Isaiah 32 1-4

We have a role and responsibility in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Isaiah prophesied this in Ch 32: See, a king will reign in righteousness and rulers will rule with justice.

When Jesus comes, and come he has, he invites rulers to rule for him. Not to follow their own desires but to administer justice – fairness, obedience to God and concern for the needy.

Each one, says Isaiah, will be like a shelter from the wind and a refuge from the storm, like streams of water in the desert and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land.

We each cast a shadow, and Jesus gave us a promise about this in John 7: Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink! Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.

Your faith in Jesus, friends, and your obedience to the Holy Spirit as you discover him within you, is God’s Plan for the Kingdom of heaven.  You might not feel influential, but let me tell you, this doesn’t depend on your skills or strength of character. The rock casts a shadow because of the brightness of the sun – the waters spring from the aquifers beneath the earth. He will make his power work in you and you will create safe places and shelters for people around you.

Pay attention today. Who prefers your company? Those in need? Then offer them the rest they seek by sharing your story.

All this was prophesied 2500 years ago. God gave Isaiah a picture for you. Jesus gave you the power to live in it through his name.

Limehouse Poppies

Somewhere just West of Limehouse

An emptied yard has lain and slept

Among the brick and rubble

Are promises the poppies kept,

To bloom between the foundation slab,

To stretch between the mortar,

Beneath the girders of the bridge

Beside the dockstill water.

They flourish in obedience

To a hundred-year-old-seed,

They quench with a silk-soft moment

An ancient personal need.

If you rode on a train and saw no life,

No bloom of weed or rose,

Then how would you know you were living

And how would you do what you chose?

Unless the flowers chose to rise

From the rubble where a warehouse stood

We’d have no daily proof of how

Ruins turn good.

Coming Soon… Psalm 119

In the first half of 2014 I made an extended Bible study as part of my devotional time with God, re-reading Psalm 119 – known to some Bibletriviaphiles as the longest chapter and Psalm in Scripture.  I’ve always had a particular fondness to it, since the little red Hodder and Stoughton NIV I carried almost everyday at secondary school habitually fell open there, in the Psalms, and the second section, ‘How can a young man keep his way pure?’, spoke to me very directly.

But reading it again in the light of the path of my last two years, I’ve gained a great deal by doing more than silently thinking on it.  Pray-reading has become part of my devotional discipline since May, so praying this Psalm aloud, speaking God’s truth back to Him, meant that it became more important as I gave it more power in me.  (If you are unfamiliar with the discipline of pray-reading, you may know the lectio divina of the catholic tradition.)  Around Christmas when I talked with my Dad, he also made a comment that Jesus, raised to know and love scripture, would have had the Psalms as his prayer and songbook – so to read them as he would have read them, letting David’s ‘I’ become directly prophetic of Jesus’ daily walk, puzzling and wondering on what gospel occasions he might have prayed these very words, reading them like this has also given them a real depth.  If anything, the solemnity with which these prayers and poems were used by Jesus inspires me to treat them the same.

And at the same time I’ve experienced a re-awakening of my spiritual life, as God has brought about great changes in my life.  Realising that my life’s greatest work will always be the fitting of myself for heaven – the sacrifice of my self to Jesus – the altering of my walk from a selfish one to a holy one – has meant I have discovered a new passion and insight for the wonderful work of sanctification that God works in us through the Holy Spirit.  And in Psalm 119 I have found a step-by-step account of sanctification in the believer.

At the same time as studying and praying these words I have also been making real decisions about my life and acting upon them.  The last year has seen my engagement to be married and my movement from employed work to self-employed work.  In walking this way, Psalm 119 has been a direct guide to my thoughts and words.

To begin a brief overview of the Psalm, a word about revelation.  I have learnt to distinguish between the knowledge that we can gain in our minds – the understanding of facts, causes, purposes and events that engages our intellect and our reason – from the deep understanding and knowledge that is born in the spirit.  One is worldly, the other heavenly, one will pass, the other will remain forever.  Intellectual understanding can lead to revelation – but it does not cause it – for revelation to the spirit of a believer is the gracious gift of God.  Let me explain a little more: it is quite possible to know something to be true – for example, the promise of Jesus in Matthew 6 that our Father in heaven will provide for us – and yet to have no conviction of this and to fail to act upon it in any way so that your manner is different to those who have no faith.  It is possible to understand that Jesus rose from the dead and do nothing about it – to intellectually think that this is the most reasonable reading of the evidence – and not to have it touch your heart or change the manner of your life.  It is possible to know many things…  But when a lesson sinks deep to touch your spirit, you must act on it – it is unbearable not to.  So we see those who are moved to act in pity and love and give all their energy to charitable work when we who know that it is valuable do not.  What is the difference between them and us?  That their understanding is a spiritual understanding – that it is more than their head knowing that this is true, but their very being assents to it.

This then is real teaching, real education.  This is also real growth.  No-one – in this life – can bear all, and we need not feel guilty for not being touched or moved by those things that move others.  But conviction within us can be a sign that our spirit longs to be involved – and that conviction is God’s greatest gift to us for daily guidance.

So when reading Scripture we are instructed not simply to look at it, think about it and apply it theoretically, but to actively invite revelation.

How can we do this?  How can we overcome ourselves and make ourselves available to God – for in his mercy and grace, he is always willing to give?

Firstly we must ask – with words and actions.  He may expect us to ‘prove’ that we are ready – which may actually consist of acting, physically, to replace the normally dominant mind with a more balanced internal hierarchy, in which the Spirit of God within us calls to God our Father.  Personally, I aim for this rebalancing through the following spiritual disciplines: prayer walks, when in the country; prayer in tongues, when travelling, feeling short of time, in company, or wanting to include some daily act such as preparing food as part of my prayer; kneeling, bowing and lying down, when in congregation or in private, to express my awe and obedience particularly; singing, in almost all circumstances; dancing, in privacy and increasingly in congregation; pray-reading or lectio-divina, which is challenging but very valuable; making a sacrifice of time, money or something valuable to me by giving it away, less frequently than I should!

In general, the revelation I have received from the Psalm is this: obedience to God’s law, which we now understand in the new covenant, changes a person so as to bring about decisive action in them, which in turn leads to experience, often struggles and suffering as we overcome the remaining human nature and become less worldly, but these pains allow us to understand with our spirit and receive God’s revelation, which makes us more like Jesus, our perfect model, and makes us more dependent upon God’s Word, which we need to teach us the more we find the wisdom of the world will not suit our changed way of life, and also causes us to enjoy and desire God’s law with greater fervour, bringing about more obedience.  To me, this is a beautifully clear teaching method that can never be completed in this life, only the speed of our travel upon the path changed, for once engaged, the effects upon us are indelible.  It is the work of re-creation, of sanctification in its simplicity and beauty and starkness and severity.  At times, God wishes to show us subtle things, at others, to confront us with harsh truths and necessary sacrifices.  And his simple entry route for us is pure obedience – to believe in God and in the one he has sent.

Canning Town

How beautiful the river banks,

Each a slick and shining brown.

The tide now slackens out through town

Past railway sidings, standing tanks.

Here reeds are stained and standing thick,

The ducks and gulls squat on the mud

And later comes the brackish flood

But now the silt is dark and slick,

Here interrupted by a pile

Half-rotted, stained with grey and green,

There lies a tire, half-sunk, half-seen,

And so on down the winding mile.

All the way, from here to the sea,

The Thames retreats from its own bed,

Its mind is changed, intentions fled,

So changeful as the moon we flee.

Delabole Waterfall at High Tide

Upon the lip a flow like glass,

It seems as solid as the slate

Over which the waters mate,

Salt and sweet, where waves amass.

The waterfall persists its flow,

Its noisy rattle, chatter, rush

But the bigger water sweeps in hush

The shatters patterns with a throw.

Now synchronised in flow and draw

The waves ride in and mount the shelves

Some further, nearer, spend themselves

To salinate the cool spring shore.

Is it a battle or a game?

These two waters meet head-on

Their distinct selves are seen, then gone.

And left, one cold and salt-sweet same.

Psalm 2 – A Meditation on Authority

This Psalm is a powerful revelation of the true nature of Jesus’ authority, contrasted with the authority of rulers and kings in the world.  It reveals God’s plan to judge wicked and unjust rulers and establish a greater Kingdom, installing his Son who willingly suffers, identifies himself with his Father and receives all power and authority in Heaven and Earth at the cross – his true victory and the real place of our rejoicing!  The Lord also speaks instructions to rulers and people of authority.

God the Father’s voice speaks to the Son directly in this Psalm.  Surely it was revelation of his Father’s plan for him in this that gave Jesus the power to stand in the face of worldly authorities and continue his pre-eminent claims.

And we should know whom it is we serve, whether as rulers or individuals.  We too can know God’s purpose is for us to have a place in a greater Kingdom – but not through our own righteousness, but through Jesus.

Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain?

This first question is an expression of exasperation.  The nations and peoples certainly plot, but what is their purpose in doing so, and how do they reason it?  Whole countries seem to get together and make plans to prosper themselves outside of God’s plan – and without any chance of success.  Races and ethnic groups can make plans to raise themselves up, but only God calls nations together.

The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One.

The Kings – Herod Antipas, Tiberius and others – have a position as if ready for a battle, and with their advisors they directly challenge both their Father God and his Messiah – who has come.  This should be the time for them to acknowledge him, not make a challenge!

“Let us break their chains,” they say, “And throw off their fetters.”

They want to be free from what they see as chains and restrictions – his moral law, written in their hearts – their consciences – which they correctly identify as coming from ‘them’ collectively – God and his Anointed.  But what a misunderstanding!  The chains they are experiencing are the convictions of their conscience because they do not follow the way of the righteous, neither meditating on his law (see Ps 91) or proceeding justly.  It seems glamorous, to revolt and ‘throw off their fetters’, but this is an undignified thing for a ruler to say!  These rulers should be applying God’s law and ensuring that their realms are places of peace and stability, and yet they are the ones planning a revolution!  Furthermore, it is they who have created chains for the undeserving – imprisoning Jesus on no charge and taxing the weak.

The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.

God’s reaction to this nonsensical attitude is ridicule.  He is careless of their plans, which make no threat to him at all.  In fact, he mocks them – for the mighty shall be laid low and the humble exalted.  Jesus can scoff at them too, as the rulers unknowingly effect their own humbling through the unchanged attitude of their hearts.  He can be sure that their plans will fail.

The he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, “I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.”

After this laughter, he turns to anger – a righteous anger – that is intended to rebuke them, knock them back from their plans.  His anger fell at the crucifixion with the darkness that covered the earth, and the earthquake.  Rightly they would have been terrified, but the earth shakes as he confounds their plans.  Their intention was to punish an innocent man and rid themselves of the voice that rebuked them, but this itself effected God’s will of installing Jesus as King over Life and Death, all punishment and reward, when he suffered death on the cross, on that holy place where God had always accepted true sacrifice.  The centurion on the hill, who was himself a ruler, had no doubt that Jesus was the Son of the King when the earth shook beneath his feet.

I will proclaim the decree of the Lord:

Jesus can proclaim the new law – the new decree – the true statement of justice and the prophetic word of power at the cross.  He will be the new decree – he himself will be the new law – the entire sacrifice and the access to the righteousness it wins for us – and he will speak it abroad by suffering on the cross and then rising to life again!

He said to me, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.

God said this to Jesus at his baptism, but also in the secret times of prayer, and when Jesus suffered for his brothers and sisters he really and completely reflected God’s nature, and so the bond was strengthened and the relationship taken to another level.  God’s revelation to Jesus is the foundation for his ability to rule and replace the other Kingdoms of the earth.

Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.

So by suffering on the cross, Jesus asked his Father for the new authority and received it, because God was planning to give it to him.  Then, when appearing to his disciples (Matthew 28.18) he explained that “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”  He had inherited the nations from the bad rulers, and all the ends of the earth were his, which is why he commissions the disciples with the words “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations… and surely I am with you always, to the very end of time”.  This would not have happened if Jesus had not asked – and not only did he ask in words, but in actions too.

You will rule them with an iron sceptre; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.

So at this enthronement, Jesus also fulfilled the prophecy of Daniel, to shatter the Kingdoms of the world with the inauguration of a Kingdom without end.  He is given a rod of authority that serves to break any other – a rod for punishment, surely.  The Roman Empire does indeed break up into pieces after this, and what other empire can last without being broken up?  The kingdoms of the world do not last like his kingdom.

Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth.

God does want his appointed rulers to be wise and to carry out their responsibilities properly – even if it takes his mockery, anger and punishment to bring that about.  They need to make the decision to be wise – as does anyone who gains authority and rule – and it certainly is part of his plan for us to pay heed to prophetic warning in Scripture.  His warnings are the best guide to good rule.

Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling.

And these warnings are: to remain a servant personally before God, however much authority you gain – and to keep a holy awe and wariness – a fear – of God and his plan to raise and lower Kingdoms.  Do not expect that because he has exalted you in the earth one day he means for you to stay that way for ever.  So rejoice in what you have received, but always, always keep it in the perspective of gratitude.

Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment.

More instructions to rulers: find and then love the Son of God, who as ruler of all things in Heaven and Earth has a right to expect you to behave in line with his plan, or destroy you simply as you are about your business.  He will be patient and give you warning, but when he speaks take care to respond!  Rulers have less leeway than individual people.  His judgement is sudden, always sudden.

Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

This ruler will be good to all his servants, rich or poor, who come and hide themselves in him in trouble.  Even on the cross, he offers his body as a shelter in which to take cover from the onslaughts of the world, and a most effective shelter, because no attack can succeed against the true ruler.