Who are we?

In this blog, there will be a variety of material: thoughts on Bible books, book reviews, historical characters, aspects of Scottish church history and other things.

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Acts 3:21 – The restoration of all things

This comprehensive statement is limited to the things that the prophets said would be restored, which suggests that some things that were lost will not be restored. Therefore, we have first to find out what things were lost, when they were lost, and see if they are among what will be restored.
The Bible is very clear about two different groups of creatures that will not be restored. One group is the fallen angels, the ones who followed the leadership of Satan when he rebelled against God. No restoration has been offered to them. The other group is fallen human beings who remain impenitent about their sins. Many of them had salvation offered to them, but they rejected it. The long-term consequence of their choice is that they will not take part in the restitution of all things.
The answer that the Bible gives to this most important question is that all things in the creation of God were damaged or spoiled at the beginning of human history through the decision of Adam to disobey God and listen to the ruler of the kingdom of darkness instead. We know that the credibility of an answer is that it explains the situation. The curse that came upon the creation explains the existence of physical troubles such as earthquakes, famines, and other natural disasters. They are reminders to us that we live in a world that is under the judgement of God.
This world has many pleasant features and these are all the results of God’s common grace. We can think of the advances in science, the abilities that musicians and artists have to create beautiful music and paintings, the stability of authorities such as human governments, the security of family life. There are many other blessings connected to life in this imperfect world. Nevertheless, we know that these features can also become means of destruction whether it be spiritual, moral or physical destruction. Over every feature of life can be written defilement, danger and death. Scientists produce weapons of war as well as tools for curing people; musicians and artists create music and art that breeds despair instead of joy; governments can be guilty of oppression; even families can be places of spiritual danger. Despite the attempts of philosophers to give education, of philanthropists to create better conditions, and of politicians to create just societies, something always goes wrong. The reason that explains all the evidence is that this world is not as it should be, that God has placed a curse on life in this fallen world.
Of course, to have only this assessment would not give us much hope. Thankfully the Bible informs us that there will yet be a better world, a perfect world. This statement by Peter here in Acts 3:21 is one of several biblical passages that describe for us the future of this cursed and defiled universe. He elsewhere says: ‘But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells’ (2 Pet. 3:13).
The clearest description is given by Paul in Romans 8:18-22: ‘For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.’

In a way that we cannot possibly understand at present, the universe is going to be liberated from its bondage to the curse. This great event will occur when Jesus returns.  There is a wonderful picture of this great event in Revelation 21:5-7: ‘And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.” Jesus, the Heir of all things, will provide the restored universe as the inheritance of his brothers and sisters for ever.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Acts 3:21 - The reception of Jesus into heaven

Peter gives his listeners an important detail concerning the presence of Jesus in heaven. His words stress more than merely saying that Jesus is in heaven. They reveal that he is there in a particular capacity, that he is there in the role of always being ‘received’. This is language taken from the courts of government. For example, the Prime Minister is received into the presence of the monarch; when he is there he is being ‘received’ in an official manner connected to his role. Of course, if he also happened to be a member of the royal family, he would be received there in another manner. While earthly leaders do not combine these important roles, Jesus combines them in a far higher way.
Since he is a member of the royal family of heaven, being the eternal Son of the heavenly Father, Jesus is received there in the sense of being at home. In a way that is far beyond our abilities to imagine or appreciate fully, heaven is the home of Jesus. He himself described it as ‘my Father’s house’. In a manner similar to how we are received in our homes, so Jesus is always welcome in the heavenly home. There he enjoys the provisions and resources of that home, and he enjoys them as part of his privileges as the heir of all things. He has a right to be received in heaven because he is the Son of the Father.
There is a second way by which Jesus is received into heaven, and this is connected to what we would describe as honour. The Prime Minister is given access to the Palace because he has been given a privileged role in the running of the country. In a far higher sense, Jesus has a role in the ongoing development of God’s kingdom. He has been exalted to the highest position as Lord and his place is not under threat at a future election. Instead he has been given this place of honour until a definite date; this date will be when he returns a second time. This does not mean that he will cease to be Lord when that happens (his role as Judge of all created beings will reveal that he is still Lord of all, which Paul makes clear in Philippians 2:9-11). Instead it means that he is received with honour as he fulfils his various roles in the present, which have been helpfully summarised as Prophet, Priest and King. His continuing reception in heaven enables him to teach his people by evangelism and education in the faith, to bless his people by forgiving their sins and sending the Spirit to convey heavenly blessings to their souls, and to defend his people from their internal and external enemies. It is good for us that Jesus enjoys a continual reception in heaven.

A third way of considering the reception of Jesus is to see it as the reason for hope. Hope in biblical language is not some vague expectation but instead is a positive certainty about future situations of divine pleasure. Often leaders of nations make many promises about what they would like to bring about, and human history is evidence of their incapability of fulfilling them, no matter how dedicated they were to the task. Yet such can never be said about Jesus Christ. The future of God’s cause is in his hands and therefore we can have certain hope. Peter could have mentioned many details of the future, but he covers them all in his description, ‘the restoration of all things’, which we will think about tomorrow. 

Friday, 29 May 2015

Acts 3:11-20 – Consequences of repentance

In verse 19, Peter mentions two outcomes of genuine repentance. The first is that the penitent person is forgiven all his sins. They are all blotted out of God’s precise and accurate record, a record that remains precise and accurate after they have been forgiven.  One of the most surprising features of church life today is how quickly we lose the sense of wonder at being forgiven by God.

Pardon of sin is a most wonderful blessing. The reaction in our hearts should be the equivalent of the response of the lame man to his healing – walking, leaping and praising God. Our pardoned souls should be celebrating the grace of God, and it is a form of exercise which develops our other spiritual muscles because it leads to a sense of thankfulness and a sense of devotion. 

Peter mentions a second consequence of repentance in verse 20: ‘times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.’ This experience of refreshing will be true of each individual who repents; into their hearts, the Spirit of God will flow, bringing to them, among other blessings, a sense of peace, delight in God, the joy of adoption into God’s family, and an anticipation of heaven. 

This experience of refreshing will be true of congregations in which people repent. When a sinner turns from their sins to Christ, the people of God sense that heaven has come to earth. The lack of this can cause a congregation to become spiritually flat. Of course, we can pray for this blessing, but the evidence that our prayers have been heard is the arrival of the blessing. 

These words also remind us that lack of repentance is one reason, perhaps the reason, why we do not experience times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord. In one sense, it does not matter what sins we are guilty of, if we do not repent of them. Sins of pride are just as effective in stopping divine blessing as are sins of immorality. Our response as individuals should be to ask God to search us, to convict us of our wrong attitudes and actions, to lead us to repentance, to give us the blessing of times of refreshment from the presence of the Lord. 

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Acts 3:11-20 – What is repentance?

Peter in this passage called upon his listeners to repent. What did he want them to do?

The word repentance itself means a change of direction, to turn from the path we are on and begin walking on another road. By nature we are on the path that leads to destruction, and those who leave it and begin walking to heaven do so by the activity of repentance. This is a useful picture of repentance, but what does the person look like who is walking in this new direction? 

Repentance is an intelligent action of the heart. The person that we observe walking in this new direction is not confused. He understands what he has done. His change of direction is based on information. 

Further, repentance is an emotional action of the heart. The person walking along the road has a tear in his eye, in other words he is a contrite person, grieving for the sins he has committed against God. His emotions are affected. He is appalled by his sins. Such a person cannot be indifferent to the information that he has received. 

And repentance is a volitional action of the heart. The person walking along the road is committed to this new direction. He has said farewell to his previous lifestyle and now walks in a way that pleases God. Each step in his new direction takes him further away from his old life, and he walks with a steadfast step towards heaven. 

So repentance involves comprehension, contrition and commitment. We can add another ‘C’ to the list. Repentance is always Christ-centred, especially Jesus on the cross. Such repentance is described in Zechariah 12:10 (KJV): ‘And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.’ 

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Acts 3:11-20 – Prerequisites for repentance

The crowd at the temple had observed the amazing fact that a lame beggar has been healed. It is not surprising that they are astonished and wondering what kind of power is available to Peter and John.  The apostles are quick to deny that they have any inherent power; instead they affirm that the miracle is connected to the glorification of Jesus. They also make clear the purpose of the miracle – it was designed to lead the onlookers to repentance. It is obvious that the miracle in itself did not bring about a correct response to God. Until its significance was explained, the observers obtained no benefit from the miracle.  This situation reminds us that it is essential that we have the correct framework for assessing God’s actions and understanding what he is doing. 

Peter mentions two aspects of knowledge that are essential before there can be genuine repentance. The first is knowledge about what God did through Jesus Christ and the second is an understanding of the seriousness of rejecting the authority of Jesus Christ.  

Observe the way that Peter describes God. He is referred to as ‘the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ I suspect that inevitably the minds of the listeners would go to the previous occasions when this name was used of God. These occasions were connected to the exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt (Exod. 3:6, 15; 4:9). Surely, this was a name of God that would have created expectation in the minds of the listeners. This was the name of God that indicated that he had come to rescue his people, not because they deserved it, but because he was faithful to his promises.  

The first detail in the framework for repentance is that we are dealing with a God who is performing a rescue mission. We know that the children of Israel at the time of the Exodus had to be rescued from slavery in Egypt; they needed to be delivered from earthly, political oppression. The rescue mission that Peter had in mind was not from physical slavery, but from the bondage of sin. In Egypt, God had rescued Israel by his servant Moses. The person he used for the greater rescue was Jesus Christ. 

So Peter told his audience who Jesus Christ is. He is the eternal Son of God who became a servant, lived a righteous life, died on the cross although he was innocent, and was raised again from the dead by God the Father. The Father has also glorified him, says Peter, which means that Jesus is now exalted to the throne of God, and therefore it is possible for miracles to take place by his apostles who trusted in him.  

Peter also reminded them that they had sinned in their attitudes towards Jesus Christ. They had denied him, prevented Pilate from releasing him, and preferred a murderer instead of him. While they did not physically kill Jesus, they were guilty of causing his death, and no doubt they would have got involved if the authorities had allowed them. 

Of course, these people were guilty of many other sins in addition to the sin of rejecting Jesus. It is possible, of course, that Peter mentioned these other sins, because Luke did not regard it as necessary to record every word that Peter said on this occasion. What is important to note is that their attitude towards Christ had to be repented of, even although Peter admits that they had acted in ignorance. Ignorance is not an excuse for wrong actions. Although they were ignorant of who Jesus was, their actions towards him were not in line with truth (they bore false witness) and love. 

With regard to ourselves, we have to face up to these same two aspects if we are to repent of our sins. We must have correct information about Jesus Christ and we must reflect on our attitude towards him.