1 PETER 4
If you suffer for being a Christian believer, then be proud that you are counted worthy of joining your Saviour in a precious elite group. (Actually, this group is probably going to grow quite fast!). But don’t be proud if you suffer for being a criminal, or just for being a ‘pain in the neck’!
One of the ways in which we suffer is simply being mocked for being a Christian and for refusing to join in with the sinful crowd. The mockery of you is really a mockery of Him. Together with Jesus, we stand as silent witnesses to the decadence and debauchery of non-Christian living. We should not generally expect to be welcomed, therefore!
Our role: to be alert so that we can pray. Somehow, we all need to develop a lifestyle that integrates prayer, but in a way that doesn’t make it totally incompatible with our work, our family life, and our immersion into the community. A genuine prayer life will be absorbed into these just as rain is absorbed into the soil, to become part of it. Let’s challenge ourselves to be the ‘absorbent’ soil and to make prayer integral. “Pray continually” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) is one of the bible’s shortest verses – and one of its most vital and practical.
“Love covers over a multitude of sins” (v8). This really means that it applies complete forgiveness to them. Look at James 5:20 and Proverbs 10:12 for corroboration of this. “Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them…” (Psalm 32:1-2). Our attitudes of love and forgiveness can completely alter the spiritual state of our brothers and sisters in Christ. There is a sense of God and us acting in harmony in the act of forgiveness. We have the power to release a person from their sins, helping them to repent to God at the same time.
“It is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (v17). Perhaps God permits this kind of suffering in order to purify his people; it is a surgical instrument in his hand. If he permits this degree of suffering upon us, then the punishment that will be meted out upon the ungodly will be significantly greater!
If you are suffering for righteousness’ sake, then carry on and commit yourself to God, continuing to do good.
EZEKIEL 46, 47 and 48
Try this experiment at home: take a very large jug of tap water and stir into it as much salt as will dissolve, so that there is still a small amount of residue at the bottom. Carefully have a sip of the water. Salty, isn’t it! It looks refreshing, but it cannot support life. Now add a teaspoon of fresh tap water to your jugful of salt water. Taste it again. What do you notice? [Answer: it is just as salty and undrinkable as before.] Conclusion: a small amount of fresh water does not make any difference to a large volume of salt water.
I have swum in the Dead Sea. It the deepest part of any land mass on earth, being 1,300 feet (400m) below normal sea level at its surface and with a depth of up to 1,000 feet in places. It is 34 miles long and an average of 7 miles wide. Ten times saltier than the normal oceans, this is much too strong to support any marine life. The shores are barren and rocky, since nothing can grow there either. Dead by name and dead by nature! You can float in this water, read a broadsheet newspaper, and you are so buoyant that the paper won’t get wet! Every litre of this water contains a quarter of a kilogram of salt.
In Ezekiel chapter 47, we see a vision of a trickle of water emerging from the temple sanctuary, running through the temple courtyard, and escaping, still as a trickle, one side of the East gate (the Prince’s gate). This fresh water was unusual in two respects: the further Ezekiel and his angelic guide travelled from the temple, the deeper the little stream became; every half a mile it became ankle-deep, then knee-deep, then waist-deep, then too deep to stand up in. The trickle had become an uncrossable river. Miraculous!
Then a second miracle (it didn’t work with your jug of water, did it?): all this water pours into the Jordon valley and enters the Dead Sea at its north end. As it disperses, it makes every part of the salt water fresh – like itself – and suddenly swarms of life appear in the path of that great stream. Fish swim everywhere. Plants burst into life and bloom. The shoreline is transformed! In Hebrew, it actually says that the sea “becomes healed” (not just fresh). It experiences a new ‘Genesis’.
And either side of that great river are the great trees that draw from its waters, producing leaves that never wither and regular fruit that never fails, month after month. The fruit will feed the hungry and the leaves will heal the sick.
What does this mean? I believe that the water from the sanctuary represents the Holy Spirit in our lives. John 7:37-39: “On the last and greatest day of the festival (of Tabernacles), Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them’. By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive…”. As we come to Jesus and drink – meaning that we invite him into our lives to save and rule us – he fills us with himself.
But then, as Jesus went on to say, this Spirit does not just stay motionless within our bodies, but it overflows from us, out to a dying and dead world, bringing life wherever we go. In the John 7 passage (above), I believe that the ‘Scripture’ that Jesus was referring to is this Ezekiel chapter that we are reading today. As we walk with the Lord daily, we drink from him and so we are fruitful and never dry. This fruit and foliage – our very lives that have been touched by Him – are in turn for the healing of the nations and for the benefit of the spiritually hungry. Look at Revelation 22:1-2 which also features a river of the water of life flowing from the throne of God, providing crops of fruit in the trees of life every month and whose leaves “are for the healing of the nations”.
As the Spirit lives in us and flows from us, it operates miraculously. It turns dead places and spiritually dead people into fertile and living beings again – as they were always intended to be. Life in our vicinity is totally transformed because of the Spirit’s presence and of our response to Him. And then the second miracle is profound teaching of a key principle that we need to hear today: The river became deeper the further it travelled from its source – that is totally unnatural and physically impossible (unless you had a lot of sanctuaries feed it from lots of directions).
The meaning of increased depth is perhaps that we see a greater and greater power of the Spirit from our lives as we encroach further into the Enemy’s territory – as we take the gospel away from the comfort zones of our cosy worship meetings (good as they are) and out into a gritty, tough world. If you want to see someone healed or the dead raised or a word of knowledge open someone’s ears, then it is much more likely to occur in the streets of our towns than in a Sunday celebration meeting with a great worship band! The same was true in Jesus’ day: not a lot seemed to go on in those synagogues!