itself. While many of their actions were questionable at times, we must at least respect the power they held, and bear it in mind when we consider God as King over all.

Angels and more

David goes on to encourage different groups to praise the Lord. He starts by exhorting the angels to bless the Lord.

To understand angels and their ministry would take far more than one simple blog post, but we do get some insights here. Firstly, angels are messengers and servants of God. To tell them to worship, is to tell them to fulfil their created purpose.

Angels respond to God’s word

We read that “you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word” speaking of the angels. There are many reasons to speak aloud God’s Word and this is one of those reasons. The angels respond to it. They don’t respond to fear, worry or doubt, but to the very Word of God.

Along with the angels, David calls on the hosts of heaven and the ministers (servants) to bless God also. Ministers here, in my view, aren’t necessarily ordained ministers but rather all those who live to serve God. That can include you and I.

Finally David closes his wonderful song where he began it. His very first words were “Bless the Lord, O my soul” and likewise his last words here as well.

It is as though he starts by stirring himself up to praise, lists so many reasons to do so, and then again calls on his own soul to praise. More on this next time.

Do you think it was easier to stir up his soul the first time David said, “Bless the Lord,” or the last time?

I don’t know where you are at today, or what is going on in your life, but let me encourage you to praise the Lord. You will certainly feel better for doing so.