Monday, 17 January 2011

The Four Faces of the Church

In Rev chapter 4 we are introduced to a vision of heaven, a vision of the throne, a vision of Jesus. Around the throne of God stand four living creatures. They offer up worship to God 'day and night'. They declare truth about the nature of God, "Holy, Holy, Holy". In other words, God is altogether special, set apart from everything else and unique. Each of these creatures has a face like that of a lion, an ox, a man and a flying eagle. Four faces.

It is interesting how the number four is significant in the Bible. It is the number most connected with creation and the earth. We talk of the four points of the compass, the four corners of the earth, the elements, earth, air, fire, and water; the divisions of the day, morning, noon, evening, and midnight. Not only that there is a special relationship between the number three, representing the trinity, and one. The Bible begins with, "In the beginning God created....." Thus creation follows on from who God is as Trinity; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

This three-one relationship making four is also found in Proverbs 30.15-16; 18-19;21-23; 29-31 NIV

There are three things that are never satisfied,
four that never say, ‘Enough!’:
the grave, the barren womb,
land, which is never satisfied with water,
and fire, which never says, ‘Enough!’

There are three things that are too amazing for me,
four that I do not understand:
the way of an eagle in the sky,
the way of a snake on a rock,
the way of a ship on the high seas,
and the way of a man with a young woman.

Under three things the earth trembles,
under four it cannot bear up:
a servant who becomes king,
a godless fool who gets plenty to eat,
a contemptible woman who gets married,
and a servant who displaces her mistress.

There are three things that are stately in their stride,
four that move with stately bearing:
a lion, mighty among beasts,
who retreats before nothing;
a strutting rooster, a he-goat,
and a king secure against revolt.

Proverbs 30.24-28 NIV also highlights four things in creation we can learn from:

Four things on earth are small,
yet they are extremely wise:
Ants are creatures of little strength,
yet they store up their food in the summer;
hyraxes are creatures of little power,
yet they make their home in the crags;
locusts have no king,
yet they advance together in ranks;
a lizard can be caught with the hand,
yet it is found in kings’ palaces.

So the number four is uniquely associated with creation and the God of creation. The living creatures surround God's throne and inspire Heaven's worship. Each face is representative of the four faces of the church. This in turn is a reflection of the four faces of Jesus that we see in the gospels. Matthew is the Lion where Jesus is presented as the King of the Jews. The Lion is the King of the beasts and is the most noble of the wild animals. Jesus is the Lion if the tribe if Judah. Matthew's genealogy shows He descends from David as the rightful King of the Jews. More scriptures are quoted in Matthew than any other prophecy to show that Jesus is the fulfilment of all that the prophets foresaw.

Kings have authority. Authority to rule and reign. But Jesus is not just any King. He is like Melchizedek - King of Righteousness. This is what the name means. So like Jesus we have authority but it is an authority to rule in righteousness. Psalm 89.14 tells us the "Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne". If the church is to reflect this aspect of the face of Jesus then we must learn to rule the way He did, with righteousness and justice. Thus Kingdom authority is used to protect the weak and vulnerable not to take advantage of the naive and ignorant.

In Rev 19.11 we see a vision of Jesus riding out of Heaven. We are told, "In righteousness He judges and makes war". He fights unrighteousness. He wars against injustice - wherever it is found. This is why Jesus told us to seek the Kingdom first and His righteousness, Matt 6.33. Righteousness characterises the Kingdom. It means being in right relationship with God in order that we may do right, in life, in relationships, in politics, in business in law, in everything. And when it isn't right we take on the face of a lion. We roar and fight until it comes right.

Prov 28.1 says, "The wicked flee when no one pursues but the righteous are bold as a lion". Lions are characterised by their lack of fear. The wicked on the other hand are slaves to paranoia. They flee when no one pursues. This face is important because the enemy is described as, 'a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour', 1Pet 5.8. He is the ultimate counterfeit using the roar of intimidation to silence the church. But not all lions are the same. There was a big difference between Scar and Mufasa in the Disney production of 'The Lion King'. And that's the difference between Jesus and satan. Let's make sure we are building a church that fights on behalf of the weak and oppressed and doesn't intimidate or exploit them.

Mark has no genealogy for here Jesus is presented as the Servant of the Lord and no-one is interested in where a servant comes from, only what they do. So we see the face of an Ox in this presentation of Jesus. It's also why this gospel is the shortest. It gets straight to the point. The key word in this book is 'immediately'. Mark uses it no less than eight times in the first chapter. For example, he says the "Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness"; (Mark 1:12). "And immediately he called them", (Mk 1:20); "Immediately on the sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught"; (Mk 1:21); "And immediately the leprosy left him"; (Mk 1:42).

Thus Mark is an action book. Like the Ox, who was both the most valued and productive of all the domesticated animals, Jesus is presented to us as the one who gets on with the job! With this face I can say "I serve in the strength of the Lord" Prov 14.4 says; "Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: but much increase is by the strength of the ox".

A crib is a barred storage box where corn and other grain products are kept for feeding cattle and other farm animals. From this usage we have adapted the word to mean the barred small bed for children, which has a similar appearance. A cattle crib is similar to the manger in which Jesus was placed after birth; (Luke 2:7).

If a farmer plows, cultivates, and harvests by hand, he only has the strength and endurance to work a very small section of ground. His family may barely survive. The storage crib for corn or other produce will be clean - empty, because he and his family will have eaten all he could plant and harvest.

But if a farmer can buy an ox, he will have invested in something that can give him greater production. This animal can easily weigh one ton and has enormous strength for pulling. It can pull a plow through the soil for many hours a day, 1Kings 19:19
cultivating many acres. The ox can trample the raw corn and separate it from the stalk, Deut 25:4, and it can drive a grinding wheel much better than could Samson, Judges 16:21. It can even pull heavily loaded wagons to market, Num 7:3.

The farmer with an ox now produces much more than he needs to eat and consequently increases his wealth. But increased productivity often means increased mess! And mess sometimes makes us take our eyes off the very thing that is making the mess; the productive ox. What part of your life right now is being blessed and fruitful? What is helping you be productive? Now what kind of mess is also being produced as a result of that? What are you more focused on? The productivity or the mess?

The eagle is a bird that can fly higher than any other. And it does so effortlessly. This is because it relies on the rising thermals that can carry it to great heights. With wing spans of almost 3 metres to help it do this the eagle gains the best perspective on what is going on. It sees from above. It is therefore about having Heaven's perspective on life. The Greek word for wind (and breath) is pneuma which can also be translated spirit. So the eagle is a picture of the church soaring in the Spirit in order to get God's perspective on anything.

The gospel that helps us see this best is John's. It begins, not with a birth but with God; Jesus face to face with the Father. It predates creation for creation flows out of the activity of the Godhead. In this gospel we find people misunderstanding Jesus over and over again. John often gives us retrospective interpretations as to what Jesus meant, John 2.17-22; 4.31-33; 6.55-63; 7.37-39; 8.56-58; 14.7-11. Jesus words are Spirit and life. Without the Spirit we cannot truly understand what is going on.

Jesus reminds Nicodemus he must be born from above, John 3.3. All true ministry comes from above, John 3.27. And John reminds us that Jesus is from above, John 3.31. The disciples looked on the harvest fields in John 4.35 but Jesus saw it differently; 'Do not say, "There are still four months and then comes the harvest"? Behold I say to you lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest'. Notice how he says 'Behold', 'Lift up your eyes, 'look'. This is about seeing with heaven's eyes. Seeing from a different perspective - God's perspective.

So with the face of the eagle we soar in the Spirit. The church needs this. Without revelation we are limited to a natural perspective and if that is all we have we will miss what God is up to. He has Kairos moments, opportunities that must be spiritually discerned. As Jesus wept over Jerusalem He saw the coming destruction on the City. It was the inevitable result of their hardness of heart, "Because you did not know the time of your visitation", Luke 19.44. He reflected on the fact that the things that would bring peace, "Are now hidden from your eyes", Luke 19.42.

With the face of the flying eagle we keep the prophetic vision of the church sharp. We can discern what God is up to and respond in faith. This is why worship is so important. It lifts our spirits. As we lift up the name of the Lord He lifts us up. We begin to see what Heaven sees. We move in revelation by, beholding, seeing and looking. These were all the words Jesus spoke to His disciples in John 4.

Finally there is the face of the man. Man is of course the pinnacle of God's creation, for we are made in His image. The Bible tells us the story of how that image was lost and how it is being restored - through Jesus. "For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ", 2Cor 4.6 Notice that God's glory is seen in the face of Jesus - the face of a man.

Paul tells us that at present we see through a dim mirror, but one day we will see "face to face", 1Cor 13.12. This is powerful. When God spoke with Moses it was different to every other prophet. It was 'face to face'. There was a level of intimacy and trust in that relationship that set it apart and it is God who made the distinction, Number 11.1-8. This aspect of Jesus is best reflected in the Gospel of Luke. Here we see Jesus the man, dependant on God. So in Luke there is a strong focus on the prayer life of Jesus more than any other writer. We have only one account of Jesus growing up as a boy and He is about His Father's business.

In Luke His genealogy is not just traced to David. It goes all the way back to Adam, for He is the Saviour of the world. In Luke Jesus reaches out to everyone, Jews, Samaritans, Gentiles, women, the poor, the sick. All are embraced, accepted and loved. In this gospel you are left with the clear sense, 'I belong'. But Luke's gospel has a part two that shows how the life of Jesus was lived out after His ascension. This is Acts. So it's not just that 'I belong' but that 'I belong in community'.

To be baptised into Jesus is to be baptised into His body, 1Cor 12.12-14. To be added to Jesus is to be added to His church, Acts 5,14 "And believers were increasingly added to the Lord..."; Acts 2.47 "And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved". You can't have one without the other. A relationship with God is worked out in the context of relationship with His people. This is where we grow, share our gifting, find mutual accountability, are built up and strengthened in our faith.

These four faces of the church reflect the four faces of Jesus. We need them all. To focus only on one is loose something of Jesus. He is all things to all men. And the church is called to go into all the world to make Him known. We will find ourselves more naturally attracted to one or two of the face more than the others. But the truth is that we need them all. The task of leadership is to know what season the church is in so that world sees the right face and gets a clearer revelation of Jesus. For He stands in Heaven at the centre of it all. And the church is on earth to give Him his rightful place here too.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Heaven's Open Door

Revelation chapters 4 & 5 give us a glimpse of a different reality than what we are used to day-to-day. Chapter four begins with a door open in Heaven and an invitation to John; "Come up here and I will show you.....". The book begins with John having a revelation of Jesus in chapter one. The next two chapters contain letters spoken by the ascended Lord Jesus to be sent to the seven churches of Asia Minor; seven real historical churches that John gave oversight to.

But there is more to 'show' John; more for him to 'see'. And in order for him to see clearly he needs a better perspective, a higher perspective, a heavenly perspective. So a door is opened in heaven with an invitation to enter. Heaven's open door is in fact a door into heaven's reality. To see things from heaven's view. This is the only way to truly understand life. Life must be lived with both feet on the ground but it is understood by setting our affections on things above, Col 3.2. The issue is not, 'What do I think?', or 'What do you think?'. Rather it is, 'What does God think?'.'What is heaven's view?'

Without a heavenly perspective on all that goes on in the world we may be left discouraged, discontented and disconnected from what God is doing. God doesn't want this. He wants us to know what He is about and to partner with Him in bringing about His purposes, "On earth as it is in heaven", Matt 6.10. The book of Revelation is meant to encourage the church to be overcomers - just like Jesus. Specific promises are given to those who overcome. And now in chapter 4 of this amazing book, John is invited into the very presence of God.

The scene that confronts him is overwhelming. For those who struggle with loud music in church I wonder how you would get on if you shared John's experience? The voice he heard was, 'Like a trumpet speaking', Rev 4.1. 'From the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings and voices', Rev 4.5. There is 24 hour proclamation, Rev 4.8. A strong angel speaks with a 'loud voice', Rev 5.2. They sing new songs, Rev 5.9-10. John hears over 100 million angels speak 'with a loud voice', Rev 5.11-12. The whole experience is a visual and auditory extravaganza.

Now this door is in heaven. It is open and he is invited in. Before John has time to think about how is he going to do this he is, ' the Spirit', Rev 4.2. With the invitation comes the empowerment to experience what lies before him. I like that. With every invitation that Jesus gives, comes the empowerment to act on what we are invited to do. "He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it", 1Thess 1.3. "For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure", Phil 2.12. Without any effort on John's part he is there, in the Spirit; in heaven; in the presence of God. Immediately!

For now I want to focus on three things that impressed John as he enters this scene. The first thing is the throne of God and the one sitting on the throne. In other words the first thing that strikes him is God's Kingly authority. For all thrones carry that meaning. Despite what is happening on earth God is in charge. He is the creator. His throne is above all things and at the centre of all things. And He is on His throne. No power has succeeded in dethroning Him. God's authority stands.

Not only that, the promise given to the church was for us to share the throne with Jesus, just as the Father had allowed Jesus to share His throne; Rev 3.21, "To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne". Thus the throne is not just picturing God's authority it is also representative of our destiny, if we overcome. Right at the beginning of this experience two things are placed together. Divine authority and human destiny.

Later John sees the 24 elders, 'Each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints', Rev 5.8. The harp is a musical instrument that was a part of Israel's history and often used by David in worship, Psalm 33.2; 43.4; 49.4; 149.3; 150.3; 1Sam 16.23. The golden bowl full of incense is reminiscent of the alter of incense that stood before the veil where the Priest entered the Holy of Holies. We are left in no doubt as to the meaning of these bowels of incense. They are 'The prayers of the saints'.

This is amazing. In this heavenly scene we begin to see the connection between heaven and earth, between God and man, between authority and destiny; between purpose and prayer. Something we do here has impact there! Much Calvinistic teaching here wants to persuade us that it's all in God's hands, exclusively. He controls everything. Our choices don't make any real difference ultimately. They are anticipated and planed for. The Biblical view is more subtle. It is more nuanced.

The book of Revelation shows us that the end of history is certain. Christ will be the ruler over all things. "The kingdom's of this world have become the Kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ and he shall reign for ever and ever", Rev 11.15. This is indisputable, unalterable, unimpeachable. God's overall strategy is secure. Yet within that strategy God has left room for tactical changes. Human choices that can change the future to some degree without changing God's overall objective.

Think of Jesus when He predicted the destruction of Jerusalem in Matt 24. He said to pray for two things in particular, "Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath", Matt 24.20. Destruction is coming but the prayers of the saints can determine the month and the day! A tactical impact, not a strategic one. They were not allowed to pray that the destruction wouldn't happen. That would be to work against the plan and purpose of God. But they could pray that the flight was not in winter, (when it is cold and difficult to survive without adequate shelter) and not on the Sabbath, (when everything closes and transport and movement is almost impossible).

And so in heaven we see the elders before the throne. Harp in one hand and sweet smelling bowls of incense in the other - the prayers of the saints. I love the thought that God experiences our prayers as incense. They are a delight to Him. They move Him to act. David asked the Lord if the men of Keilah would betray him onto the hands of King Saul, 1Sam 23.12. The Lord was clear in His answer, 'They will deliver you'. So David acted promptly and escaped. Prayer and revelation helped him change the future. His own. From our perspective he changed history. And God let him.

The second thing that John noticed was the Focus of Heaven. Everything came out from a centre. On the outside were millions of angels. As we move in we see 24 thrones and the elders worshipping. These elders are universally recognised as representing the saints; for they sing, "You have redeemed us to God by your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation", Rev 5.9. Only people like you and me can sing that song. They are also clothed in white robes. Rev 7.13-14 give us further insight. They are those who have, "Washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb", (see also Rev 3.4-5).Further they have crowns, another thing promised to the overcoming saints, Rev 2.10;3.11.

But why 24? Let me offer a couple of reasons. The worship that goes on in heaven is 'day and night', twenty four hours. David arranged for 24 divisions of priests to offer praise to God continuously, 1 Chronicles 24:7-18. Also in Paul's writings he shows that in Christ God had torn down the wall of division between Jew and gentile and created one new man, who both have access to God the Father through Christ, Eph 2.11-18.

The way of identifying Israel in the Bible was through the twelve tribes. It is the names of these tribes that appear on the City gates of the New Jerusalem, Rev 21.12. But the church is founded on the twelve 'apostles of the Lamb' and their names appear on the foundations of the New Jerusalem, Rev 21.14. Thus together we have 24; Jew and Gentile together as one. This is the fulfilment of Jesus' promise in John 10.16, "And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd".

Moving in from this circle we now come to the 4 living creatures. The first thing John notices is that they are 'full of eyes in front and in back', Rev 4.6; 'around and within', Rev 4.8. They see. They Look. They watch. They do not rest, day or night. They are vigilant. They seem to co-ordinate the worship of heaven to give, "Glory, honour and thanks to Him who sits on the throne", Rev 4.9. Thus they direct all the praise to God. (They seem to be the same creatures seen by Ezekiel in his vision while in Babylon, Ezek 1.4-14).

Now at the centre we are back to the throne. The Father sits with a scroll in His hand. A question is asked, "Who is worthy to open the scroll and to loose its seals?" Rev 3.2 Notice how John is caught up in the moment. Our theology tells us he could have answered this question. But it seems that he is caught up with the utter sense of futility that no one could be found either, "in heaven or on earth or under the earth", Rev 5.3.

This scroll appears to contain God's purpose for the reign of humanity on the earth. This mandate was given to Adam but handed over to satan through sin. No one was found worthy to take it back until Jesus. And so we finally come to the focus of heaven. "And I looked and behold in the midst of the throne......stood a lamb as though it had been slain......Then He came and took the scroll out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne", Rev 5.6-7. All these angels. All these saints, The four living creatures. But at the heart of it all, Jesus - the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David. The one who is worthy.

No wonder Paul was so Christ centered in everything he did. He understood heaven's focus. He could confidently declare to the church at Colossi that in all things Jesus must have the preeminence, Col 1.18. If Jesus is the ultimate focus of heaven then we must live life in a way that makes Him our ultimate focus too. Yes there is family. Yes there is work. Yes there is ministry; but at the heart of all this must be Jesus. He must be at the centre and not on the periphery. Notice too that heaven worships Jesus; "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals....", Rev 5.9

Only God is worthy of worship. Yet here the Father hands over the scroll to His Son, who has prevailed; who has lived life in a way that has pleased the Father; who embraced the cross to redeem humanity and restore human destiny. Fully man. Fully God. Worshipped by heaven. And loved by you and me. John tells us in one of his letters; "We love Him because He first loved us", 1John 4.19. It is this 'first love' that Jesus implores the church at Ephesus to return to, Rev 2.4. For what we love captures our hearts and becomes the object of our worship.

Finally, John begins to understand the language of heaven. How we speak says a lot about us. The words we choose, the way we phrase things, our tone. All these things make up language. Even in silence we cannot not communicate. John learned that heaven's language is centred on the Holiness of God, the worthiness of God, the power of God, the plan of God and the purpose of God. It led to humble, heartfelt appreciative worship.

I'm sure we can learn something here. Have you noticed how the apostolic writers encourage to live life with praise and thanksgiving at the heart of all we do so that God gets the glory, Eph 1.12; Phil 1.11; Heb 2.12;13.15; 1Pet1.7; Col 3.22; 1Cor 10.31; 2Cor 4.15. The language of heaven is filled with praise, thanksgiving and appreciation. Not only that, it has the right evaluation of people. The saints in heaven have been made worthy, they have been clothed in robes of righteousness, they wear crowns.

How do you see your brothers and sisters in Christ? Can you view them this way? We need to ask the Father to give us heavens view of one another. So often when we speak to each other we do so on the basis of our history together; our successes and our failures. But heavens language goes beyond this. Jesus knew that Peter would betray Him. At the time that Peter was confidently boasting of his willingness to die for Jesus; Jesus knew differently. But what did He do? He prayed! He didn't react. He didn't get disappointed. He didn't drop him from the apostolic team. He didn't choose another leader. He prayed. He heard from heaven.

And as He prayed He got heavens perspective and spoke heavens language over Peter's life. He knew the strategy of the enemy was to sift and destroy Peter, "Satan has asked for you that he may sift you as wheat", Luke 22.31. So Jesus prayed, not that he wouldn't fail, but that his faith wouldn't fail. Not only that, He spoke to Peter's destiny. "And when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren". How amazing. Peter will betray Jesus three times and here is Jesus using the language of heaven. It is the language of hope, the language of faith; language that speaks to Peter's destiny, more than his failure.

I believe we need to get heaven's perspective on the lives and ministries of those we know. When we do, we should speak heaven's language to them. The language of praise, appreciation, purpose and hope. This can help people walk through difficult times. Failure does not have to be what defines us. Through encouraging words, through heavens language, we can build them up and help instill hope into their hearts. I pray that as a church we get a glimpse of the Throne of God. In doing so we will begin to see the focus of heaven and, in time, we will learn to speak the language of heaven.

The Door of Hope

Therefore I am now going to allure her;
I will lead her into the wilderness
and speak tenderly to her.
There I will give her back her vineyards,
and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
There she will respond as in the days of her youth,
as in the day she came up out of Egypt.

In that day, declares the LORD,
you will call me 'my husband';
you will no longer call me 'my master'.
Hosea 2.14-16 NIV

Hope is an amazing thing. Hope deals with our deepest longings. The things we desire to see happen. It is entirely focused on our future as we can imagine it. God Himself is described in the Bible as 'The God of Hope'; Rom 15.13. He is the source of true hope and the giver of hope. His plans and future for us are better than anything we can forge out for ourselves.

Listen to the way God speaks through the prophet Jeremiah to a group of captured Israeli slaves in Babylon. People who now feel rejected, abandoned by God and ashamed of their sin that has allowed this to happen to them. They are now dispossessed and the only ones to blame are themselves;

For I know the thoughts I have towards you says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil to give you a future and a hope; Jeremiah 29.11.

Despite the discipline that they had been through as a nation God's basic disposition of heart was to do them good. Sin and its negative effects often make us doubt this. We become suspicious of God's motives. But most of the time we are simply reaping the consequences of what we have sown. God's heart, His intention towards us, is good. He wants us to experience life to the full, John 10.10.

In this Jeremiah passage He leaves the captives in no doubt. All is not lost. There is a future for them and their progeny. God still has a plan that human sin has not thwarted. He is bigger than our sin! And His plans include giving us a new destiny. This is the hope that He wants to instill in our hearts.

The passage in Hosea picks up on this theme. Hosea's marriage to Gomer was one of personal tragedy. It mirrored the relationship God had with the nation of Israel. For, like Israel, Hosea's wife went off with other men. He was heartbroken. And God used this man's personal tragedy to speak to the nation; not with the language of strong rebuke and argument, as with other prophets, but with the language of emotion, the language of the heart. In Hosea we see God's pain because His love for Israel is rejected through her adultery with other gods.

The Hosea passage begins with God's strategy. He will 'allure' her into the wilderness. This is definitely the language of romance. The wilderness was where they met. It's where they fell in love. It's where they were married through covenant. God wants to take them back to that place. It's a but like taking your spouse back to where you met, where your heart was captured by who they were. God wants them to remember something - their love for each other.

We know this because He declares, "There she will respond as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt". God expects that her attitude will change once He gets her alone. Once she is back in that place where they first met. He expects something to stir in her heart that reminds her of the value of what they had together.

Not only that, God is expecting a different outcome to when they were first married. The problem was that Israel had viewed God the way many other nations had viewed their gods. They were masters to be obeyed. Many marriages in Biblical times were like this. But the text implies that this is not what God was after. He wants to be known as a husband and not a master. This is amazing, radical, ground breaking truth. God is actually looking for a partner not a servant! This is why the New Testament language for the relationship between the church and Jesus is that of Bride and Bridegroom, Eph 5.31-32; Rev 21.2.

He wants to empower His wife, not give her orders. Her lack of understanding His heart on this issue led to her looking for fulfillment elsewhere. How tragic! How mistaken they were. If only they had understood how much God wanted to be with them and bless them and empower them. Jesus turned to His disciples one day and said; "No longer do I call you servants..... but I have called you friends",John 15.15. It's a different level of connection; a different level of intimacy; a different level of expectation from the relationship.

Notice how He will do this. He will 'allure' her. The word can be translated as 'entice' or even 'seduce', (the same Hebrew word is clearly used this way in Ex22.16). Given the context I believe this is God's intention. There is nothing wrong with seducing your own wife! That's is God's plan! It's almost like God is saying, "I'm going to take her on a second honeymoon and seduce her".

But the text goes further. He goes on to say He will 'speak tenderly to her'. The word 'tenderly' means I will speak to her 'heart'. God is not using the rational language of argument here; He is using the language of emotion. He wants to connect, heart to heart. And in that place He promises to restore to his wife her vineyards. Vineyards had great significance in Israel. They were a sign of blessing. They provided grapes for new wine and were a symbol of Israel's connectedness to God; Is 5.1-7.

To help Israel understand the impact of this metaphor God chooses an event in Israel's history that left the nation with a deep scar. It centered around the sin of Achan when Israel entered the land and defeated Jericho. This man took gold, silver and a garment. All the spoils from this particular battle belonged to God. They were like a first fruits offering to the Lord; dedicated to Him. Every other battle after that Israel was allowed to keep the spoils.

Achan showed a lack of faith in God by deceitfully hiding this stuff in his tent. It led to the defeat of the nation in a battle at Ai; a much smaller city. Achan's sin effected the whole nation. It brought shame and defeat upon them. Achan was eventually found out and he and his entire family were killed and all his possessions burned with fire at the Valley of Achor. This tragedy left Israel with a deep sense of shame. To speak about Achor was like reminding the nation of the place of failure, defeat, shame and embarrassment.

Now God reminds them of this place, but says He will place there a 'Door of Hope'. In the place of their disappointment He will give a door of hope. This is amazing. It shows the power of love. God is not going to change the past He is going to change the way they see the past. He is going to give them a new expectation. In the place of disappointment they will find hope - for He is the God of Hope!

This is how redemption works. It gives hope to the hopeless. It says that the mistakes of the past do not have to be what define us in the future. There is forgiveness with God. There is the possibility that we can start again; that it can be even better than it was. To call God 'my husband' instead of 'my master' shows a new way of relating has been formed. This is what God is promising to His beloved wife. It will be better than ever!

I take great encouragement from this. Think of the seasons in your life you would rather not talk about. They were shameful, disappointing times. You feel embarrassed to speak of them. People run away to new towns and build new lives in order to avoid their failures and disappointments. But this strategy of avoidance always leaves us looking over our shoulder. What if we are recognised? What if someone turns up who knows? It's no way to live.

God takes our disappointments and failures and uses them to create a door of hope. How can that be? Let me tell you about a friend of mine who was a drug dealer. He was notorious and well know to the police in the area he came from. Eventually he ended up in prison and there he met Jesus. He had nowhere to run. He was as it were, a captive audience! In that prison he grew spiritually. He began to see the negative impact his life had had on so many people. In his sorrow and repentance He found forgiveness and hope.

Today this man is a pastor and I count it a privilege to call him a friend. He has shared his story with many drug addicts and pushers and lots of them have found faith and healing in Jesus. And some of the stories are remarkable. Long term, hardened, criminal drug dealers, have found forgiveness and new life in Jesus. Tragedy has turned into triumph. Sorrow has turned into joy. Insecurity has turned into confidence. Disappointment has turned into hope. All of this because his testimony created a door of hope and others have walked through it.

Rom 15.4 says: Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

We are meant to 'abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit'. I like that. Two things strike me. The first is that when it comes to hope there is meant to be a surfeit, an abundance. The word abound means to have a large measure or to overflow. This is how God wants us to be in our lives. Overflowing with hope. Full of expectation. Enough for ourselves and for those around us who have no hope. Enough to give away to others.

The second thing is that we don't have to produce this ourselves. It's not about working something up in our emotions; getting psyched up to be positive about the future; reading a Dale Carnegie book on the power of positive thinking. This is released in our lives through the power of the Holy Spirit. Wow. God releases hope into our lives through His abiding presence. The Holy Spirit usually does this by taking the promises of God and awakening our hearts to their reality for us.

We come to see that God has not just forgiven so and so He has also forgiven us. So and so's testimony may have been used by God to create a door of Hope but once we pass through that door we can claim that we too are changed; we too are forgiven. Through the Holy Spirit we too have Hope. And this hope changes everything. It changes the way we see life; the way we see other people; the way we even see ourselves.

Two qualities mark out this kind of Hope according to Rom 15.13. The first is joy. Disappointment often leads to sorrow and sadness. But hope leads to joy. Hope can make you happy! Think of Hannah in 1Sam 1. After she had poured out her heart to the Lord she went away to her home. The Bible says; "So the woman went her way and ate and her face was no longer sad", 1Sam 1.18.

She did not yet receive the answer to her prayer but she had hope and it made her joyful. It literally changed her face! Our face is often a reflection of how we truly feel. We may learn the art of hiding our feelings but eventually how we feel leaks out. Emotional reactions are like a reflex and our face betrays our true state of mind. Hannah's face changed because hope now filled her heart.

The second quality of this kind of hope is peace. Disappointment is often marked by feelings of guilt or bitterness over lost opportunities. It can make us angry and contentious. Peace however is not just the absence of these emotions, it is positive feeling of well being. A sense of order in our inner world.

To know that God is for us and not against us; to know that He has plans for us despite our failings; to know that He is working together for our good all bring a deep sense of peace. We don't have to strive to make things happen in life. We can rest in the plan of God that He will bring about His purposes as we wait expectantly on Him. In fact the Old Testament term 'wait on the Lord' meant to wait with expectation that He will act. It wasn't a passive resignation to the ways things were. It was a positive expectation that things would change and get better.

The last thing to remember about Biblical hope is that it requires patience on our part. Hope is about the future. It's about something that will happen. Joy and peace keep our hearts buoyant while we patiently wait for God's 'hour' to come. It what the Bible calls a 'Kairos' moment. A moment that has come about because all things are now in order for God's purpose to break through. Galatians puts it like this: "But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His son", Gal 4.4.

God waited until the time was right. Others like Simeon were, "Waiting for the Consolation of Israel", Luke 2.25. He too had this sense of timing, living in expectant hope that God would act before he would see death, Luke 2.26. This becomes a way for us to see if our hope is birthed in God or just wishful thinking. If it's birthed in God then we can expect to have joy and peace. Our face should reflect our inner life. Any patience we show will be a product of that peace and not peppered with frustration like when we are waiting for a late bus.

God's promises are there to help birth hope in us. "For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope", Rom 15.4. The stories and promises of scripture comfort us. We can rest in His timing. We can trust His purpose. We can find hope where there has been disappointment. And as we do we can bring this to others.

Live this week in the power of the Holy Spirit who will help you abound in hope. Let joy and peace fill your heart as you do. watch and see what God can accomplish through you as you adopt this inner posture. It's like a door. It stands open waiting for you to pass through. Take this step into your future and see it through the eyes of hope. And as you do, your testimony creats a door of hope for others too. In this simple way we can touch the lives of many people.