LOOKING FORWARD TO (2020)
6So when [the disciples] had come together, they asked [Jesus], “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7[Jesus] replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:6-8)
Here in Acts 1, the eleven disciples (and others) were together with the risen Lord Jesus, and the disciples showed that they had totally misread the significance of Jesus’ resurrection, because they had thought that Jesus’ resurrection was centered upon restoring Israel to the top seat on the world’s stage.
- The disciples’ question revealed that their thinking was far too narrow, and their question revealed that their worldview was far too parochial.
Now, when we read the Scriptures, we certainly need to take careful notice of what Jesus said, but we also need to be very aware of what Jesus did not say. When we read the Scriptures, we need to take careful notice of the questions that Jesus did answer and how he answered them, but we also need to be very aware of the questions that Jesus did not answer.
- For example, in the short passage that we just read, Jesus totally ignored the disciples’ question about restoring the kingdom to Israel; he only picked up on the issue of times and seasons.
Why did Jesus totally ignore the disciples’ question about the restoration of Israel? One reason that Jesus totally ignored the disciples’ question about the restoration of Israel was because Jesus doesn’t do restoration.
- Jesus is YHWH, and YHWH does not do restoration.
Restoration is defined as: “The action of returning something to a former owner, to a former place, or to a former condition.” Restoration, by definition, looks backwards, and YHWH never looks backwards. Jesus’ disciples were looking backwards, but Jesus the Christ who is YHWH always looks forward.
Reading the whole of the Scriptures makes it absolutely clear that YHWH is always doing a new thing. Jesus the Christ, who is YHWH, is always doing a new thing. Therefore, the people of YHWH must stop looking backwards, and they must stop hoping – and praying – for any kind of restoration, because restoration will never happen.
- YHWH will never turn back the clock to a previous time, and YHWH will never return anything or anybody to a previous state.
- YHWH never goes backwards.
- YHWH never returns to the old things.
- YHWH never does something for a second time just because it worked well the first time around.
YHWH always looks ahead. YHWH always works renewal in his people and in the nations of the earth – YHWH never does restoration in any shape or form. Jesus the Christ who is YHWH never does restoration in any shape or form. Therefore, as YHWH’s people we need to:
LEARN FROM THE PAST;
LIVE IN THE PRESENT;
LOOK TO THE FUTURE.
Hope looks forward; regret looks back. Faith looks forward; wishful thinking looks back. So, in order to develop this thinking and understanding, I will restate that saying in this way:
LEARN FROM THE PAST;
LIVE IN THE PRESENT;
LOOK TO THE PROMISE.
What promises from YHWH have we received long ago and that are dormant and just stored away deep inside us? Is it time for those promises to be activated?
YHWH ALWAYS LOOKS FORWARD.
YHWH made people with eyes at the front of their heads.
- In order for people to look backwards they have to turn around and, in doing so, they automatically stop looking forward.
People who are looking backward are not moving forward.
- Trying to walk forward while only looking backwards is a seriously bad idea, but many Christians live in exactly that way.
People must certainly learn from the past, but no-one can ever relive the past. People must certainly prepare for the future, but no-one can ever return to the past. We can certainly look back with thanksgiving into the past and be grateful for where we are now. We can certainly learn from the past with its lessons and experiences that were both good and bad, and we should learn from those experiences. But we cannot return to the past, and nothing of the past can be restored.
Now I return to the question with which I started:
WHY DID JESUS TOTALLY IGNORE THE DISCIPLES’ QUESTION ABOUT RESTORING THE KINGDOM TO ISRAEL?
Because the disciples already had the answer to their question but, although they had previously heard Jesus speak the answer, they had not actually received that answer. When the disciples asked Jesus the question about the restoration of Israel, they had clearly forgotten what Jesus had already taught them, as recorded by Matthew.
28Jesus said to the disciples, “Truly I tell you, at the RENEWAL OF ALL THINGS, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel, 29and EVERYONE who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life.” (Matthew 19:28,29)
How many people are excluded from “everyone”?
- Jesus is totally inclusive and no-one is excluded.
If ALL things are going to be renewed, how many things are left for restoration?
YHWH always lights new fires; he never wastes energy trying to revive old fires. John, the youngest of Jesus’s disciples, had himself heard what Jesus had said about the renewal of all things as recorded by Matthew and, many years later and in a very different place, John heard Jesus say it again:
1Then I saw a NEW heaven and a NEW earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2And I saw the holy city, the NEW Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband… 5And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things NEW.” (Revelation 21:1,2,5)
There will never be any restoration of any kind. There will never be any return to the original garden. There will never be any return to an environment in which the personification of sin is present. YHWH does not do restoration.
YHWH ALWAYS RENEWS.
DO NOT REMEMBER THE FORMER THINGS, OR CONSIDER THE THINGS OF OLD. I AM ABOUT TO DO A NEW THING; NOW IT SPRINGS FORTH, DO YOU NOT PERCEIVE IT? WHO HAS ANNOUNCED FROM OF OLD THE THINGS TO COME? DO NOT FEAR, OR BE AFRAID; HAVE I NOT TOLD YOU FROM OF OLD AND DECLARED IT? YOU ARE MY WITNESSES! (Isaiah 43:18,19 and 44:7,8)
1I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes and cleans to make it bear more fruit. 3You have already been pruned and cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. 9As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. (John 15:1-11)
As we come to think about YHWH the Father as the gardener of John 15, we must first take note of Alistair McGrath’s insight: ‘To be a real theologian is to wrestle with none other than the living God – not with ideas about God, but with God himself.’ This is personal; this is relationship. This is not about doctrine, this is not about theology, this is not about opinion; this is about ongoing personal encounters with the living God YHWH. Not just one personal encounter with the living God YHWH, but continual personal encounters with the living God YHWH.
In John 15, Jesus spoke of his Father in heaven as the gardener. Gardeners prune and clean in season – not randomly and nor do they do it without purpose. Jesus’ Father is the gardener who both cleans and prunes. In verses two and three, the Greek word translated as ‘prunes’ or ‘cleans’ is actually the same word in Greek, and it is a matter of integrity to translate the word as ‘cleans’ or as ‘prunes’ in each verse, instead of varying the translation from one verse to the other as many English translations actually do. In fact, the Greek usage of the verb and the construct of the sentence indicates that both meanings should always be taken together, and it would therefore be legitimate and appropriate to translate with both meanings both times, as I did in the passage above.
Those people who lives are being transformed by the cleaning and pruning hand of YHWH are the people who have drawn near to him in the past, who do draw near to him in the present, and who will continually draw near to him in the future. The whole purpose of pruning and cleaning is to encourage a greater degree of fruitful new growth. The gardener cleans and prunes us so that we will be even more fruitful. This is fascinating, and yet, in many ways, it is actually the opposite of what many Christians actually believe. Why? Because, when YHWH cleans and prunes, he does so with an eye to our future.
- YHWH does not clean and prune with an eye to the past, nor does YHWH even clean and prune only with an eye to the present.
- YHWH cleans and prunes for my benefit because of what I am to become, not because of what is in my past.
Pruning looks forward – not backward. Pruning looks to greater fruitfulness to come rather than the mistakes of the past. In other words, the gardener’s cleaning and pruning is love-focused for the future, not sin-focused on the past. The gardener’s cleaning and pruning is fruit-focused – not behaviour-focused. YHWH cleans and prunes us not because of our sin, but because of his love.
Now, the cleaning and pruning that Jesus spoke of is primarily communal – not primarily individual. YHWH’s cleaning and pruning is to be experienced far more in community than it is by individuals.
Why is it that people who are at the very center of church life may have no intimate relationship with God in Christ even though that is what is preached and taught? Why is that institutionalised ‘churchianity’ has left far behind the simplicity of a love relationship with God in Christ far behind and has instead decayed into a sophisticated (and yet Godless) religion?
The world can often see at a glance what the church is blind to: That the church is all-too-often utterly superficial. As Richard Foster once observed many years ago: ‘Superficiality is the curse of our age. The doctrine of instant satisfaction is a primary spiritual problem.’ On this very theme, Martin Lloyd-Jones said many decades ago: ‘The main trouble in the church today – and I am speaking of evangelical churches in particular at this point – is the appalling superficiality.’ Yes, we know that the world is itself existing on a diet of superficiality and of temporary fashion of every kind, but the point is this – the church is often actually eating from exactly the same menu as the world, even while church claims to be different from the world.
The warnings about this for our present generation were sounded many decades ago by people like A.W. Tozer, Martin Lloyd-Jones and C.S. Lewis, but we dismissed them as alarmists and extremists instead of hearing them as prophets; surely now we have reaped what has been sown. What of the thousands upon thousands of people who attend church faithfully but have no depth of life in Christ? What of those churchgoers who are blown here and there with every spiritual fashion spouted in the trendiest language by the latest guru?