Tag Archives: Prophecy

24 December – Who do you ask?

Answers are easier to find than ever – for some questions, at least. With internet access we can search for any question and find answers. Of course, one problem is that we have to work out which answers are right, or at least best. More complicated, though, is that we have to work out who’s giving the answers – and what their agenda might be.

The Wise Men went to the obvious place to look for a King of Israel – the palace in Jerusalem. When they realised they were in the wrong place and asked for directions, the answer they got was correct – they needed to go to Bethlehem. But they had asked the wrong person, and Herod had his own agenda. His agenda was to make sure that he stayed in power, whatever he had to do to make it happen. And he didn’t have space in his plans for another king. What he did next is in Matthew 2:13-18.

In the last couple of years we’ve become aware of the dangers of our choosing where we get our information about the world, because we tend to go to people, websites and broadcasters who seem to agree with us. Then we forget that just because someone shares our bias, that doesn’t make them unbiased. We need to be careful who we go to for answers – they may be asking different questions from us, and the ‘right’ answer can lead to the wrong consequences.

 

The animations in this series are by Jon Birch, and used by permission, but please don’t download them or post them elsewhere, as the copyright doesn’t allow that. Find out more at http://proost.co.uk/altadvent.

11 December – Light in the Darkness

The message of Christmas isn’t about escapism or pretending that everything’s ok when it isn’t. It’s not about tinsel and glitter as a distraction from the world’s problems. It’s about a light that shines in the darkness.

The prophet Isaiah had to face up to the darkness of the state his nation was in before he could see the light of God’s salvation. Into what darkness do you hope the light of Christ will shine this Christmas, whether for you or for our world?

The animations in this series are by Jon Birch, and used by permission, but please don’t download them or post them elsewhere, as the copyright doesn’t allow that. Find out more at http://proost.co.uk/altadvent.

10 December – Ancient words

Isaiah spoke to Ahaz over 700 years before the birth of Jesus, in a time of darkness for God’s people. He probably didn’t realise that his message from God would reach far beyond his own day, and be wonderfully fulfilled through Mary and Jesus.

When St Matthew was trying to understand the full meaning of Jesus’ birth, he remembered this prophecy, and saw that the story of Christmas was just one (very important) part of the long, long story of God’s faithful love for his people. In Jesus, the name ‘Emmanuel’ would not just be deeply symbolic; it would be a statement of fact.

Where is God already present ‘with’ you?

The animations in this series are by Jon Birch, and used by permission, but please don’t download them or post them elsewhere, as the copyright doesn’t allow that. Find out more at http://proost.co.uk/altadvent.

Blogging the Bible 363 – Revelation 15-17 – The blessing of not knowing 

I like to understand things. I care about truth, and about accuracy; usually they coincide.

With these chapters, I find that I like not being sure exactly what John is talking about. 
That’s not strictly accurate; I’m pretty sure that he’s writing about Rome, and so about the emperors of his day and those soon to come. I think the plagues probably relate to things that his readers will remember or expect. But the fact that Revelation stands as it is in Scripture, without an accompanying interpreter’s key, means that we can read it as relevant to our day or to any time. 

Perhaps the reason that people are forever finding references to their own day in the symbolic events of Revelation isn’t just that the symbolism is so strange and rich that it can be interpreted in a thousand different ways; though I’m sure that’s part of the reason. More deeply, this kind of stuff keeps happening. A series of oppressive rulers isn’t a one-off event in human history; it keeps happening, and the good news is that in the end the beast loses. Again and again. And one day it will lose forever.

So the whole book of Revelation, read this way, takes the whole sweep of the story so far and makes it universal – not just for all people but for all of human history. That’s why people can always see the events of their own day in its images; that’s the point. This isn’t about some single point in future history. It’s about a thousand yesterday’s, todays and tomorrows, in which God and God’s people struggle against evil – and finally win.

Blogging the Bible 362 – Revelation 12-14 – Part of a bigger battle 

It feels as though we’re backtracking in the story a bit at the start of chapter 12, and looking at the world’s struggles from a different angle.

We’re in heaven again, with the birth of a child who escapes a dragon, then the war between the angel armies led by the archangel Michael and by Satan. With the defeat of Satan in heaven, the last battles of the war are fought out here on earth. Empires rise and fall, political and economic systems dominate human life one after another. This isn’t some mysterious future still to come. This is human history.

And this human history is the last battleground of an ancient war fought and decided in the heavens. It reminds me of the last chapters of The Lord of the Rings, where Saruman, the great wizard corrupted by evil and pride, ends his days as a petty tyrant, oppressing the hobbits of the Shire until he’s defeated even there. Like Saruman in the Shire, Satan has been forced out of grandeur and denied his ambition to oust God. He can still cause misery, corrupt and diminish human lives, but he is far from what he once longed to be.

The fight of human history, the fight to be fully human together, is still to be completed. But the fury of that battle is great in part because, as John heard the voice from heaven say in 12:12,

Rejoice then, you heavens and those who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you with  great wrath, because he knows that his time is short.

The battle isn’t over yet – but it’s already won.

Blogging the Bible 361 – Revelation 8:6-11:19 – ???

I’m tempted just to write ‘I’ve got no idea either’.

These chapters read like something from a nightmare or horror movie, with natural disaster, plague, warfare and massacres. It’s hard to see how it fits as the Bible comes to its end – but perhaps the point is that sin, the whole range of human rebellion against God, matters deeply. And God is prepared to use crisis to boot people into taking seriously the need for a change of heart and life. 

In chapters 10-11, the focus moves to the call to the church to speak the word of God even into this darkening world. John himself is called to eat the scroll of the words of God, and it becomes a compulsion to speak out. Then he is shown the two witnesses, I think representing Elijah and Moses, speaking out prophecy and law in renewed power despite all opposition, and then vindicated after they have been killed by being raised to life.

This brings the culmination of this part of Revelation, as the reign of God is proclaimed in the praises of those gathered around his throne, and the heavenly temple is opened.

So what can we get out of these chapters? A reminder that we are called to speak despite the worst the world can throw at us and in the midst of turmoil and catastrophe – and that God wins in the end.

Blogging the Bible 242 – Malachi 3-4 – Unchanging God

After 242 posts, and 252 days (so I have some catching up to do) I’m at the end of the Old Testament – with a a bit of a sigh of relief! And what a way to end – with Malachi looking ahead to the messenger like Elijah who will be sent to prepare Messiah’s way, for the Messiah himself to come to his Temple as a refiner’s fire.

And behind this, as 39 books and a thousand years come to their climax, is the clear statement that Israel’s continuing existence depends on the fact that ‘I the LORD do not change.’

I know that to be true. But I also know that over the last few months I’ve seen changes that can’t be denied in how the LORD is revealed through the Bible  – and I know that from tomorrow there will be new changes to come. Israel’s vision of God has broadened out to recognise that he is sovereign over all things, while being rooted in the certainty that, while it’s not always comfortable, she will always be his chosen nation.

Looking back on the Old Testament as a whole, a few things stand out that I have seen as big themes.

  • God is faithful. He doesn’t give up on those people who have heard his call and promise, even when they’re frankly pretty hopeless in remembering their side of the Covenant. Every now and then he has to give them (us?) a mighty kick up the backside to remind us that he’s there, but he never has given up on his people and he never will.
  • God is passionate. His love for his people isn’t abstract. It comes out through his prophets in the language of new lover and of betrayed husband. God cares – and when we speak of his jealousy it comes from the fire of his love.
  • The whole of the Old Testament, whether it’s the books of Law, the Psalms or the wisdom writing, makes sense and reveals God  to us only in the setting of the story of God’s faithfulness to his world and his people. The books of Law, in particular, don’t give us codes of law in the setting of a story. They give us the founding stories of our spiritual ancestors, and the laws they record are part of that story. 
  • In that setting, it’s clear that the distinction between ‘ceremonial’ and ‘moral’ law isn’t there in the text. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t a useful or valid idea, but we need to recognise that the distinction between laws on shellfish, money-lending and sexuality is obvious to us only in hindsight. Aaron and Moses, let alone those who wrote down what we now have as the books of the Law, wouldn’t necessarily have divided laws along the same lines that we see so clearly, if at all. That in turn should perhaps make us cautious about insisting on some laws as God’s eternal and literal word while others are of historical interest only. As the story continues, we need to look for how the unchanging God calls us to live in a changing world with attention, humility and courage.
  • Wisdom can never be reduced to a set of aphorisms, habits or practices. True wisdom is to know and to be shaped by the knowledge of the LORD.
  • Prophecy is the consistent voice of God calling his people back to real faithful living, in deed and in every bit of life. By coming from God’s promises and faithfulness, the patterns of one prophet’s time and so words anticipate and also shape how the future unfolds. Because so much of God’s redeeming work will centre on Jesus, it’s no wonder that the prophets seem again and again to see him in the distance. But what they saw was the glimmer of his light in their own darkness.
  • There’s not a lot of speculative theology here, or even discussion of life beyond this world – while the writers often take for granted a rich vision of the heavenly realm invisible to us but surrounding us. Old Testament faith is about how we live in this world, supported by a secure hope in the God who is faithful to his promises.
  • If it took me 8 months to get through the Old Testament, and occasionally tried my endurance (1 & 2 Chronicles spring to mind) I can remind myself that God came the long way round. Eternity, then 13.7 billion years before getting to Abraham; then about 1500 years to get to Malachi. 1500 years of patience, of unchanging love and faithfulness.
  • God is faithful. And that’s not just about the Old Testament. He has not changed and will not change.
So while there’s a real sense of relief to be getting on to the New Testament, I know that I’m heading into Matthew with a richer picture of God than I had at the beginning of June. Now I look forward to reading what’s about to come in the light of that.
If you’ve been reading, thank you – for those of you who’ve  commented along the way, an extra thank you! If you’ve got any thoughts on my journey so far – or on your own journey with me – please do let me know!
Going back to the wonderful blessing from Aaron so many blog posts2 ago,
 
The LORD bless you and keep you;
The LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
The LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace. (Numbers 6:24-26)

Amen.