Monthly Archives: March 2020

Through The Channel Of Troubles

My purpose in this blog entry, which is much longer than usual, is not so much to get into the why’s and wherefore’s of the pandemic that now has its grip on our world, but to show the provision and wondrous opportunity God has given us in the midst of it.

But just briefly to start, two or three have asked my view on the present pandemic: is it a judgment of God or purely satanic, the work of the Devil? I’ve heard prophecies claiming both, but I take to heart Paul’s exhortation that, while we are not to despise prophesyings (and I don’t) we are to “prove all things,” and “hold fast that which is good” (1 Thes. 5:20,21). Therefore, not having the witness of the Spirit nor of the Scriptures as to these prophecies, I am not holding them fast, for I have not found them good. In fact I have to say I’m weary with most of what passes for prophecy these days. For one thing, did any of our popular prophets see this coming? I wonder that it is not a cause of deep embarrassment to our “prophets” that they are so “out to sea” concerning such events. Where are those like Agabus of old, who prophesied of a coming famine “throughout all the world,” which, amazingly, actually “came to pass…” (Acts 11:28).

I haven’t been graced with the gift of prophecy, so, seeking to be careful not to go beyond my measure, here is my view, guided, I believe, by the Spirit, and based on the Scriptures.

We live in a broken world, in an evil world, “this present evil world,” as the King James Version translates Paul’s introductory words to the Galatian churches. However, the word “world” here is not the usual kosmos, but aionos, which other versions translate “age.” So right at the start we have a promise. It is an evil age we live in, but it is only an age; one day this evil age will come to an end. Meanwhile we find ourselves in it—and need to be rescued from it. Here is the Galatians passage from Young’s Literal Translation:

Grace to you, and peace from God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ,
who did give himself for our sins, that he might deliver us out of the present evil age, according to the will of God even our Father,
to whom is the glory to the ages of the ages. Amen. (Gal. 1:3-5 YLT)

The word “delivered” is actually much stronger—rescued translates it better, as the New English Translation has it: “who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age according to the will of our God and Father…”

Now, all throughout the history of this present evil age, evils great and small have abounded. What is the cause? It all began when “by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin…” (Rom. 5:12).

There, that one word sin, that is the root of the problem, and Satan certainly had a hand in that. “Sin entered into the world…” In a heavenly realm Satan himself was its originator, he exported it to Adam, who wilfully imported it; and now all those in Adam sin, the result of which is “this present evil age.” Satan and his “principalities and powers” in the heavenlies are now “the rulers of the darkness of this world [again, the word there is age]” (Eph. 6:12). What a grievous ruin it all is—that the creature God made in His own image and likeness, and who was to have dominion over His whole creation, should now be so ruled, the willing and obedient slave of sin in a domain of darkness ruled by evil angels.

But God was not finished with man, and, long story short, rescued him with the one and only Answer to the ruin of man, the salvation that is in Christ Jesus. This present evil world is the result of ignorance of that Answer, or open resistance to Him; it is man’s own attempt to continue in his sins and at the same time save himself from their consequences. It is a world that God will yet bring completely to naught, according to His promise, and I believe we are seeing a further unfolding of this before our eyes.

Now, evil diseases are one of the consequences of original sin. But setting aside the question of just exactly how the caronavirus Covid-19 arose, it is plain as day that God is working in what had now become a pandemic to shake man’s inveterate confidence in himself and his own resources. The pandemic has turned into a major shaking of our world, especially of the economies of many nations. The confidence of multitudes is being shaken severely, and the worshippers of Mammon… are our own hearts broken as God’s heart is broken by those who love and worship Mammon instead of the God who loves them?… the worshippers of Mammon, those who make Mammon their confidence, are now reeling with the aftershocks, scrambling to find something to hang on to. I see that in the news. Closer to home certain people dear to me, I wonder if I don’t hear them thinking, “What’s happening, my world isn’t what I thought it was.” Hopefully this is what many are beginning to do, rethinking a “worldview” which more or less excludes the true God; hopefully they are opening to a willingness to replace that worldview with one that not only includes but centres on Him, on the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ… whose arms are open to embrace them and whose hand is extended to rescue all who reach out to Him.

Rescued from… rescued to…

Again, setting aside the question as to the particular origin of this pandemic, here we find ourselves in the midst of it. What are we to do? What is our hope in the midst of it?

If we who already are His disciples have been rescued from this present evil age, what have we been rescued to? Paul in the Romans 5 passage shows that sin and death entering the world brought about the reign, the kingdom, of sin and death. “Death reigned… sin reigned…” (See Romans 5:11-21.)

That is the bad news—the kingdom from which we have been rescued. But there is Good News. God by His Son has brought in an entirely different kingdom of righteousness and life. This is the word that He gave us from the beginning—from the mouth of John the Baptist, from the mouth of Jesus the Christ, and from the mouth of the apostles in the Acts. Let’s trace it.

In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,
And saying, Repent ye; for the kingdom of the heavens is at hand [is nigh]. (Mt. 3:1,2)

Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God,
And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent ye, and believe the gospel. (Mk. 1:15)

Jesus when He rose from the dead continued to speak of this kingdom to His apostles:

…To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God… (Acts 1:3)

After they received the Spirit they too continued to proclaim this gospel of the kingdom, as we discover all through The Acts:

But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. (Act 8:12)

And he [Paul] went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God. (Acts 19:8)

And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more. (Acts 20:25)

And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him,
Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him. (Act 20:38,31).

(There are many similar references in The Acts.)

So, we have been delivered from a kingdom, and delivered to a kingdom. This is the gospel that Paul and no doubt the other apostles proclaimed wherever they went. Considering our present world situation, here is a verse of particular interest. Paul and Barnabas having reached the end of their missionary journey began to retrace their steps, visiting again the churches they had established:

Confirming [establishing] the souls of the disciples, exhorting to remain in the faith, and that through many tribulations it behoveth us to enter into the reign of God… (Acts 14:22 YLT).

Note again the emphasis on the kingdom of God—with this further emphasis, that it is through many tribulations this kingdom must be, yes, entered. “Through” is the Greek dia, which Strong’s defines as “a primary preposition denoting the channel of an act.” I like that. In my mind’s eye I see a ship heading out of open water into a channel, a strait, which will take it not away from, but to its desired haven. Even so, says Paul, it is through the channel of troubles that we must sail to enter the kingdom of God. The natural inclination of the earthly man is to shrink back from troubles; perhaps that would also be the inclination of believers green behind the ears, so Paul sought to help these new disciples become established souls who would not be overthrown and draw back when imminent troubles came upon them, but rather would continue steadfast in “the faith,” for it was through those very troubles that “we must—it behoves us to, it is necessary, needful to—enter the kingdom of God.”

What is the kingdom of God?

Just what is the kingdom of God? It is the reign of “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom.14:17). Back again to the Romans 5 passage: it is the reign of life (Rom. 5:17). It is the reign of grace (Rom. 5:21). Distilled to its essence it is the reign of God—and that in the midst of and through and many troubles.

And how is one introduced into the kingdom of God? Initially by repenting of that deeply ingrained insistence on sitting upon the throne of our lives ourselves, and leaving God out—that is called sin—and by believing the Gospel of the kingdom of God with a willingness to give the King of this kingdom His rightful place in our lives. We read of this King and His kingdom in the familiar and beautiful passage in Isaiah:

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder… Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end upon the throne of David, and upon His kingdom, to order it and to establish it with justice and with righteousness from henceforth even for ever (Isa. 9:6,7).

Wonderful! Good News! The government upon His shoulder!

Ah, but the truly wonderful Good News is that by His Spirit, the government upon His shoulder is within us; that very rule of God and His Christ is in our hearts! THAT is the kingdom of God, which John the Baptist announced, and the time of the inauguration of which Jesus proclaimed was fulfilled, and which the apostles after Pentecost proclaimed had arrived. They were now in that kingdom. For, by His Spirit those in Christ are “raised up together, and seated [enthroned] together in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus…” (Eph. 2:6).

Since that is so, is there not a two-part question that arises?

The first part. Were not these disciples Paul was exhorting already in the kingdom of God? Had they not earlier heard the Gospel, repented, believed in Jesus, and received the Spirit of God? Yes they were; Jesus Himself tells us that those born of water and the Spirit “enter the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:5). Also this in Paul’s words to the Colossian church. God has:

…Delivered [same word, rescued] us from the power [the authority] of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of His love… (Col. 1:13).

The second part. If God has done that, how then can Paul be exhorting the disciples that we must through many troubles or hardships enter the kingdom of God? What can this mean if they were already in the kingdom of God? But this is a pattern we find elsewhere in the Scriptures, and in Paul’s own life. He himself was in the kingdom of God as he went about proclaiming it. For on one occasion he warned the Corinthians that his coming to them might make some of them unhappy, for “the kingdom of God is not in word but in power” (1 Cor. 4:20). Yet some years later as he shared with Timothy the evils that had come upon him, he assured him that “the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto His heavenly kingdom, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen” (2 Tim. 4:18). Encouraging words for you and I as well. Again, do not those who believe in Jesus have eternal life (Jn. 3:16)? Yes, they do, and yet Paul exhorted Timothy to “fight the good fight of faith, lay hold of eternal life…” (1 Tim. 6:12). In like manner Paul exhorted the early disciples who were in the kingdom of God to enter the kingdom of God through many troubles.

Let this be our pattern as well, who by the Spirit of God and new birth have been introduced into His kingdom. Let us “continue in the faith,” let us go through the Channel of Troubles, and what we now know by faith we shall prove more and more fully—the reality of the wondrous kingdom of God. We may, and must, through all troubles great and small, near and far, enter this kingdom, a kingdom that cannot be shaken, a kingdom that is above all as its King is above all, whether men or angels…

…Remembering always that the kingdom of God is a kingdom of priests. Let us therefore continue to come boldly to the throne of empowering grace on the behalf of those in our world around us; they deeply need to see in their midst people who like themselves are in the midst of troubles yet are not troubled, are not shaken, and enquire why that is so, and, in becoming aware of the reality of a different kingdom, may turn and enter it themselves.

Faithfulness As A Mystery Unfolds

Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect [mature]: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought:
But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory:
Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory (1 Cor. 2:6-8).

I wonder that they did not know. Did they not know the story of Joseph?

In the honour roll of faith the writer of Hebrews, while he does not make specific mention of Joseph’s ordeal of faith, he does make note of those who “had trial… of bonds and imprisonment” and “were tempted.” Certainly that includes Joseph. What he records specifically of Joseph is that it was by faith that he commanded the Israelites to be sure to take his bones with them to the land of promise when God delivered them from Egypt. They did this, after long delay finally laying those bones to rest “in Shechem, in a parcel of ground which Jacob bought of the sons of Hamor…” (Josh. 24:32).

That’s quite something when you think of it. The many times they murmured and complained and doubted God in the wilderness—especially when they concluded in unbelief that entering and taking the land was impossible, utterly beyond their ability—they needed only to take a walk to wherever Joseph’s bones were being kept to remind themselves of the faithfulness of God. It was He who had brought them out. It was He who would bring them in.

When Joseph gave this commandment he knew by personal experience the faithfulness of the God in whom he had trusted when year after long year his own circumstances were more a testimony to the failure of the promises of God than of His faithfulness.

I never tire of reading the story. God had given Joseph two dreams, the first in which his brothers’ sheaves were bowing down to his sheaf. What a dream! How could he not help but share something so glorious with his brethren? They got the interpretation immediately. “Shalt thou indeed reign over us? Or shalt thou indeed have dominion over us?” They already hated him because of their father’s special love for him, but now they hated him all the more “for his dreams and for his words.” Then he had a second dream which along with his brothers he told his father. “The sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me.” His father rebuked him. “Shall I and thy mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee to the earth?” Nevertheless, “his father observed the saying.” But now his brothers added something more to their hatred. They’d begun to feel there could be something to this. So now they “envied him.”

And the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt… (Acts 7:9).

Their motive was, “and we shall see what will become of his dreams” (Gen. 37:20).

We know what became of his dreams, we who have read the story, and it’s impossible to read the story without tears in your eyes. The hour came when all his brethren were bowing before him—the very thing they had conspired to prevent—just as the faithful God had shown him in the dreams.

God was with him

Let me quote more fully that verse from Acts.

And the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt; but God was with him…

In Potiphar’s house, God was with him. Later in prison, God was with him. In what sense? It doesn’t appear that God ever sent someone to give Joseph a word of prophecy, or ever whispered in his ear, “Don’t worry Joseph, you’re going to end up on the throne of Egypt some day and those dreams will come true.” No, in this God was silent. Yet God was with him. As Joseph went about his daily routine as a faithful slave he was aware that a familiar Presence was still with him. What did it all mean, then? What was it all about? What about those dreams, Lord? In low times they were more a torment to him than a fond hope. But he would go to prayer, and the Presence would be with him, and with it an awareness, then, that somehow, in spite of all this that has happened—it’s all so unjust, Lord—yet, You are with me still. I don’t understand… but please help me to be faithful to You.

The psalmist gives us insight into what God did not disclose to Joseph—that one day God would send Joseph’s brethren to Egypt as well—an ordeal that for them would be utterly devastating, as it had been for Joseph—and that He was preparing Joseph in advance for that very thing:

He [God] sent a man before them, even Joseph, who was sold for a servant [a bondslave];
Whose feet they hurt with fetters: he was laid in iron:
Until the time that his word came, the word of the LORD tried him (Ps. 105:17,18).

The iron fetters entered into his very soul, as the original implies. But what I find so moving is that God wanted to include in Scripture that Joseph’s feet were hurt with fetters. The tender-hearted God took note of that. How could He not? He “was with him.” As if He were saying, “I know all that you’re going through, beloved Joseph—even to the point of feeling the hurt of your feet in the fetters.”

And so through it all, the word God had given Joseph in dreams tried him, purified him. Come on, Joseph, give it all up, God has forgotten you and your dreams, and life is too short. Enjoy yourself. Instead he turned and fled. There was something more important to him than those dreams of glory. That “something” kept him when he was sorely tempted. If the dreams had vanished like a mirage in the desert, his God was still with him, and his love for his God kept him. He would not sin against his God. He remained faithful. It cost him dearly, he was framed for his faithfulness, ended up in prison. Yet even in prison he continued to serve faithfully without bitterness toward God, without resentment toward those near and far who had treated him so unjustly, and without nursing his hurt with thoughts of self pity… or of revenge. He came forth from his trials with a certain something which made God’s heart swell. Proven character. Joseph may have been laid in iron but he came forth as gold.

And the dreams?

Somewhere along the way Joseph had given them back to God for His safekeeping, and had forgotten about them. The day came when the faithful God gave the dreams back to Joseph again—fulfilled.

…And Joseph’s brethren came, and bowed down themselves before him with their faces to the earth…. And Joseph remembered the dreams… (Gen. 42:6,9).

Who remembered? God had never forgotten those long-ago dreams, but Joseph apparently had.

It is beautiful to see the way God with sovereign genius unfolded His faithfulness to Joseph. It is also, oh, so beautiful, that all along the way Joseph had remained faithful to God when, as far as he knew, there was nothing in it for him. He did so out of love for God. Even so with our Lord Jesus Christ. For those with eyes to see, it was in the cross that the beauty of our Lord Jesus Christ shone forth—His love for the Father, His commitment to do His will come what may, a devotion that meant the cross for Him. It is a beauty beyond compare, to God a “fragrance of rest.” It is Jesus’ reflection, the beauty of the Lord, we see in Joseph’s life in the days of his captivity. Joseph sought to do God’s will, to obey Him, in all things to please Him, though it mean what those in a distant day would call taking up his cross.

Where did that lead him?

Where did it lead our Lord?

Where shall it lead you and me? May we ever remember in our own trials that whatever promises may linger unfulfilled, the faithful God is involving us in an unfolding mystery which His enemies do not understand, but which all too often we ourselves do not understand. In such times let us abide faithful. While the mystery unfolds, God is seeking to cultivate unto Himself the beauty of the Lord in our lives—trusting obedience to His will, endurance, patience, meekness, faith, all the while learning from the lowly Jesus the yoke of His rest… God has not forgotten the promises, nor ever will. And so, however contrary to the promises of God our circumstances may seem to be, let us seek to please Him in all things, and take up our own cross, whatever that may involve for you or for me. It is by that very cross that the faithful God means to fulfill the promises He has given, and prepare us for the glory that is to come.

It was by way of the prison in Egypt that the unjustly treated and falsely accused slave Joseph came to the throne. It was by way of the cross of Golgotha that the unjustly treated and falsely accused bondslave Jesus came to the throne, the very thing the princes of this world had conspired to prevent.

May we ever be mindful of this mystery of the cross—which God has ordained, yes, unto our glory—and continue faithful to Him who is faithful. We may safely commit to Him the “dreams” He has given us. He will not forget them. Meanwhile He is lovingly working in our lives, and anticipates something precious coming forth.

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