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We all have those moments when we want something so badly that we pray, hope and wish someone would step in and save the day. It could be for a good reason or just some human ambition that means the world to us. You have this exam that is about to dictate the rest of your life as you see it. This job interview which as far it goes you feel you must get it. A loved one is ill and at a point when we really need someone to step in. Maybe it’s something the world may not think is life changing but it means the world to you. Sometimes it’s just a sinful human craving. You’d be surprised the kind of situations people want God to step in and act on their behalf.

But let’s go with it’s a prayer for a good course however we define that. For those who believe in God he’s our go-to person in these situations and a last resort for everyone. It’s especially the case when there’s no one else who’d care enough and is as able enough to save the situation. And since we believe in God and for the most part we have tried to live up to his will it’s only fair he would step in for us. I mean which good father wouldn’t step in to save the day in such critical times? But then it happens that God doesn’t fly in to save the day. Sometimes he takes too long and other times we don’t see him come through at all. It’s the most lonely you can ever feel when the one person you counted most upon doesn’t come to your aid. Nothing is more disappointing.

I wanted to start by acknowledging this because that’s an undeniable feeling and a lot of us have been here before. Whatever answer theology has it’s a feeling that many have faced and we can’t deny it and shouldn’t undermine it. But this is only one side of the story and I hope you’ll stay put as I try to give you a Biblical perspective. You see it’s when we see God working in the bigger story that we appreciate his involvement in our story. I must tread carefully here though as this is bound to bring painful memories but I think there’s a light at the end of this tunnel. In the end we’ll see God is ever close in our suffering and he actually intervenes even when he is not sought after. If we open our eyes then I don’t think there’s a time we find God closer to us than in our weaknesses. Remember he has gone through suffering and faced our weaknesses in Jesus. He knows our pain, he sees the suffering of the whole world and is never indifferent to it. C.S Lewis said:

“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains. It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

C.S Lewis

A good place to start is with the story of Israel. It starts with oppression, pain and anguish. These guys weren’t in trouble just for a weekend, not just an exam gone wrong, theirs was a terminal case. But when God intervened it seemed to get worse before it could get better as it feels for us sometimes. You see, it’s one thing to suffer and another to continue suffering despite calling on God who claims he’s available to help us in our time of need. It’s when you’ve been praying for a loved one and their condition seems to get worse that you feel most let down by God. And that’s how Israel feels after God sends Moses to their rescue only for Pharaoh to make their life even worse. Hope is a beautiful sound to a suffering ear but it can hurt even more when it doesn’t pay off. Moses the bearer of good news, the man who had told Israel that God had seen their trouble and sent him to their rescue is angry, sad and disappointed in God.

22 Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? 23 Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.”

Exodus 5 NIV

In truth though the pain and hopelessness of Israel is undeniable even to Moses, God was acting even in this situation as we see in the next chapter. It’s always a difficult thing to see God’s hand when things seem to get from bad to worse. I mean who in a million years would have contemplated that our redemption would be born by the suffering and death of Jesus? How can good come out of what seems so evil? How can a good God do anything other than quickly step in and save the situation for his beloved? But from this story we learn that where God seems so absent or powerless and indifferent actually he’s very much involved.

C.S Lewis is right, God is shouting in our pain and we just need to tune our hearts to the frequency of his word to hear how loud he is. We may not always get God’s direct explanation and reassurance as he gives to Moses in Exodus 6. But Bible history from Israel to Jesus tells us we can fully trust in him even in this. It tells us he’s very much in the details and working tirelessly for our good, see Romans 8:28.

When we feel most failed by God what we need is a biblical perspective because the Gospel is his megaphone. Now, I know sometimes that’s the last thing we want, more Bible. I mean sometimes we are not asking for much just a small intervention we say. But I must also say if God was only good because he stepped in when and in the way we always want then he’d really not be above us. He’d simply be a genie with some good wishes. But the story of the Bible, the story of the Gospel helps us see that our story is knit in a bigger cosmic story.

Our problem is that we are inevitably all about our story and yet it’s in both stories that we see God truly act for us. The Bible tells us we need more than a quick fix in our situation. We need our environment changed but more importantly it enlightens us to see we are not as innocent in the grand story as we think. We ourselves needed to be changed if ever our problems are to go away forever. And that’s exactly why God stepped in through Jesus to rescue us from our sin problem and grant us eternal life in a whole new world without pain, suffering and death.

But still our problem is a personal one. We agree with the world needing change and sin being a serious thing. But all we are asking is God to step in now and help his children on the journey before he brings us to our eternal home. Is that toomuch to ask? I think this is where I love our God even more. Because he not only deals with the most fundamental problems we face but he’s actually very close to us and involved in our personal story through it all. In Jesus and by his Holy Spirit he says he’s walking our Exodus with us until the end of times, see Matthew 28: 20. God is very close, he’s with us and even closer in our suffering having lived in this world, suffered and died for us in Jesus.

When we pray to him we are calling on someone who not only is able but cares, sympathises and understands what we are going through, see Hebrews 4:14-16:

14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 4 ESV

It may not be the answer you are looking for in your time of need but it’s actually what we truly need. And you know what’s mind-blowing is that God makes good even of our suffering. He doesn’t waste our weaknesses, but through them he shapes us into the image of Christ. He helps us see life in a whole different way, he teaches us what it means to trust him in the good and bad times. And he helps us see that this world can never be home for us.

When we survey the grand story of our redemption as told by the Bible our personal story makes sense. When we feel let down and failed by God, in the Bible we see God is close and even closer in our struggles. And it’s never a waste of time praying to him because one way or the other he always answers our prayers. Actually he works even when we don’t see it and truly answers our prayers in ways that are best for us. We need the whole Bible story to truly appreciate God working in our personal story.

The powerful leaders of the world showcase their power by creating big armies, standing behind huge projects and big military investments. One, because they can and also because they’d love everyone else to see what they are capable of. But I think there’s something else that tells them they need to showcase how powerful they are. Perhaps it’s the reality of how fleeting power actually is and the need to enjoy it while it lasts. The big man needs people to see their might and in truth we are all drawn by a true showcase of power. We feel safe with a leader who’s strong and are reassured when we see his big army match infront. Human strength is measured by what we see and the methods at play. Power and wisdom is the true mark of human strength. At times you can even pretend to be powerful if you have the right gadgets. But those who are truly powerful don’t need to always showcase their power.

Our God is truly powerful, he made the heavens and the earth by a word and everything operates by his will. He doesn’t need to lift a finger to make things happen. But when it’s been appropriate to do so he’s proved to be able move mountains, to stop giants and change the course of history. The Bible story tells of a powerful God working for a weak people in impossible situations to save them for himself. So he doesn’t need to showcase his power everytime we demand it. Instead he usually shows his power not by a great show of might but mostly through seemingly weak methods. Here are 3 most powerful methods he uses which from a human eye looks so weak and ineffecctive: the cross, the Gospel and prayer.

The Cross
Think about the cross of Jesus. Nothing shows more weakness than the son of God dying on a wooden cross like a criminal. Actually that’s like the worst thing that can happen to someone who claims to be God’s son and the Lord of the world. Which powerful leader of the world would let his son suffer let alone die if they could rescue them? Humanly speaking you’d doubt the power of this God to help you if he couldn’t save his own child when he needed him most. But the Bible tells us it’s through this weakness that our salvation was born. God used weakness to showcase his greatest power and might at the cross. The power to deal with sin, to defeat Satan, the world and death. At the very center of the story of redemption, the very heart of human history is the weak sign of the cross.

But when it looked most weak, Jesus paid the ransom for our sins and won our eternal salvation. At the cross of Jesus we see God’s power most manifested. In Christ, a man deserted, denied and betrayed by his own is our victory won. At his death our penalty of sin is paid fully. And by his resurrection we are given hope for eternal life as Christ emerges as the firstborn in the new everlasting life. God used what looked so humanly weak for the most powerful act in history. He didn’t bulldoze his way but in weakness he did what seemed impossible. He didn’t call down angels to come showcase his might and force his way. Instead, he sent a man born in weakness to achieve the greatest act of redemption. The weak sign of the cross is the signature of the powerful God of the universe and the message we proclaim.

22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

1 Corinthians 1 NIV.

The Gospel
If you wanted the world to trust in your power and truly fear you you’d never go the Gospel way. I mean what would a bunch of weak disciples who’ve proved to fail so many times accomplish? Jesus wasn’t only entrusting the most important mission of the world to sinful men, he entrusted it to the most unlikely candidates. You ask any expert and that’s a mission bound to fail from the word go. And yet he continues to do so today using preachers and Gospel workers most of whom are uneducated, unqualified, weak and sinful. Why? Because they are just vessels for his life-changing message. It’s him and his word that does the work not them.

When this seemingly weak message takes hold of men it makes them do the impossible. Nothing changes people like the Gospel. Just look at the story of the 12 and see what God did through their witness of the Gospel. Through this message God is winning the world to himself and he’s been doing so all through history. It doesn’t always feel like it’s achieving much, sometimes we actually try to change and re-adapt it but when clearly taught the Gospel does the impossible. God works in unlikely ways, through weak unlikely people with a message that causes more offence than admiration to rescue humanity. I mean it’s a miracle that anyone would be willing to give up everything for the Gospel. But the Gospel captures, captivates and transforms unlikely people to believe and do unlikely things for God. Because the Gospel is God’s power and God at work. 

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.

Romans 1 NIV.

Prayer
One of the main reasons why we struggle so much with prayer is because humanly speaking it’s a very weak strategy. Here I am facing an impossible situation and someone has the audacity to say pray about it? Your friend is ailing in hospital and all you can do is pray? Here’s a deal of a lifetime and first thing you want to do is pray? It doesn’t even sound like a strategy it speaks more of lacking in options and of last resort. And yet there’s nothing more powerful for a believer than to commit themselves in the hands of the Almighty. The history of faith shows God working by prayer to achieve great milestones for the Gospel and intervening in impossible situations for his people.

When God’s people pray they are not saying we have no other option. Actually it’s by prayer that we open our options and access real help from our very able Father. Prayer says I can’t do it but I trust in the one who’s not only able but is available and willing to help us. Praying is calling in the big guns to come to our aid in a war we would otherwise never win on our own. Though seemingly weak, believers have never been able to achieve anything without prayer because without God we can do nothing. Any real Gospel progress has been born of God working through weak people by weak methods like the Gospel and prayer. That’s why we should commit fully to the ministry of the cross, the work of the Gospel by the power of prayer. Because the ministry of word and prayer is the power of God at work. 

1 I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. 2 Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.

Psalms 116 NIV.

There’s a saying that religion is the opium of the masses and where there’s great suffering and want, where reality is too cruel it seems people are most religious. In many ways our African continent can be described in those terms though not exclusively. We have always been a notoriously religious people and it doesn’t surprise many that we are the next global center of world Christianity. We’ve got the numbers and enough problems to run to any helping hand out there. But I don’t think this is necessary true of Christianity. No, here we have something completely different and the laws of demand and supply move in the opposite direction compared to our many other religions.

You see our African traditional religion and many religions of the world can be called the opium of the people because it’s people who seek and search for this drug. It’s the people who create the demand and religion supplies where no one else seems to have an answer.  It’s the people who ran and cry for help and turn to these gods in dire need. They are people driven and they changed as the needs of the people change because they have to keep up with the market. Our tribes turned to the gods in times of calamity, they sought them in famine and war. They kept them pleased as a guarantee for help in the day of trouble. They were an emergency fund, an investment in an uncertain future and the go-to where man’s strength failed. Man looked for the gods, kept them happy in the ways he knew how and went to withdraw favor when need arose.

It’s for this reason that I think the Christian God is so different. Because in the Bible we see it is God not man who made the first move. Here the direction of flow is completely different. Man is not trying to run after a rather indifferent powerful being to come to his aid. No man is running in the opposite direction and is the one who is indifferent, unconcerned and wouldn’t care less about this God. But he runs like a father towards his prodigal child and this time they don’t meet halfway rather he pursues him to the farthest end. Sure, our African need means we are open to any god out there who can help us. And yes for the most part we think this God is no different but when we look at him we realize he’s not a god we would run after in a million years. Actually he says he’s the one who does the running after.

In Genesis we find him as the God who seeks and calls Abraham and in Exodus he goes after Israel in Egypt. Now here as Africans we would think it is Israel who goes after God. They are facing pain and oppression and they cry out to the so called God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They do it for a long time and finally it wakes this sleeping God to remember his promise. In truth, we are not told which god they called out to only that like us they cried for help and were ready for help from anywhere really. But it was God, as he had promised Abraham who intervenes.  

23 During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. 24 And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. 25 God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.

I think they were open for help from any god perhaps even the gods of Egypt. But it is God who steps in to rescue them and fulfil his Abrahamic promise. Actually if you look closely you realize God was already pulling the strings. He’s the one who increases them in Egypt and the one who preserves them despite all the plots of Pharaoh to cut out their name. It’s God who calls Moses. It’s God who fights Pharaoh for them. It’s God who carries them to Canaan even when most times they want to go back. And this story of a seeking God is repeated a lot of times in the wilderness and in the Promised Land under the Judges. Israel cries and God comes running to save a people who are not really after him and who don’t actually regard his Word and warnings. Israel like Africans want a God who helps when needed but a God who plays by our terms. They want a god they can manipulate to play by their tune. Help them in need but for the most part let them live their lives the way they want. But not so with this God. He’s a fatherly kind of God. He wants to be involved in the lives of his people.

This God seems too emotionally invested for us Africans to entertain. As an African man we can even say he’s a weak man. A true man has got to be powerful yes but also aloof and a bit distant to gain his respect. That’s actually how our gods operated. But this one is not like that and he doesn’t want to be treated like the other gods. He won’t accept just a cash in worship for a cash out favor when we need it. He demands everything and wants to be involved in everything. He talks about eternal life when we are just wondering where our next meal will come from. He says we face a greater problem than poverty, diseases and insecurity? And he says that problem is sin? He’s got to be kidding us. We don’t want that kind of God. He’s too close and too invested for us. And he doesn’t really offer us what the other market gods supply. Yes we want his help but we also want it in our own terms, that’s the tradeoff with any religion. But not with this one though, he says we have to play in his own terms because that’s what is good for us.

If religion is the opium of the masses this God won’t be getting as many customers. He doesn’t fit the bill and doesn’t play by the rules. But it is especially that he’s different that he is exactly what we need. Africa’s greatest problems might be perceived to be hunger, bad leadership, unemployment, corruption, insecurity and a bad history. But all of these are but symptoms of a greater problem that none of our gods have answered. Yes these are real symptoms and shouldn’t be undermined but if we really want a cure we’ve got to go to the root of the problem. And that’s the biggest problem that faces not only Africans but all of humanity throughout history. The heart of the problem is the human heart, See Mark 7:20-23. It’s sin that corrupts our world at the very core. And that problem won’t be solved by education, foreign aid, humanitarian projects or even religion. They help our society but won’t ultimately solve this problem. Only the seeking God of the Bible has an answer for man and with this a solution for Africa and the world at large.

That seeking God comes to a continent that trades with human gods. He calls out a people notoriously religious to the true light of the world. He begs the attention of a people lost in want, addiction and hopelessness and says here is the way. Here’s one who comes to seek and save the lost. Here’s a God who loves mother Africa and has come to save her and her children. He’s heard her cry and stepped in like he did with Israel in the person of Jesus Christ to offer her hope for the future. He deals with Africa’s entrenched problem of sin and liberates her from being the Dark Continent. Here’s a God we should all run to because unlike all our other gods this one runs towards us. This one deals not only with what we think is our problem but with the very heart of it and in him offers us the hope we crave for and that for eternity. Africa has a new God and he’s the seeking God of the Bible.

We are in the week before Easter normally called the Holy Week but more real to many Kenyans this is the week after a devastating weekend that has changed the course of life in our country for many. As Christians have done before, this week we’ll bombard you with Christian messages about the death and resurrection of Christ and perhaps you don’t feel like you want to hear any of that at this time. Easter is like Mini-Christmas to the world but is more important to Christians than that. It’s a time where Christians around the globe remember what Jesus accomplished for us at the cross. When we get a window to send those “Christian messages” and you are not allowed to shush us down. In our defense though, we believe every day is the Lord’s Day. So we feel we should remind each other about him, what he has accomplished for us at the Cross and how we are to live in light of that.

But I think this Easter is even more important at this time if you allow me to share. The COVID-19 pandemic has been with us for over one year and we now know so well how weak and vulnerable we are. Here in Kenya we are struggling through the hard grip of the third wave, with constrained health care system and a worse hit economy. As we are speaking countless people are looking at the next few days with little hope and we don’t even want to think about the future. Worst thing is we know we cannot even depend on our government. The majority are living in the proverbial times when unless the Lord comes himself to help us we don’t know how we’ll survive.

But this is precisely what makes this year’s Easter come with such great news because God has in fact come down to help us in Jesus as he prophesied. In our Utumishi training course here at iServe Africa we’ve been looking at the book of Isaiah and this is the beautiful news we see from Isaiah 40. The prophet begins this second half of the book with a message of hope:

1Comfort, comfort my people,
    says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
    and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
    that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
    double for all her sins
Isaiah 40

This message is in utter contrast to the first half of the book which paints an ugly picture of Israel’s sin and its effects which is serious purging judgement from God. God’s people have forsaken him, they live indifferent to him and his call through prophets like Isaiah and they don’t even care what awaits them. God in turn after being so patient with them declares through Isaiah that cleansing and purging judgement is inevitable. If you are a woke Israelite living when Isaiah is prophesying you feel something needs to happen to deal with injustice and callous leadership but Isaiah’s message scares you to the very core. So what we see here in Isaiah 40 is not just good news, it’s the best news in what is otherwise a very hopeless situation. It’s like what we are all hoping for, something like say the president declares tax relief and economy boost but even better.

You see what is prophesied to happen to God’s people is real and serious. Judgement is coming for them through a foreign nation and they will have no mercy on them. And the worst news is that it’s God who is behind this in response to their sin. Sin demands judgement and Israel deserves this. In other words the picture painted is one of hopelessness unless the Lord intervenes. And it’s for that reason why Isaiah 40 is so popular and so comforting. God is coming not to judge but this time to rescue, to lead and strengthen his people. This is exactly what you want to hear when in a crisis; that a helper is coming and he’ll will redeem you.

But as we continue in Isaiah we realize that the way God came through for his people is through his obedient and suffering servant looking at Isaiah 52:13—53:12. God fulfils his promise to deal with sin and redeem his people through the coming of his son. In him God wins us our redemption by his death and resurrection. He was crushed because of our sins and by our hope and knowledge of him we are made right with God today:


11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
    make many to be accounted righteous,
    and he shall bear their iniquities.
Isaiah 53.

I know what you are hoping for is something more practical to get you out of this crisis. You want someone to tell you here is the money to survive this lockdown or at least a way to maneuver around that. So I can understand why many might care less about the many Easter messages sent your way this week and instead look out for more political and economic news. But before you throw this to the dustbin let’s survey how this speaks to our situation today. As I said at first I think the message of Easter is more relevant and here’s why:

First, what we want now above everything else is hope that at least tomorrow will be better. We want someone to tell us that the crisis we are in is just temporary and good things are waiting for us ahead. I think if COVID has taught us anything it’s the value of the currency that is hope. And that’s what we need more than anything right now.

Well, that’s exactly what Easter offers us but better than wishful thinking or hoping in political leaders, Easter gives us real hope in someone who is fully trustworthy. Easter says what God promised hundreds of years has been fulfilled through Jesus and therefore we can have unwavering hope and trust in him no matter what happens. Easter gives us hope not only for tomorrow but that one day these diseases, the curse of unwise and uncaring leaders and even Death itself will be no more.

The second thing I know we are after is help here and now. It’s easy to dismiss the Christian message for something we’ll need later in life and argue that what we need is help here and now. We want some cash to buy bread, we want help to pay the bills, and we want a boost for our businesses and a cut on our taxes. We want help now and not stories. I get you and believe me I’m with you on that. But I don’t think the message of Easter or the Gospel for that matter only applies later in life when we come to our death bed. The Gospel hope that Easter reminds us of is what we need every day, pandemic or no pandemic.

As a matter of fact, I cannot for the life of me fathom how someone wakes up, goes around their business, and sleeps at night ready to face tomorrow without the hope of the Gospel. Through the Gospel Christians know that no matter what happens tomorrow to us or our loved ones God will uphold, keep and help us. It reminds me that in the most lonely times, when I’m struggling with things I cannot speak even to friends, Christ is ever present to listen and he promises never to leave me. Easter tells us he came to die for us, for our eternal hope but also that he lives with us by his Spirit helping us daily as we walk towards our eternal heritage.

When his people felt weak and hopeless he said don’t fear, I will help you:

14Do not be afraid, you worm Jacob, little Israel, do not fear, for I myself will help you,” declares the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel. Isaiah 41.

No matter how fragile our bodies are, regardless of how unpredictable the future is and how often we’ll seem to be alone in this crisis, God is with us and is working out everything for our good. Because of what he did on that first Easter we have hope for tomorrow and life without end. And even right now when we are unsure what will become of us we can look up to him for his ever present help. He will work out a way to help us whether he’ll use our jobs, the government, the church, our friends and family members or even strangers we don’t know. We only know he’ll hold us fast and whatever happens will turn out for our good. Praise be to him only!

But Easter also reminds us that the path to the glorious future was born through the suffering of God’s Son. As God’s children in this world we will face struggles before we come to our eternal future. What we are to do is put our trust in our Lord and Saviour and emulate him as we live for him here and now. Here’s a challenge then to share this Gospel message to a desperate world, a challenge to humility, obedience and to dying for others. The greatest leader won his people by becoming a servant, obeying God and dying to redeem his people. If we choose to lead and walk the Christian path we need to follow in his footsteps. This is a challenge for Christians in every sphere of life and especially those in leadership to look to Christ and emulate him in all we do and especially at this time. 

Someone asked me what will become of all the people zealous for their religion on that last Day? Think about the millions who try their best to live by the standards set by their religion irrespective of how enslaving that can be sometimes. The millions who try their best to observe the 5 pillars of Islam and are saving up for at least one pilgrimage to Mecca. Go back in history and reflect on the chains of indulgences under the Roman Catholic rule. What will God do with those who out of their blindness gave themselves fully to religion if Jesus is the only way to God? 

But closer home what do we do with those Christians who have done their best to earn God’s favor by their works, ascetism, giving up all their resources for the man of God, being monks and nuns? Are you saying without the hope of the Gospel they are doomed? That none of that will earn them heavenly credit?

In addition to this, add salt to the wound that undeserving reckless sinners like us who respond to the Gospel call gets to heaven by Christ’s merits. That any criminal who repents on the execution table and turns to Jesus will be with him and at peace in heaven. How unfair? What injustice? Religion costs some everything and yet they are locked out and we get in by faith? Surely God cannot be that unfair! What does the Bible have to say about that, my friend asks? I tremble a bit because I realize his question demands an answer and I’m not sure he’ll be happy with it. 

Now, most of us would be familiar with Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15. I guess a lot of us on this side of the divide would rightly identify with the younger reckless brother and are drawn by his Father’s overwhelming love and grace. It makes for a great Gospel talk. But the story is actually about two brothers and our evangelistic efforts wouldn’t be enough if we ignored the elder brother. Our religious brothers might actually be abhorred by this kind of God who seems to embrace sinners and ignore the “righteous”. 

The prodigal’s brother (the elder brother) has tried his best to serve his Father unlike his younger rebellious brother who takes off and squanders his father’s assets. The prodigal’s brother has been laboring hard in his Father’s field. He checks his reputation so it doesn’t reflect badly on the Father. His Father’s business has really become his business and his life goals and ambitions are aimed at pleasing him. He’s probably even suffered at the back of his commitment to his Father’s cause. But what does he get in return? Not only is he rarely appreciated but his Father regards and crowns the younger son when he comes back to his senses not him. What a betrayal? What an injustice the brother feels! So before we judge his teenage mood swing try walk in his footsteps a mile.

In our recent onsite Ministry Training Course at iServe Africa we looked at the book of Jonah with our second years and we met what Tim Keller calls the prodigal prophet. By the way if you haven’t studied Jonah as an adult I would recommend you do that. It’s not just about a moody prophet and the big fish. Like with the prodigal’s brother we realized we needed to walk a mile in Jonah’s muddy shoes before making a judgement call on his attitude towards Nineveh. Jonah is angry with God’s loving kindness and the second chance he gives to the evil undeserving city of Nineveh. But like the prodigal’s brother, a “good” religious person, he’s more angry with God’s character:

2 And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Jonah 4.

Most of us get angry with God when he seems not to care and act in our misfortunes but Jonah is angry when God acts on behalf of those he thinks are undeserving of his love and grace. But like with the prodigal’s brother the story is meant to make us ask is he right in being angry? And on one hand, we should sympathize with him especially when we realize what the Assyrians will do to his own people. But when we evaluate his own heart we find he falls short and we realize God’s love and grace is not something to be earned but lavished because no one can earn it. Nobody comes even closer to a 50-50 deal with God. Jonah is angry with a forgiving God and yet he desperately need and want that for himself. The prodigal’s brother hates the Father’s love and consideration of the younger one but wants it for himself despite his own flaws. In this incidence, he treats the Father as an investment portfolio and his service merely is transactional. Both of them judge by their standards and yet they fall short of those standards leave alone God’s high standards.

But the Gospel that saves the younger son is also what the elder brother needs. You see his commitment to his Father’s religion and business makes us blind of his own flaws. First of all he serves because of the reward and his affection is merely transactional (my extrapolation). To him service means reward instead of being in this relationship because he loves his Father. It’s about what he gets out of it instead of commitment to the one who calls him to his love. He’s so blinded by what he’ll get in the end that he doesn’t stop to ask how this relationship affects the Father, what does the Father get? So if we feel God’s character and judgement is an injustice to religious people then maybe we need to walk a mile in God’s shoes. An even greater injustice is committed against God by those who disregard his Gospel call for human religion and still demand a share of his heavenly home.

Moreover, the Bible teaches us God is a relational being which is one big fundamental difference between the God of the Bible and the God of Islam and the other religions. God is not just after people pleasing him by following a set of rules which he rewards with paradise. God is after relationship with his people like a good Father wants from his children. We see this right from creation, the story of Israel and it’s the aim of the eternal future that awaits those who trust and believe in God through Christ. God dwelling in perfect peace with his people in his holy city. Those who focus on the inheritance and evading his judgement miss on the driving force which is relationship. The Gospel is nothing if not an invitation to this relationship now and in eternity. 

While I sympathize with my friend, the prodigal brother and Jonah, one needs only look at their own flaws and see things from God’s perspective. There’s no heaven without a restored relationship with God and that cannot be attained by religion however zealous. Only the Gospel of Jesus guarantees it. Only the son who left heaven for our redemption can lead us back to God. He died that through him we might live and in John 3 we are told this was the Father extending his love and grace to our world, to the religious and irreligious, if only we would receive him. John summaries this amazing Chapter with these words:

36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. John 3

Whoever means anyone and everyone. The Gospel calls the prodigal’s brother as it appeals to the young reckless one. It begs the attention of the deeply traditional and religious man just as it does with the indifferent 21st century guy. And the judgement for those who reject and ignore this call is the same regardless of how zealous they are of their religion. God won’t be hoodwinked by vain observance of religion. He wants the whole of you not just your hand and feet for him, he wants your heart and mind. He wants a relationship and that is only attained by listening to his Word through his Son by the Gospel. 

As a young Christian brought up in a Christian background the kind of testimonies that showed God’s power are those of people like the Apostle Paul. It sounded powerful to say I was a drunkard and a criminal but when I heard the Gospel I run to Jesus for his mercy. Stories like I was a vehement atheist angry about God and I convinced many against him but one day God grabbed me by his loving kindness and I submitted to the Gospel message. It’s those who seemed to have lived in direct rebellion against God that have a story to tell. The rest of us good boys with respectable sins not so much.

Nobody said to me that indifference to God, living like God doesn’t exist and his Word doesn’t matter is such a grievous sin. You know those people you talk to and they quickly respond, I don’t subscribe to religion. I’m not into God and faith but I respect your need for it! Those who don’t mind having a Christian name and heritage but practice none of that. From our perspective we may not think that’s as sinful as cursing God and living in immorality. But that’s because we are not in the kind of relationship God is forced to be in with them. We are not the ones God has shown overwhelming love and grace and it’s been trampled upon with indifference.

In one of our Ministry Training Courses at iServe Africa, we are studying the book of Isaiah and right from Isaiah 1 God prosecutes Israel and Judah for her sin and rebellion against him. In Ch. 1-5 he shows that Israel and Judah are clearly culpable and deserve the coming judgement. He paints a vivid and gruesome picture that tells us these guys deserve the judgement God proclaims. And the picture and song of Isaiah 5 leaves us thinking these guys needs to be judged quickly and seriously.

But the sin that caught my attention is one we sometimes don’t see it’s depth and ugliness, that of indifference towards God. Ignoring what he has said and treating it with contempt like it means nothing to us. In a relationship, one might fear hate and anger but indifference is the worst of them all. When the other person shows you what you say and do makes no difference then you really do have a problem.

In the wider section of Isaiah Ch. 13-24 God prosecutes the nations and cities of the known world including Jerusalem in Ch. 22. An army is right on the door step of Jerusalem and you’d think now they’ll cry out to God and turn back to him. God has repeatedly called them out and sent his prophets like Isaiah to warn them of impending judgement. Perhaps now finally they’ll wake up from their drunken stupor. But to our surprise, this is how they respond:

12 The Lord, the Lord Almighty, called you on that day to weep and to wail, to tear out your hair and put on sackcloth. 13 But see, there is joy and revelry, slaughtering of cattle and killing of sheep, eating of meat and drinking of wine!
“Let us eat and drink,” you say,
“for tomorrow we die!”
Isaiah 22.

Like a rebellious teenager they do the complete opposite of that. And what’s worse, they don’t even care. God’s charge and clarion call is met with indifference. They don’t care how many times God has called them out. They don’t care about the fate that awaits them. They don’t care that even right now God is giving them a chance to repent. They go on with merry making, eating their last before taking on the disaster on their own. Can you imagine that? They’ve got to be crazy you say. But before you judge them too quickly have a look at our own world today.

You’d think disaster would finally wake our world and everyone would run to the Lord for help. And yes we ought to rejoice when we hear of those who have been interested to hear the Gospel from last year. We praise God for those COVID-19 came as a wake up call whether they were unbelievers, nominal or backsliding Christians. And for many of us who saw God’s love and grace amidst the pandemic and were strengthened in our faith and resolve to live for God and the spread of the Gospel.

But do not be surprised that you didn’t see the revival our churches have been seeking for years. Don’t be surprised that some of your attempts to reach friends and family fell on deaf ears despite the clear wake up call about the fragility of life under the sun. And right now when things are getting better in most parts of the world let it not surprise you how quickly we’ll move on away from what God started last year. To continue living like he doesn’t exist and his word is null and void to us.

Sometimes I wake up in the morning and the first thing that hits me is just how kind God has been over my life. I see his goodness all over, his breath of life, his provision, the beauty of his creation and that he’s given me a chance through the preaching of the Gospel. It makes me feel so lucky and privileged and then so sad to know I don’t always live up to that kindness. To know sometimes I make plans and start projects with little to no regard to him. I remember how often I take charge with little regard to his word and without seeking his help. It pains me deeply and yet I forget so quickly. May the Lord have mercy on us and work by his Spirit that we may see things clearly by the light of the Gospel.

It’s a sad reality when we see God’s people face judgement while we know it could have been avoided. When we realize all they needed was to heed and turn back to God. We get a small view of how God sees our world like a father seeing his children go astray despite calling them out repeatedly. And then we walk right ahead indifferent of his clarion call. How it must pain God to be in this relationship. If it were me I would have walked out years ago. But as we see in Isaiah and repeatedly across scripture God is not like man. He’s slow to anger and quick to forgive those who’d turn to him however indifferently we have lived our lives until now. The question is will you learn from Judah and act differently, to turn to him for salvation and to live in light of his Word? Or will you continue ignoring his clarion call of the Gospel, indifferent of his overwhelming love and grace and unconcerned of the coming Day of Judgement?

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By God’s grace, I’ve been thinking through what true repentance is made of, especially when it comes to the affections I feel. Most recently I’ve been thinking about the difference between shame and guilt. Both are Biblical words used in the diagnosis and punishment of sin but what do they really mean? Is there one more preferred than the other? How do they apply to repentance?

Let’s begin with understanding what these words mean. In its essence, the chief defining trait of shame, is embarrassment. Feelings of awkwardness mostly from being found out in wrongdoing. Guilt on the other hand, in its essence is about responsibility for an action. Feeling to blame for wrongdoing. Each can have some traits of the other but I think the chief difference is that of embarrassment versus responsibility.

How does this apply when we think about our sin before God and others? When we think about sin, it is not enough to simply know that something is bad and abominable before God, God cares for how we view it and what feelings it invokes in us. This is where shame and guilt come in. We need to feel both embarrassed and responsible for our sin. Embarrassed because we knew better and still went on and did it. Embarrassment because we did what we think others shouldn’t or did to others what we would not like to suffer from them – the embarrassment of our hypocrisy. The embarrassment of choosing what fails and is doomed to fail. I think this embarrassment is what God speaks about in Isaiah 1:29, when He speaks of redeeming Zion by justice. The effect is that those dwelling in Jerusalem as Isaiah is speaking will be ashamed of their idolatry because it will fail them and cause them to face God’s wrath!

But we must also feel responsible. That we deliberately took action and walked a certain path because we wanted to. That we are to blame for the choice and the consequences that followed. Guilt considers that God is right in His verdict of our sin and that we can give no defense; we are rightly accused and judged, indeed guilty! Isaiah at his call in Isaiah 6, sees God and is immediately conscious of his sin. He knows that he is guilty and deserving of death. “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” v5. He understands and takes ownership of his sin and knows that it means he is doomed.

How then do these two feelings work together in our repentance? Let us consider King David, his sin with Bathsheba and how shame and guilt work together in his repentance as seen in 2 Samuel 11 – 12  and Psalm 51. David sees a woman bathing, finds out she’s someone else’s wife and still calls her up to his room and sleeps with her. She gets pregnant and David devises this grand plan to have her husband sleep with her to cover up the pregnancy but when that fails, he plots Uriah’s death in war. He then takes Bathsheba to be his wife and bear his child. He does all this in secrecy thinking that he is all safe. But God has been watching and sends him a prophet to expose his sin. The prophet quite expertly exposes David’s sin through a story of injustice. David, as the ‘righteous’ ruler is rightly angered by the injustice and proclaims the proper judgement for the sinner. Prophet Nathan then says simply, “You are this man!” and goes ahead to proclaim Yahweh’s verdict and judgement on him.

How does David respond? “I have sinned against the LORD.” This, I think, is the result of shame and guilt. He is ashamed because he gets to see himself clearly. He is able to plainly see his actions in the light of what he knows and has received from Yahweh’s hand. He sees his hypocrisy plainly – how can he judge the unjust man in the story when he has done exactly the same thing to Uriah? His shame humbles him before the LORD to hear and accept responsibility for his sin. With things now so clear, with him off his high horse, then he can take responsibility for his actions, rightly confessing it, “I have sinned against the LORD.” Shame humbles the sinner and gives proper room for guilt to work to bring about confession and then hopefully godly sorrow that leads to repentance.

Psalm 51 records David’s response to the exposure of his sin. “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. . . For I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgement. . . Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me and I shall be whiter than snow. . . Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. . . Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. . .

The shame and guilt have worked out their proper course on the road to repentance for David. We shall do well to learn from him. When God mercifully exposes our sin, in private or public, we ought not to take quickly to trying to excuse/justify our sin. There is never a good reason for sin! Then we are to have a good look at our sin – to name it (blood-guiltiness) and understand what it is that we have believed, said and done that is contrary to God. Often times I’ve found that when I am aware of a sin, I want to skip this step of properly understanding and taking responsibility for it because I am so embarrassed by it. But what I am learning from this is that I do not properly feel the guilt of it – take proper responsibility for it, because I haven’t properly diagnosed the error. This means that I oftentimes stick at sinning because I’m busy trying to treat the symptoms and not the root of the problem. I’m busy trying to put out the fire without understanding its cause. “Let’s just move on!” yet we haven’t known what it is we are moving on/away from. I have found that it is when I have properly understood my sin that I can clearly confess it and then seek to turn away from it, which in fact is what repentance means! How can we ever hope to confess and turn from (repent) what we do not understand? How can we be equipped to recognize sin in its different guises when we’re not humbly taking responsibility for it, understanding it at its root? True repentance involves the pain of shame and guilt followed by the real confession of sin and seeking to turn away from the sin we have just confessed as God cleanses and helps us. Skipping any step leaves us simply wallowing in sin not mortifying it!

This article was written by Leah Kagure. 
Leah is a Ministry Training Facilitator at iServe Africa doing bible teaching,  mentorship and looking after female apprentices.

The author sets out to help readers think about how God has revealed himself through the pages of the Bible. The book is divided into four parts. Part one deals with the ‘why’ of biblical theology, part two deals with the ‘how’ of biblical theology, part three deals with the ‘what’ and part four with the ‘where’ of biblical theology.

In part one, the author sets out to tell us why it’s important for us to study biblical theology. The main reason is that we have problematic texts in the bible and thus having proper biblical theology will help us in dealing with them. Also, biblical theology helps us make a connection between the Old and the New Testaments through the person and work of Jesus Christ. Biblical theology gives us the bird’s eyes view of the bible as a whole and thus we are able to see the unity of the whole.

In part two, the author starts by highlighting that we can know God because he has made himself known. We can know him through his Son, Jesus Christ who is the truth. This Jesus is in fact the incarnate Word of God, who was with God and was God in the beginning (John 1:1). He is the fulfillment of Old Testament. All that the Old Testament speaks is about him and/or finds its ultimate fulfillment in him. The work of the bible student then is to not to start with the Old Testament and think how Jesus fits in but to start with Jesus and work backwards then work forward. This also implies that the scripture is what is to be studied in order to get the revelation of who God is and what he has done and is doing. The best way to study this scripture is in its literal-historical context and seeing how God’s redemptive work unfolds progressively from Genesis to Revelation. In doing this, there will be a need then to find a central theme that unifies the message of the bible.

In part three, which is the main section of the book, the author focuses on what the content of biblical theology is. He deliberately starts with clarifying what the gospel is- about Jesus Christ who is the first and the last. He then talks about creation- God, by his word, established a perfect creation which he loves and rules. But then the fall happened. Man in lasting after a throne that wasn’t there’s, rebels against God and thus loses the privileges that were his- fellowship with God is cut off, conflict (man – man, man – animal) is heightened, the ground is cursed and man is thrown out of the Garden of Eden. Things don’t remain the same again because we see how immediately and in the generations that follow, death, divisions and wickedness is what characterizes man. Even the most advanced civilization project initiated by man, without God, are in themselves a ‘setting up of self against God.’

But God’s dealings with his people are not all finished. He works so as to deal with the problem of human sin. He does this through covenants- Noah, Abraham, and consequently Isaac, Jacob and his descendants, David and through the new covenant through his Son Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament, we see God redeeming his people from slavery in Egypt and bringing them to the Promised Land. God’s people are given a set of laws they are to live by. This is to mark them as distinct from other nations and also to make them a light to other nations. The people of God fail in many ways.

The author also highlights the idea of kingship in the land. God is king of his people. Though the people err by asking for an earthly king, God allows it as it is what he had promised to Abraham and also in line with creation of man to rule over creation. The king was to fear God, obey his commands and not be against his people. The first king, Saul is rejected by God and replaced by David- a man after God’s own heart. God makes a covenant with him that his kingdom will be established forever and that his descendant will always be on the throne. Solomon partly fulfills this, the kingdom prospers but he fails as his heart is led astray from God by the foreign women that he married. The rest of Israel’s kings are disasters save for few like Josiah and Hezekiah.

God’s people are called to live wisely by remembering God’s saving acts and living in light of this. The prophets come on the scene as God’s mouthpiece, mediating between God and the people and calling them back to the covenant way of life. The people don’t heed and are thus taken to exile as an act of God’s judgment. After a period, they return to the land but this is only but a disappointment. At this point, as the author notes, the Old Testament is then an unfinished story giving way to Jesus who is its fulfillment. Jesus then is the new creation who makes new creations of all those joined to him by faith as they look forward to his coming back when he will make a new creation of everything. From the NT moving forward, Jesus has ushered in the kingdom and is drawing in people (the church) from different backgrounds.

Finally, in part four, the author gives two examples of how the study of biblical theology can be applied; a) the question of knowing God’s will and b) the question of life after death.

Methodology

The author uses a redemptive-historical method particularly focusing on the Kingdom of God as the unifying theme of the bible. He shows how this unfolds from creation, to fall, to redemption, to new creation. He highlights the three elements of this kingdom; God as ruler, the people and the created order. In creation, the kingdom is God’s creation where he is the ruler, the people are Adam & Eve and the creation order is the Garden of Eden. The central themes he deals with are creation/generation ex nihilo by the Word of God, God’s sovereignty, order and goodness of creation, image of God in man and responsibility of man. In the fall, there it’s as if things are hanging up in terms of God as ruler, the people and the creation order as everything is interrupted. Temptation, disobedience, judgment and death, broken relationship and God’s grace are the main themes.

When it comes to redemption, the author divides it up to different parts as he continues to trace the kingdom of God. In the story of Noah, God is still ruler, there’s the flood (for kingdom) and the ark is the world (creation order). The mains themes here are covenant, election and division of humans between elect and non-elect. In the story of Abraham, God is ruler, there are Abraham’s descendants as the people and Canaan as the land. The main themes are covenant, descendants of Abraham as God’s people, blessings to the nations and Promised Land. In the story of the exodus (through Moses), the LORD is the ruler, Israel is God’s special people (firstborn son) and Canaan is the land. The main themes are captivity, God’s covenant faithfulness, name of God, signs and wonders, supernatural redemption. With the giving of the law, the main themes are Sonship, law and grace, substitutionary sacrifice, and holiness. With Israel’s wilderness wanderings, the main themes are name of God, God dwelling with his people, Promised Land and Israel’s disobedience. With the people coming into the Promised Land, the main themes are Promise of possession, the Lord’s holy war and Conquest.

The author then looks at kingship particularly with David as the representative. The LORD is ruler. A special focus is on David’s line as the people and on the temple in Jerusalem as the place. Judgeship, kingship, temple, covenant, order, fear of the Lord and regeneration of the mind are the key themes. For the prophets, the LORD is ruler. The people are the faithful remnant and the place is the new temple and Jerusalem. The main themes are redemption, revelation of God in his saving acts and prophetic revelation of kingdom yet to come. In the New Testament believers, the trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) is in charge. The people are all who have believed in Jesus (saved by grace through faith). They are in Christ who is the new temple yet they themselves are also temples. The key themes are regeneration and the tension between the two ages (the now and not yet). And finally in the New Creation, the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) rules. The people are God’s people in his presence in the new heaven and earth. The key themes are regeneration of whole creation and Christ’s second coming and consummation.

Comments:

The book is so helpful in bringing out the theme of the Kingdom of God. This is one big theme that the author so clearly follows in tracing the story of the bible. One can see how the bible fits together using kingdom as the main theme. But even before dealing with the issue of what biblical theology is, the author did well in part one in stating first why biblical theology and in part two how biblical theology should be done. The fact that we only know God because he has made himself known by his Son through scripture brings confidence to the authority of God’s word and the need to rely on it in a time when anything else is seen as reliable but God’s Word.

The book is also helpful in the way the author writes with clarity and summarizes the main idea and keeps coming back to them. He charts his path clearly and the reader can easily follow along. This book can thus be read by anyone. The book is Christ-centered rather than being man-centered and thus we are able to see what God is doing even in the midst of passages/stories where we (21st century readers) would want to jump in and think it’s about us.

There were a number of things that weren’t clear (weakness of the book). First, kingdom is a good category and the author rightly stated how in this kingdom, the elements are God as ruler, the people under his rule and the creation order (world). In walking through the different stages of God’ revelation (creation, fall, redemption, new creation), these elements somehow were vague. For example, looking at Abraham, Moses, David, one cannot tell exactly what the kingdom is. Is it the person? Is it where they live? This could have been clear.

Second, some of the conclusions reached by the author are not helpful in my view. He says “if we can imagine God drawing up the plans for the universe before he created it, and if we could examine these plans, we would not see Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, but Jesus Christ in the gospel” (page 60) which is for me, it is a wild claim. Yes, I agree Jesus is the focal point and is the start and the end. But in saying that if we examine God’s plans we wouldn’t even see Adam and Eve in the garden, one wonders then why God would have to go the ‘pain’ of creating Adam and Eve in the first place! I believe both are important in our understanding of biblical theology and so they are part of God’s plans. He also says “It is important to see that Jesus did not come because the time was fulfilled, but rather he fulfilled the time by coming.” (Page 72). Well, I think it’s both, the time was fulfilled and Jesus fulfilled the time. I believe God worked it in such a way that “at just the right time” Jesus came.

Overall, this is a good book that I recommend to anyone interested in biblical theology whether starting or is already a student of biblical theology

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Big house, car, name or disease, poverty and suffering?

This question has been in my mind lately thanks to some wonderful brothers and sisters who we meet with weekly for Bible study. They are very honest about the struggle to believe and live out the things we learn from the Word as believers; some Bible truths are so hard to swallow and occasionally you will have people openly say ‘no’ or ‘I can’t believe that’. Being the one in ‘full time ministry’ has left me sometimes with the task of attempting to answer some of these objections but even then I have always gone home with questions half answered or not satisfied with the answers.

I am seated at my reading table and this question of what’s God’s will for me comes to my mind. I believe it’s a question in the minds of many, caught between the prosperity gospel movement (decree and declare) vs. persecution and suffering. I think that while many disapprove of the former, the latter is not attractive, it’s gloomy and doesn’t sound like good news at all. Surely disease and suffering is not good news. It’s almost a case of fake vs nothing.

I must confess that I do not have a satisfying answer, maybe just a thought. But there is no better place to look for it than in the Bible, the Word of God, his breath and indeed that which he has clearly given for our benefit. It’s able to instruct us and make us wise for salvation (2 Timothy 3:15). The assumption here is that we believe in God and in Jesus Christ as the only way to the Father and that our Father cares for us and that his word is for our good. If so, then we are on the same page.

Back to the Start

It is clear from Genesis that God had designed the earth to be a beautiful nice place (Gen. 1:31). It was good and man was the epitome of that as God creates him in His own image and places him in a beautiful garden that had everything; food, rivers, different trees bearing fruits (Gen. 2), and God himself is around having fellowship with man. He was even entrusted with the responsibility of managing the earth and everything else on behalf of God. Certainly it’s easy to note that God wanted the best for mankind, nothing you can ever imagine or desire in life now is better than what was in the Garden of Eden – Love, food, joy, power/authority (Adam calling the lions and hyenas). It’s amazing, no hustle, everything is wonderful.

But we all know that did not last for long, man wanted more. More than food, love, authority and fellowship with God. The devil was there shouting ‘yes you can’, ‘you’ve got all it takes’, ‘you have the seed of greatness’, ‘exploit your full potential’. In other words ‘you can be god yourself’. The devil masquerades as a herald of good, as one who wants the best for man yet that is not what he gives. We should be wary of his schemes. He is the father of all lies who always pretends to be on our side, he comes in shoes of peace but brings destruction, dressed in truth but speaks lies. He hasn’t changed! Even so-called evolution has not changed him! Same old! We well know the results of man’s attempt to be God – the curse on the people and of the earth itself. Everything that was good is no longer that good. Even the wife that had excited Adam is no longer that good of a helper; she wants to be the ‘man’ as well.

Away from the garden (and all its goodness) and from God, death and murder now becomes part of man. Rivalry and competition is the order of the day, the ground no longer producing food without hard toil. Instead of love, hatred. God’s will for man was to enjoy God, delight in what He created and to glorify him forever but the rebellion turned everything upside down.

How about Now?

But God’s will is still on course for he had already planned how the beautiful, joyful and tear-free relationship would happen and he continues to call out for man! Where are you? From Genesis all the way through the Prophets, God continues to call man to himself but man continues to believe in a lie, and is clothed with shame and sin (Gen. 3). But God has a plan! His plan is to clothe man with Christ’s righteousness, to restore that fellowship for him to be able to enjoy God and his creation (Rom. 3:21-22). The new creation in Revelation is like the Garden of Eden reloaded! It’s full of rivers, love, power, and more than that God is there 24/7. No thieves or corruption, no unemployment (everyone is a full time worshiper and ‘reign-er’), no tears, no death- we live forever (Rev. 21:1-8).

All that sounds nice and good but what about now? Surely we are not in the new creation yet as is quite evident. We are on a journey towards the new creation (for believers). It’s like being on the way to collect your salary, you might not be able to buy stuff on the way but you will after you have received it. You might be hungry on the bank queue but you are assured of at least being able to buy food in the end. Those illustrations are not exactly suitable as our journey is full of unknowns, brokenness, fear, disease, hunger, death, mourning but the goal is sure, certain and fulfilling. We must keep ourselves focused on the goal and not be derailed on the way. An athlete will have people on the sides cheering him and others ridiculing him and he must be careful not to focus on any of them but to keep looking forward. Whether a ‘fat’ bank account or only an M-Pesa account, whether we suffer want or disease or persecution or whether we have plenty, God’s will is for us to remain anchored in Him and focused on the new creation. His will is not just wishful thinking but a sure, certain and planned joy and fellowship.

So what’s God’s will for me? It is satisfaction, hope and trust in him and Jesus Christ and His promise for an eternity together with him. So whether in suffering or disease, or nice family and car, he wants me to have him forever. God’s will is for me whether in poverty or riches, health or sickness, is to be satisfied and for him to be glorified in me. That I will honour God in awe and he shall be the object of my worship, be thankful to Him and that I will be daily putting my trust in Christ Jesus for salvation.

Peter Kamau

(Ministry Training Facilitator, iServe Africa)

As we have already seen before, Jesus’ earthly ministry is largely about preaching. Mark the evangelist says “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’ (Mark 1:14-15). At the start of his ministry, Jesus preaches. Someone said that ‘God had only one Son, and He made Him a preacher.[1] In Matthew’s gospel, we see huge sections of Jesus’ teaching, the most famous being ‘the Sermon on the Mount’ (Matthew 5-7). In Luke’s gospel, after Jesus goes to the temple, he picks up the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, reads it and “then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone were fastened on him. He begun by saying to them, ‘Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’ (Luke 4:17-21). We see again that his ministry is that proclaiming the good news of the kingdom. In John, Jesus powerfully teaches Nicodemus on the need for him to be born-again and about his mission “No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven – the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” (John 3:13-15).

Scripture also attests elsewhere to Jesus, the incarnate Son of God being the word of God. He is the Word become flesh (John 1:14). He is the one who was heard and seen, looked and touched by the apostles’ hands. He is the one proclaimed by the apostles- the Word of life. (1 John 1:1-4). The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews says “In the past, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom, he also made the universe.” (Hebrews 1:1-2). Jesus is the Word of God. To proclaim the Word is to proclaim Jesus.

The apostles were charged by Jesus to preach. The great commission in Matthew 28:16-20 has the command to make disciples. This involves a number of things, chief of which is preaching (teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you). ‘Christ Himself knows best how to build and prosper His Church, and we have His order as to what is best done in that connection.[2] We see then after Jesus is ascended to heaven, on the Day of Pentecost, the apostles empowered by the Spirit, proclaim this Christ. Peter opens up Joel and preaches Christ- fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 2:22). He explained the scriptures and “with many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.” (Acts 2:40-41). The church was formed and grew by the preaching of the men who had been with Jesus.

The apostles gave themselves over to the preaching of the Word. We see later on, when there was a temptation to divert their attention to other things, they resolved to give their attention to prayer and to the ministry of the Word. (Acts 6:4). Their writings are full of their commitments to preach Christ and exhortations to preach Christ (Romans 1:16-17, 1 Corinthians 2:2, 15:1-8, 2 Timothy 4:1-5, 1 Peter 1:10-12).

The church in the 21st Century has a lot to learn from Jesus and his apostles. It’s time we prioritised preaching and do it well.

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[1] Greg Haslam, Preach the Word!: The Call and Challenge of Preaching Today (Lancaster [England: Sovereign World, 2006), 34.

[2] Haslam, 34.