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Sunday, 26 August 2012

God HATING Esau???

Way back in 1974 I found myself sitting next to a very distressed man at St Jude's Anglican Church in South London. When I saw his despair, I turned to him and asked what was the matter.

He then explained to me that he had read in the Bible that God loved Jacob, and HATED Esau. He felt that he had committed enough sins in his life for God to hate him too. Having access to a Bible, he turned to Romans 9:13: Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated. I saw the tears and the fear of Hell in his eyes. Over time, I can't remember what I said to him, neither was I able to go into depth back then, for I had only been a true believer since early 1973, and as a strapping twenty-one year old, I still had a lot to learn.

Whatever I said to him in reply I can't fully remember, but his grief ceased, his spirits lifted and his face shone with a new found freedom. Then this guy, all of two metres tall and a physique to match, gave me a bear hug in gratitude, and after the service left in a better state of mind.

I wish I could remember what I said to him back then. But even with the basic learning I possessed, there was a good chance that the individual named Esau was referred to as a nation of people, as suggested in Malachi 1:2-5, from where Paul quoted when writing to the church in Rome. Here, the prophet writes that God had loved Jacob but Esau he had hated and has turned his mountains into a wasteland suitable for jackals. In addition, a people always under the wrath of the Lord, mainly for oppressing Jacob, that is, Israel, and refusing access for Moses and the fledgling nation to pass through their land on their way to Canaan from Egypt (Numbers 20). It was a typical example of the antagonism Esau (Edom) had against his younger brother. And they were under the wrath of God, according to the prophet Malachi, which was before Jesus Christ was crucified, through which God had made peace with the world, including Edom. It is through this peace that Edom, along with his cousins Moab and Ammon, will escape the future times of trouble. More of this later. But just before Esau and Jacob were born, God did not say anything about loving one and hating the other. All he said was that one will serve the other.

Esau was the older of the two brothers born to Isaac, the son of Abraham, and his wife Rebekah, who did not have children for the first twenty years of marriage. When Rebekah eventually gave birth to twins, it was already confirmed by divine decree that Esau shall serve Jacob.

But during their lives, Esau never served his younger brother! Esau was his father's favourite son, an icon of masculinity. He went out each day hunting for game, which would feed the entire household, including the servants. In other words, he was the breadwinner, the pride of Isaac his father. Jacob, on the other hand, was Rebekah's favourite son. As a Mummy's boy, he stayed at home, engaged in "women's work" according to eastern culture. Jacob did the cooking, prepared the table, took care of the tablecloth and cutlery and did the washing and tidying up. Jacob, as with the rest of the family, was sustained by Esau's hunting skills. To bring this to modern times, one can say that Jacob stayed at home with Mother while his brother went off each day to work at the shipyard.

Jacob was the craftier of the two. As their father grew old and his vision became impaired, the rest of the family knew that the time for the blessing from Isaac was drawing near. One day, Esau came home hungry and bitterly frustrated in not catching any game. Jacob saw an opportunity to steal his brother's birthright. When Jacob offered some stew to his hungry brother in exchange for his birthright, Esau was too hungry and frustrated to give a moment's careful thought. Not long after, Isaac called for Esau to go out on a hunt and bring back game for him to feast on, and he will receive the blessing. Rebekah overheard the conversation and sent her son Jacob to fetch a goat and prepare it for his father, while Esau was out. Jacob's objection to all this was the deceit, not because he felt that it was wrong, but in fear of being caught out by his father. However, his mother disguised him with some fur on his neck and arms, and clothed him with his brother's clothes, making him feel and smell like his brother Esau.

Isaac was surprised at the rapidity of the dinner being prepared and served. After the meal, Isaac called in his son, believing him to be Esau. In fact, his vision was impaired, therefore blind. His sense of touch fooled him, as did his sense of smell. Only his sense of hearing was telling him the truth, and immediately aroused his suspicion. Jacob had to lie to his father in order to keep him deceived and receive the prophetic blessing.

Meanwhile, Esau returned from a successful hunt and prepared the feast. But when he discovered that his brother, through deceit, had stolen his blessing, he was furious, and vowed to kill Jacob. Rebekah had to send her favourite son away to spare his life. Lying and deceit is always sinful, no matter the circumstances. Rebekah's punishment was that after sending her favourite son away, meant for a duration of just a few weeks or several months at most, she was never to see her son again, having died before his return.

Jacob remained in exile for more than twenty years at his uncle's tent. But when the time came for him to return to Canaan with his own family, he was literally terrified of his own brother, and prepared gifts to offer for peace and reconciliation. When the two eventually met, Esau was far from angry. Rather, he was joyous to see his brother return, and both went to the tent of their elderly father Isaac, still alive but widowed. After his death and burial, the two brothers went their separate ways, Jacob remaining in Canaan while Esau settled on Mt. Seir, a territory south and east of the Dead Sea.

The people of Edom, descendants of Esau, were never subservient to Israel. Rather, the two became hostile to each other. Not long after the exodus, Moses begged the king of Edom to allow his people pass through their land, promising that nothing of theirs would be taken or even disturbed. But the Edomites railed at Israel and even sent troops to destroy or disband the fledgling nation. Their unkindness to Moses and all Israel was what brought the wrath of God, and not Esau himself! It was a part fulfillment of what God had told Abraham that he will bless those who bless him and curse those who curse him, Isaac and Jacob (Genesis 12:3). It was not until nearly a thousand years after Jacob and Esau had died that Edom became subservient to Israel under King David, who set up garrisons across their land.

Edom's subjection under King David foreshadowed a greater fulfillment which, even in the present day, is still future from our standpoint in time. In the book of Daniel, there is a prophecy which foretells the deliverance Edom will share along with cousins Moab and Ammon (Daniel 11:41). This verse is in context of a passage (verses 36-45) which many, if not most, Bible students consider to be the rise and reign of the future Antichrist, the Man of Perdition of the second chapter of 2nd letter to the Thessalonians. In short, God will deliver Edom, Moab and Ammon from the terror of the future world dictator. So who is Edom, Moab and Ammon? According to Biblical chronology, they are all descendants of Terah, Abraham's father. Abraham had a brother, Haran, whose son was Lot, making Lot the nephew of Abraham. Lot became the father of  Moab and Ammon. The present city and capital of Jordan, Amman, comes from the name Ammon.

Therefore the three nations of Edom, Moab and Ammon makes up the modern Arabs who to this day, are an irritant to Israel. At present, Edom is by no means serving Jacob. Rather, it has been one of Israel's oppressors for many years, particularly from 1948, the year the sovereign nation of Israel came into existence. This is the age of grace. God in Jesus Christ has removed all hostilities between himself and mankind, including Edom and the Arabs in general. God's grace is available for all believers in Jesus Christ being God and the Jewish Messiah, regardless of which nation the believer comes from. For God so loved the world - all who believe will receive eternal life and be saved. Therefore who will Esau be serving? I think it's none other than Jesus Christ himself, the seed of Jacob. This will be the final fulfillment of the prophecy Rebekah received from God during her pregnancy, that their Messiah will come from the younger brother Jacob, whom Esau, and everybody else, will willingly serve.

God hating Esau? Not anymore! Jesus Christ died on the cross to reconcile all mankind to himself. Now that looks very much more like the love of God, not hatred.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

What is Hell? Pt 2 - Rich Man and Lazarus

This blog is the continuation of my last one, What is Hell? - The Fall Of Lucifer - and I recommend reading the first article if you have not done so yet, before reading this one.

The inspiration in writing these two articles was gotten from another blogger on this website who posted an article about the lake of fire, and I felt a confirmation of my long held suspicion over the "one size fits all" theory that the fiery lake of burning sulphur will be the final destiny for every soul of those who had lived and died without the rebirth of his spirit through faith in Jesus Christ. The suspicion originated on basically two issues here, both found in the Bible. The first one is that this lake of fire will be the final destiny of Lucifer and his angels. As pointed out in my previous article, Lucifer and his angels - in fact the whole of the realm, were spirits. They never had bodies. So how would a physical fiery lake affect them?

The second cause of concern I felt was that when Jesus Christ spoke of the afterlife, he referred to two different kind of destinies for the lost. One was the fiery lake or furnace of fire. The other was outer darkness, giving an impression of empty space with nothing tangible nor any source of light. In both cases the lost soul would "weep and gnash his teeth," depicting emotional torment and anger over his decision to reject or ignore the calling of God during his lifetime. Whether his eternal state would involve physical pain is a matter of opinion. Experience seem to indicate that pain causes the sufferer to forget everything else and concentrate on the affected area of his body. For example, suppose you were in debt, and as you were preparing dinner, you also were trying to figure out how to settle the debt. Due to a momentary loss of concentration, you upset a saucepan of boiling water, and you are scalded by it down your chest or across your arm. The sudden intense pain will not cause you to keep thinking about the debt. Rather you call for an ambulance, that is, if you don't fret around the room in frightful panic in the first place. If the lost soul is in intense pain, it would be the pain itself tormenting him, not the realisation of loss of eternal life in Heaven.

And I might add a third reason against the "one size fits all" eternity. That is, that the lost, at Judgement, will be judged "according to their works" (KJV) or "what they have done" (NIV). The Bible makes this clear in Revelation 20:12-13 and Matthew 16:27 that the punishment will be according on how one has lived his life while alive. Therefore a little old lady, who lived and died without ever hearing the Gospel, would not get the same level of punishment as, for example, Adolf Hitler who slew six million Jews in the Holocaust, or Joseph Stalin who had many killed for not adhering to his Communist manifesto. On the other hand, it does look grossly unfair for the little old lady, who was faithful to her husband and had never done anything maliciously wrong, to be immersed in fire for all eternity while at the same time, a strapping trucker, who had pub fights and bar brawls in his younger days, enjoys Heaven for having placed faith in Jesus Christ.

And what about the great many throughout history who lived and died without ever hearing the Gospel (and this would include all in Old Testament times.) It looks to me that in these cases, judgement will be by conscience. Romans chapters one and two seems to say a lot about this, stating that at first, creation itself provides testimony of God's greatness and power. Then Paul writes that his law is written in their hearts, with the conscience being the alarm whenever a sin is committed. But the conscience can be seared and the desire to sin grows with time. The person becomes aware of his wrongdoing, but grows to love this, pushing the truth about God aside. On this basis will they stand before God at the Judgement.

Then we need to consider the judgement Jesus himself makes right here on Earth, found in Matthew 25:41-46. This involves the hospitality shown to the 144,000 Jews of the seventh chapter of Revelation, of whom Christ refers to as "my brothers" (v. 40). Those on his left hand were sent to the eternal fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels, just as the heavenly judgement of the lost of Revelation 20 were sent to the same place. Showing hospitality is something anyone can do, whether he has faith in Christ or not. It is tragic, as I see it, that here in Britain, which calls itself a Christian country, hospitality does not rate high in our culture as it does, so I read, in Hindu India. So I believe that this judgement, the way the Jews were treated, will be the fulfilment of the edict God gave to Abraham in Genesis 12:3 where God will bless those who bless his descendants, and curses those who curses them.

Therefore, in my last blog, I suggested that both the eternal fire and total darkness may be illustrations of the eternal state of the lost. Much of this is to make sense of the Bible rather than swallow everything the Vatican dictates. But I, as a believer, have elderly parents who, by their own admission, are agnostics. Lately, my father, in his mid eighties, have been in and out of hospital, after suffering a series of strokes and heart palpitations. My mother struggles as she tries to take care of him. The thought of eternal fire gives me grief, believe me, it is a burden impossible to bear. But I have approached this issue with caution. I accept that I could be wrong. The lake of fire could well be a literal place. Then again, with this idea there are further problems - and this concerns the rich man and Lazarus found in Luke 16:19-31.

The rich man lived a sumptuous life, feasting everyday and enjoying life to the full. Outside his home was a beggar Lazarus, placed there so he could enjoy some hospitality from the rich man. Instead, the rich man's heart was like solid steel while the beggar starved. Eventually, both dies. The soul of Lazarus is taken to be comforted by Abraham, while the rich man falls asleep - and wakes up being tormented in Hell.

And here are three inconsistencies if the rich man was tormented in literal fire. One is on how he could hold an audible conversation with Abraham right across a wide gulf or chasm separating them. The other is why a drop of water placed on his tongue should bring such lasting relief if he was immersed in flames. And thirdly, after his death he was buried. This means that the rich man is suffering Hell as a discarnate spirit, without a body. And why was the tongue such an important organ for want of relief, if the whole of his soul was immersed in fire?

The tongue was his organ of taste. With it, he enjoyed such delicacies during life. But more important, his tongue was the organ of speech. With it, he cursed Lazarus as being wicked due to his poverty, and spoke of himself as righteous, his riches being proof of this. But as another blogger had pointed out, all this is a prophetic parable. After doing some research, I think we are able to identify who this rich man was, and prove how divinely the Bible is in being the true Word of God, and furthermore that Jesus Christ is the true Messiah and the risen Lord!

The rich man was Joseph ben Caiaphas, the High Priest at the time of Christ. He married a daughter of Annas ben Seth, also High Priest and one of the members of the Sanhedrin. Annas also had five sons, whom the historian Josephus was able to identify:

Eleazer ben Ananus
Jonathan ben Ananus
Theophilus ben Ananus
Matthias ben Ananus
Ananus ben Ananus

Caiaphus became son-in-law of Annas, and in Jewish custom, were as close as birth father and son, and his brothers-in-law as actual bloodline brothers. Therefore, through marriage, Caiaphas was a member of Annas' house, and his five sons became actual brothers.

Lazarus in Luke 16 was the brother of the two sisters of John 11, Martha and Mary. John tells us that Lazarus died and was buried at a nearby tomb, where he lay for four days. Jesus deliberately withheld himself for this duration to convince all that not only was Lazarus truely dead, but decomposition had set in and the corpse started to smell with decay. Caiaphas the High Priest knew this, and the Pharisees came to comfort his two grieving sisters, including Caiaphas' five brothers. Jesus was to perform a miracle that would change everything and seal his fate. After rebuking the two sisters for their lack of faith, he ordered the stone seal to be rolled open. He then called to Lazarus to come out, which he did. The miracle caused tremendous commotion among those who watched it. The common people were ready to hail Jesus as King and their Messiah, and they greeted him in this manner on his Triumphal entry into Jerusalem, by laying palm leaves on the road in front of his donkey.

But the Pharisees, despite witnessing such a miracle, refused to believe in Jesus as their Messiah and instead, they made plans to have him executed by crucifixion. John also tells us that many of the Pharisees as well as the common people went to see Lazarus as well, who must have told them over and over again what it was like beyond the grave, and how Jesus raised him up, proving that Jesus is the Christ. The five brothers of Caiaphas must have also seen Lazarus but refused to believe. Rather, according to John 12:9, they planned to execute Lazarus along with Jesus.

Christ before Caiaphas

In anwser to the rich man in Hell, by God's grace, Lazarus was sent to the five brothers by Abraham. Abraham, according to the parable, was right in predicting that the five brothers of Caiaphas' household would not believe even if he was raised from the dead.

The miracle of Lazarus was to show the population that Jesus is the long awaited Messiah, foretold by Moses and the prophets, such testimony about Jesus which the five brothers also refuse to believe. But John assures us that all who believe that Jesus is the Christ has eternal life and is born of God.

The parable of the rich man and Lazarus was a prophetic story told by Jesus Christ as he ministered to the Jews, and in the company of the Pharisees, who constantly monitored and questioned his teachings instead of believing in him. Jesus performed many miracles throughout his ministry, all of them to prove that he was their Messiah, yet the Pharisees remained in stubborn unbelief.

The rich man in Hell pleaded for the wellfare of his five brothers, that they may not enter this place of torment. His request was refused. I too plead for my parents. Will my request be refused too?

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28.

Trusting in God's goodness is all I can do.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

What is Hell? Pt 1 - The Fall of Lucifer

The idea of Hell as a place of eternal fire where one burns for ever and ever after death was something I grew up with since childhood, as a Roman Catholic, this was the central issue peddled by the Vatican. The Catechism has always insisted that after death, the discarnate souls of the unsaved  suffer intense pain, at a level nothing here on Earth can match. When I was converted to faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour, I have found that this teaching of a literal eternal hellfire remained unchallenged within the Protestant faith. Even just a few years ago, I came across the front cover of a Christian magazine carrying a snapshot of Methodist minister, preacher and author David Pawson, who looked as if to be smirking. Behind the snapshot was an image of a volcanic lava lake, very much like that of  Kilauea Crater on the Hawaiian summit of Mauna Loa.

The message Pawson was immediately conveying on the cover was not addressed to unbelievers, although he firmly insist that all of the unsaved will end up in such a lake. Rather, the cover illustration was about the fate of true Christian believers who had either slipped from their faith, failed to overcome their sinful desires, sinned wilfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, or for that matter, divorce and then re-marry. Such believers, according to Pawson, will lose their salvation and end up in the lake of fire.

It is of little wonder that Catholicism and Arminian theology (of which Pawson advocates) has led to liberalism and spawned a crowd of atheists, who visualise God as a crushingly cruel tyrant and sadistic bully whose existence is an offence to human intelligence. Darwinism, for one, grew to mainly discredit Biblical Creationism, and once this had been achieved, then the Christian faith is robbed of all merit altogether. To the educated and the academic, the idea of a literal hellfire remain in the imagination of the deluded.

Yet the fiery hell of the Catholic faith continues to be preached by eminent men of the evangelical Protestant faith. Authors and preachers such as David Pawson, Dan Corner, Fred Phelps, Hal Lindsey, Dave Hunt, Norman Robertson, Tim LaHaye and a host of others all agree on the issue of a literal place of burning for the unsaved dead.

In Matthew 25:41-43, we read of the Lord Jesus teaching this:

Then he will say to those on his left (hand) "Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me."

And John wrote this in Revelation:

And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulphur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them.
And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done.
Then death and hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.
If any one's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
Revelation 20:10-15.

Little wonder that the teaching of a literal fire of hell is believed on by both Catholic and Protestant faiths! But as I emphasised in the two passages above, the lake of fire was prepared for the devil and his angels. Apparently, God's intention in creating man was not to perish in a fiery lake. The whole intention of creation was to share and partake in the intense love existing between Father, Son and Holy Spirit, a Trinitarian love which had existed from eternity past and will continue into eternity future. Accompanying this love is peace and joy, a high form of happiness. They make a magnificent combination of emotions that are entirely unspoilt by any sin or its consequences. And it is, and will be, ours for the taking.

The angelic realm was created before the Universe, the planet Earth and mankind. God did not want his creation to be automatons, loving him by force or even by obligation. So God gave each angel free will, the ability to love and serve willingly.

Lucifer was the chief of the angelic realm. Apparently, he was to be guardian of the planet Earth, and according to Ezekiel 28:13 in the KJV, he was given the role of worship leader of the entire realm. It is worth quoting the entire text from the KJV:

Son of man, take up a lamentation the king of Tyrus and say unto him, Thus says the Lord GOD; Thou sealed up the sum, full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty.
Thou hast been in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was thy covering, the sardius (ruby), topaz and the diamond, the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper, the sapphire, emerald, and the carbuncle, and gold: the workmanship of thy tabrets (harps) and of thy pipes were prepared in thee in the day that thou wast created.
Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth; and I have set thee so: thou wast upon the holy mountain of God; thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire.
Thou wast perfect in all thy ways from the day thou was created, till iniquity was found in thee.
Ezekiel 28:12:15.

Until iniquity was found in you! How could it happen?

Lucifer was startlingly handsome, of glittering beauty. I believe that he had a double role of leading the entire realm in worship to God, he was also put in charge of our planet. The whole of evil originated in the heart of this being. How could this happen? After all, this guy had absolutely everything one could wish for. He was stunningly rich, he had need of nothing, he never grew up in a slum environment, neither did he ever experienced poverty or hardship. His work was a joy, not a burdensome task. I would go as far to say that he was fulfilling the happy roles we as true believers will one day fulfill in God's presence for ever. Then it happened.

Worshipping God was not enough for Lucifer. He wanted to be God himself. As pride filled his heart, he was in effect saying, "Move over, God. I want to be the centre and focal point of worship from now on."

When this was denied, Lucifer shook his fist at God and dared the whole realm to leave their established positions and follow him as leader and ruler of his own kingdom, to be set up on our planet. Amazingly, a third of the entire angelic population made up their minds to accept Lucifer as their leader as they were thrown out of the heavenly realm to settle upon the Earth. The other two thirds, however, remained true to God.

Students of the Bible are not sure when this particular event occurred. Some think that it occurred after Adam and Eve were created, and Lucifer arrived on this planet from Heaven to tempt Eve by speaking audibly to her through a snake. Others, including myself, believe in the "Gap Theory." This means that there was a period of time between Genesis 1:1 and verse two. The fall and rebellion of Lucifer took place before Adam and Eve were created. Verse two says that after God created the heavens and the earth, that the earth was without form and void. The Hebrew words for "Without form and void" indicates a state of chaos. If Lucifer rebelled after the creation of the Earth but before the six day creation, this could indicate that Lucifer's rebellion threw the planet into chaos, and God had to make sweeping changes to render it habitable for mankind.

Lucifer, which, after the fall, became known as Satan and the Devil, took full charge of man's affairs, but already knowing of his coming defeat when God promised that the seed of the woman will bruise his head.

The crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ sealed Lucifer's fate. As promised, he and his angels are destined for the lake of fire. Which leads to a problem worth considering. Is the lake of fire literal?

What is fire? For flames to exist, something material and tangible must be consumed by burning. Fire burns wood, paper and coal. It has the power to turn iron red hot and eventually melt it. Volcanic lava is heated rock, mainly basalt. Lucifer and his angels are spirits who has never had physical bodies. If that is true, then how could literal fire hurt them?

And this leads us to the question: If the Catholic Church insists that discarnate spirits of the unsaved dead are thrown into a literal lake of fire, then without bodies to consume, how would the fire affect them? And what is being consumed by the fire? And returning to the subject of Lucifer, if before his fall he was wearing precious stones, how could this be relevant if this guy was (and still is) a spirit and had no body? Were the precious stones to be taken literally?

In Revelation 20:10-15, along with Matthew 25:41-46 a fiery end is stated for the wicked. In Matthew 13:42 a fiery furnace is also stated by Jesus Christ. Yet in Matthew 8:12, 22:13 and 25:30, there is talk about eternal darkness. This seem to indicate something like outer space, where there is complete darkness, with nothing tangible or of any source of light. There seems to be an inconsistency between literal fire and this darkness. Fire is a source of light. For millennia, fire was always used for torchlight. Could this eternal fire and outer darkness be illustrations of the state of being separated from God's presence?

That, I believe, is a strong possibility. Although I'm being cautious here, the idea of fire and darkness being illustrations seems to be backed by the statement, "weeping and gnashing of teeth," which appears in all verses, along with Matthew 24:51 where the sinner is thrown out of the banquet.

Weeping and gnashing of teeth indicates mental and emotional torment, including anger, along with a sharp feeling of regret, rather than physical pain. Experience has shown that physical pain result in screaming and hollering. We don't seem to see any of this in the Bible, but much about weeping and gnashing of teeth (gnashing of teeth indicating anger at his own decision to reject Christ as Saviour during his lifetime). Another indication of emotional torment is found in Luke 13:28. Here we are told that unbelieving Jews will be thrust out of the Kingdom of God. Again we see the emotional torment of weeping and gnashing of teeth, but this time as these sinners see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob sitting inside. It is important to note at this point that the mental and emotional anger and torment will be experienced by both the fallen angelic realm and lost sinners alike.

What can we conclude from all this? That every lost sinner will be shut out from the Kingdom of God, most likely in outer darkness. They will be in mental and emotional torment as if immersed in fire. They will have very strong desires for love and company, but these will eternally remain unfulfilled as their separation from God will also result in intense loneliness. They would have had a glimpse of the magnificent beauty of the Heavenly Jerusalem, and even recognise believers whom they mocked and laughed at during their lifetimes. This will add a deep sense of regret when they realise that all this was offered to them, if only they would have believed.

There is no need to be condemned to eternal separation from God. Jesus Christ is right now offering a free gift of salvation to all who would receive it by faith.

In my next blog, I shall be looking at the rich man and Lazarus, found in Luke 16.

Your comments on this topic would be welcome. God bless.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

The Great Leveller

There are several events I enjoy watching, and the 2012 London Olympics has given me the opportunity to watch what I believe are the fast endurance events, such as the men's and women's road cycle races and that which is the closest to my heart - the triathlon. The Women's Triathlon was broadcast yesterday (Saturday August 4th) with Nicola Spirig of Switzerland just about taking the gold, after the dead-heat finish with Lisa Norden of Sweden, with both finishing at 1:59:48.00.
Third was Erin Densham who took bronze after finishing in 1:59:50.00

The result of this event was that only the three in the medals broke the two-hour barrier. Fourth was Sarah Groff  (USA) who finished at exactly 2:00:00.00, while the first British female triathlete was Helen Jenkins who came fifth, clocking 2:00:19.00.

As for the Men's Triathlon, at the time of writing, still due to be staged this coming Tuesday, I'll be taking the morning off work to watch it on TV! And the Men's Road Cycling event was won by Alex Vinokurov of Kazakhstan and in the Women's Road Cycling, on the next day, the gold was taken by Marianne Vos of the Netherlands. There was only one British gold winner in such events, as far as I know, and that was Bradley Wiggins who won the men's cycling time trials, not bad either, after winning the Yellow Jersey in the Tour de France just a few weeks earlier.

But the greatest Olympic medal winner of all time must be swimmer Michael Phelps of the USA, who in London, collected four golds and two silvers at the indoor Aquatics pool. In all, throughout his swimming career, Phelps collected a total of 28 Olympic medals, and he had just retired last night after winning gold in the men's relay medley.

The Opening Ceremony of the Athens 2008 Olympics

All these athletes have superb, well trained bodies suited to their chosen sport. But it was during the Opening Ceremony that we were reminded of the dreadful fact that none of them will remain in their peak of fitness over time. Even Michael Phelps chose to retire now, while he was still on top, rather than see himself slipping down the field, then failing to qualify for the next Olympics altogether. At the Opening Ceremony, former world boxing champion Muhammad Ali appeared at the stadium, literally supported by an assistant, as his body is presently wracked by Parkinson's Disease. To see him in such a state was heartbreaking. This was because I was around when he as at the peak of his boxing career. He was born as Cassius Clay in 1942, and began training as a boxer after his bicycle was stolen when he was a boy. In 1960 he won gold in the Light Heavyweight title at the Rome Olympics, and the story goes, that he refused to take the medal off his chest for a period of time, even in the bath. Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali after joining the Nation of Islam in 1964, then aged only 22 years old. His motto was, I am the Greatest!

Cassius Clay (left) not long after turning professional

And this is where he made his biggest mistake. Ali should not have said "I am the Greatest!" - but "God is the Greatest!" Now we see him, some seventy years of age, having to be supported by an assistant. There are plenty of men who are older than him but can get about as freely as anyone in good health. Even the Duke of Edinburgh is old enough to be Ali's father, yet save for a recent bladder infection, he can get around freely without assistance.

As a Christian, my heart goes out for all these athletes, past and present. God says of them, as he does to all mankind, that he is patient, and not willing that any should perish, but all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

Death is the great leveller. As Solomon once wrote, there is really no difference between a king and a worm, for the same fate awaits them both. Life, with all its glories, is a cruel vanity.

But God, in his love, is more than willing to give eternal life to all who believe on his Son, Jesus Christ, who was crucified to atone for our sins, and then is risen, conquering death altogether!

Jesus Christ is risen. And we don't have to wait until Easter to celebrate this. We can celebrate any time of the year. In the remainder of this blog, I would like to show some striking similarity between the Olympic Games and eternal salvation.

Christ died to atone for our sins, and is risen from the dead. Thus eternal life is given as a free gift to all who have faith in Jesus crucified. To qualify for the Olympics is also free. The athlete does not pay a sum of money to compete, at least, as far as I know. After qualifying, they get a free entry. They then become Olympians. Likewise, as a Christian believer follows the lead of the Holy Spirit within him, he starts to win crowns as heavenly rewards. These rewards will be at a heavenly presentation known by Bible scholars as the Judgement Seat of Christ. (1 Corinthians 3:5-15, 2 Corinthians 5:10). It is a rostrum, and believers from all ages will be rewarded on how he had lived his Christian life. At the top end, the reward is the Crown of Life, which is given to all who were martyred for their faith. Various other crowns are rewarded, such as the Crown of Righteousness, given to those who eagerly waited for his return. There may be also a soul-winner's crown as well. And there will be other rewards too, such as the crown for overcoming the flesh. But also at the rostrum will be believers who led carnal lives while alive on Earth. These will get nothing, except seeing their flesh-motivated works getting burnt up. For them this will be a time of tears and feelings of regret. Very much like the tears of Olympians who had just missed out on a medal.

But even the carnal Christians will be saved. After God wiping away their tears, they will spend eternity with Christ forever. Why so? Because they are just as much part of the Body and Bride of Christ as the crown-winners. From this rostrum no one will end up in Hell. No bride, as far as I know, had voluntarily amputated any of her body parts before walking up the aisle!

In short one can put it this way:
The athlete, after qualifying, becomes an Olympian, a title he keeps for life.
The believer, through faith, becomes a Christian, and forever be united with Christ.

The Olympian must strive to win the race to receive his prize, a medal.
The Christian must keep on walking in the power of the Holy Spirit to win his prize, a crown.

After the heavenly Judgement seat of Christ is accomplished, according to many Bible scholars, there follows the heavenly communion, the partaking of the bread and wine, a reminder of the breaking of Christ body and his blood spilt in order to atone for the sins of every believer in Heaven (Revelation 19:1-10). This, in my mind, is the most important heavenly event in all eternity. After physical death, this is the greatest leveller ever to take place. Every saint in Heaven is there only because Christ died for them, and death was conquered by him for them. This supper will prevent the one with many crowns looking down on those with nothing. The heavenly supper will prevent any form of boasting. Every saint will be humbled, realising that their presence is wholly the work of Jesus Christ.

I have never known an Olympian gold medallist looking down or boasting over those who had never reached such a pinnacle in life. There seems to be no record of arrogance among Olympic medallists. It seems to me that having a gold medal placed around the victor's neck is a humbling experience.

Being reminded of the sacrifice Jesus Christ made on our behalf will have an even greater humbling effect on all believers. Such is the great leveller.