In this story our Lord spoke of the moment when an estranged father and son were reunited at last. The son had left home, spurning his father’s love and care, forgetting his father’s needs and feelings, living for himself and his own pleasures only, and no doubt blotting out the memory of a father for many a long year.
Until he was brought up short by his own needs. When money ran out, when friends deserted him for the newest, wealthy, Johnny-come-lately, he faced life alone – and remembered the good old days and a kind father. ‘When he had come to himself,’ he thought of home and returned home.
Only to find his father had never forgotten him and was waiting for him with a welcome that showed both grace and mercy. Just as God has shown us.
In the quiet place
at close of day
He washes the feet of my mind from the dust of its fret.
His infinite eyes
see the staining wounds of the road, his hands
The grace of His health
restores my soul
her place in the circling stars of perpetual praise.
Then, taking again the seam-less robe, the Alpha-Omega,
Master and Lord,
we talk together
friend with friend.
Joan A Bidwell.
This simple poem recalls the night when our Lord washed His disciples’ feet. He stressed to them that those who had been bathed that morning (washed all over) only needed to have their feet washed at the end of the day. The ‘bathing’ signifies new birth, being born again. That only happens once, when our sins were washed away by the blood of Jesus Christ. What believers need on a daily basis is to have the soiling of daily sin removed to make us feel clean before God. So, when the believer reads his Bible and spends time with the Lord, He washes our feet from the sin and dirt of daily living in a a fallen world.
I want my heart so cleared of self
That my dear Lord can come
And set up His own furnishings,
And make my heart His home.
And since I know what this requires
Each morning, while it’s still,
I slip into that secret place
And leave with Him my will.
He always takes it graciously,
Presenting me with His;
I’m ready, then, to meet the day
And any task there is.
And this is how my Lord controls
My interests, my ills,
Because we meet at break of day
For an exchange of wills.
Anna Jane Grannis
I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year,
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied, “Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light, and safer than a known way.”
May that Almighty Hand guide and uphold us all.
It was 1939, at the outbreak of World War Two, when King George V1 broadcast perhaps the most famous speech he ever made. To listen to it now, on the BBC archives, is to hear the quiet dignity of a man who had a stammer that he fought all his life to control, a battle recently featuring in the award-winning film, THE KING’S SPEECH. It is also to hear the quiet faith of the head of a nation, an empire and a commonwealth, passing on to his subjects hope for the dark times that he feared lay ahead.
In that famous speech, the king quoted lines from a poem written by a Minnie Haskins, which had been published in 1908 in a collection of her verse entitled GOD KNOWS. Some have thought she was an American, but she was actually brought up near Bristol. It is said that the image of the man standing at the gate of the year came to her as she stood at an upstairs balcony window one night, looking down the lit driveway to the gate of her house in Warmley, and seeing the darkness beyond it. She herself said she did not know the king was going to quote it in his Christmas broadcast in 1939, nor did she hear the speech, but heard a summary of it and thought she recognized the words. The poem had been given to the king by his wife, Queen Elizabeth, known to most of us since as Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. It stayed with the Queen Mother all her life, and was recited at her funeral in Westminster Abbey over sixty years later.
The lines of the poem quoted by the king sum up a great hunger in the heart of most men and women to know what the future holds. Countless thousands of people show that need to know by going to fortune-tellers, clairvoyants, and others who claim to be able to tell us the future. And wouldn’t we all like to know what the future holds! There are so many uncertainties around us. Will I keep my job, will I ever find a job, will I be able to pay my mortgage, will I lose my house, will I survive this illness?
Benjamin Franklin is reputed to have said, ‘in the world nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes’. The Bible says nothing about taxes (apart from the fact that we all need to pay them!) but it does tell us ‘it is appointed unto men once to die and after this the judgement’. So God adds the judgement day to the certainties that lie ahead of us. He is a holy and a righteous God, who will not and cannot overlook our sin. He reminds us that all, with the sole exception of his son the Lord Jesus, have sinned, falling short of his standard of purity, and that the wages of sin is death.
Can we avoid death and judgement? Are they inevitable, after all? Yes, we can avoid the judgement day. God, in love and mercy to sinners, sent his son, known as Jesus of Nazareth, to die on a cross. Men put him to a vicious death because they hated him without a cause, refusing to believe what he taught. Yet God Himself was deeply involved in the death of his son, viewing him as the willing substitute for sinners, bearing our sin and shame, and so judging his son on that cross for sin he had never done. The Lord Jesus suffered, the just in the place of the unjust, to bring us to God. So God will now forgive the sin of all who turn away from their sinful ways, believing that Christ died for sinners upon the cross, and claiming him as their substitute, the one who died in their place. In this way, a holy God can forgive sin, and spare sinners His judgement, seeing their sin as having already been judged when his son died on the cross. And for those who believe and trust in Christ, taking him as their Lord and Saviour, there will be no judgement day. The judgement day for those of us who believe in him does not lie in the future, beyond the grave. For us, the judgement day has already taken place at Calvary, though it was not we who were judged then. Our sins were judged, and our punishment for them borne, by our substitute, Jesus Christ.
Uncertain of the future? Put your hand in the hand of God. That will be better to you than light, and safer than a known way. Trust in his son, and you will know that he has already faced and dealt with death and judgement for you. Go forward, then, knowing that although you do not know the future you know the one who holds the future, and you, in his hand.
The problem of taxes, however, is another matter!
It was a lovely spring day when he took the boat to the river to sail it and he headed for the best place – a little sandy beach hidden by the rushes where he had once found a moorhen’s nest. It was perfect sailing weather, windy but sunny, and as he launched his boat the breeze caught its sails and bore it out into the amber water of the current. He squatted at the edge and gave play to the string. In a few minutes he would move on, but first he would take time to admire the beauty of the boat.
So absorbed was he, that he never heard the voices just behind him, and he jumped when three boys much older than he slid down the rushes and squatted beside him. He clutched the string tightly, for these were not boys he knew. ‘Here, give us a go’, said the oldest. ‘Well, only for a minute’, said John. ‘I’m about to pull her in’. He felt nervous and alone, for these boys were much bigger than he. The biggest lad had already tugged the string from his hand and was hauling in the boat, pulling it over on its side and drenching its sails. As it approached the bank, John suddenly found himself tipped into a bed of nettles and rushes. His hands squelched in the soft mud and dirt flew into his eyes, blinding him momentarily. When at last he had struggled to his feet, there was neither boy nor boat to be seen – only the trampled weeds and the weeping willows. He scrambled up the bank but the boys had disappeared and he did not even know in which direction they had gone. There was nothing he could do. Besides, if he did catch them, he could not do much against the three of them, so he wiped his hands and turned for home. When his parents returned, his father set out at once to make enquiries, but no one in the locality had seen the three strange boys. John was very quiet at supper-time. His father offered to help him make another one, but John knew it would not be the same. He would never forget that first boat.
The weeks passed and John and his father made another boat and sailed it on the river but John did not forget the first one. Sometimes he would lie awake and remember the shine of the paint and the billowing of the sails and wonder where it had got to. One afternoon he cycled into town to buy a birthday present for his mother and having found what he wanted, he took a shortcut home through the narrow back streets. He loved the pokey little second-hand junk shops, and dawdled along gazing in at the windows. Suddenly he stopped dead, for there in the centre of a shop window, along with an old guitar and a brass coal scuttle, stood his boat.
Propping his bicycle against the wall, he burst into the shop. ‘That boat in the window’, he gasped. ‘It’s mine! I made it’. The little old shop-keeper looked at him over his spectacles. ‘On the contrary, young man, its mine. I bought it off some boys a couple of weeks ago. It’s not long been in the window’. ‘But I made it’, cried John. ‘It’s mine, it really is. Please give it to me’. ‘Not unless you pay the proper price for it’, said the shop-keeper. John realized he was going to have to get some money for his boat, and quickly too, as he was desperate to ensure no-one else bought it in the meantime. He sped home, and there was his father, gardening. ‘Dad’, he shouted breathlessly. ‘May I borrow some money off you? I will work for it. I’ll clean the car, mow the lawn or do anything you want. But my boat is in the window of a second-hand shop in town, and I don’t want anyone else to buy it’. His father sighed, thinking of his roses, then said, ‘Hop into the car. You can’t bring the boat home on your bike or you will mess up the rigging. Let’s go’.
The old shop-keeper was about to put up his shutters when John rushed to the shop. ‘I’ve got the money’, John shouted. ‘Please let me have my boat’. The old man chuckled. ‘I’ll sell you my boat’, he replied, handing it over. They drove home in silence, John examining his treasure. Only when they reached the gate did he speak. ‘You know, Dad’, he said, ‘I was thinking, this boat belongs to me twice now. I made it and I bought it. Isn’t that something?’ ‘Yes’, said his father with a twinkle in his eye. ‘All the more reason to take great care of it’.
In the same way, God created us for Himself, but we were snatched away by the devil, and began to live selfishly and disobediently, preferring to please ourselves and thus coming under the power and control of the devil. But God Himself sent His Son Jesus Christ into our world. He was crucified on the cross and there paid the penalty for sin with His own life. The ransom price to bring us back to the ownership of God was not silver and gold, but the blood of Jesus Christ God’s son. God redeemed all who believe on Jesus Christ there at the cross, and can therefore claim as His own all those who accept and trust in His Son. He can claim them as twice His own – made by Him and bought by Him. Is that true of you? You are not your own, ‘for you are bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s’. 1 Corinthians 6. 20, NKJV.
Patricia St. John
from Can You Believe It
Thou didst seek after me, that thou didst wait,
Wet with unhealthy dews, before my gate,
And pass the gloomy nights of winter there?
Oh, strange delusion, that I did not greet
Thy blest approach! and oh, to heaven how lost
If my ingratitude’s unkindly frost
Has chilled the bleeding wounds of thy feet!
How oft my guardian angel gently cried,
‘Soul, from thy window look, and thou shalt see
How He persists to knock and wait for thee!’
And, oh, how often to that voice of sorrow,
‘Tomorrow we will open’, I replied,
And when the morrow came, I answered still,
Lope de Vega, 1562-1635
This is a poetic take on the plea of our Lord in Revelation 3:20, where He says, ‘Behold! I stand at the door and knock. If any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him and sup with him, and he with me’. Our Lord here speaks to believers, not to unbelievers. One might even say He speaks to a local church of believers. The point is that, even as believers, we so often lock Him out of hearts, out of our lives, out of our experience. Yet patiently He waits for us to open the door of our hearts, not that He might gives us salvation, but that He might give us His love and communion. Yet how often we still say to Him, ‘Tomorrow’.
A soft answer turneth away wrath, but grievous words stir up anger. Proverbs 15. 1
The natural thing to do when someone is angry with you is to reply in anger: yet how often we regret the words once they are out of our mouths. The tongue, despite being such a small part of the body, has an influence very much inverse to its size. How many wars, conflicts, divorces, suicides, divisions and distresses have been caused by angry words and unruly tongues!
One writer has said, ‘We yield to irritation, retort upon our neighbour, have recourse to self-justification, insist upon the last word, say all that we could say…. Neither party gives up an atom of the will. Pride and passion on both sides strike together like two flints, and what a fire is kindled.’ It is almost as though we would rather lose a friend than lose face.
How happy must he be who never regrets the swift retort, the angry response, the sarcastic dig, the instinctive bite of the tongue. The sign of a wise person is not his or her business acumen, nor is it their extensive knowledge of a subject. It is the ability to control the tongue. The ‘soft answer’ which turns away wrath – the kind reply or the gentle comment, in other words – is like water that quenches a flame, defusing a potential row. ‘Grievous words,’ however – the nasty, unkind reaction – are like oil that causes a fire to blaze all the more’.
We who, in this modern world, claim Jesus Christ to be our Lord and Saviour are encouraged to be compassionate and understanding to one another, ‘not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing; but [on the contrary] blessing,’ 1 Peter 3. 9. After all, our Lord is our great Example in this, for when He was reviled, He ‘reviled not again; when he suffered he threatened not, but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously,’ 1 Peter 2. 23. Think before you reply; it will make all the difference. It is far better to walk away from an altercation regretting what the other person said, rather than regretting what you said.
No room for the baby at Bethlehem’s inn,
Only a cattle shed;
No room on this earth for the dear Son of God,
Nowhere to lay His head;
Only a cross did they give to my Lord,
Only a borrowed tomb;
Today He is seeking a place in your heart,
Will you still say to Him, ‘No room!’
‘O Lord, in my heart there’s a welcome for Thee,
Gladly I now would say,
Come in, blessed Saviour, my heart and my life
Henceforth would hold Thy sway;
Long hast Thou waited and long knocked in vain,
Outside my heart’s closed door;
O cleanse me from sin, then dear Lord enter in,
And dwell there for evermore.’
The English idiom ‘escaped by the skin of one’s teeth’ is derived from this graphic expression in the book of Job. One of the main themes of the book is the problem of suffering. At the beginning of the book we find Job well blessed, with a large family, considerable wealth and great prospects. In the first and second chapters of the book, however, Job faces desperate grief as all his children die and he loses everything, including his health. Even his wife advises him to ‘curse God and die.’ Job, however, remains resolute. In the face of bereavement, he bows his head and says, ‘the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord’, and in response to the loss of everything he affirms, ‘though he slay me, yet will I trust him.’ In doing so he shows us that suffering is sometimes brought upon us to prove that our faith is real and that we are not fair-weather believers, loving God only when everything is well with us. Sometimes suffering comes, too, so that our response of ‘faith-come-what-may’ brings glory to God. In the end, God restores all to Job, and more besides.
To ‘escape by the skin of one’s teeth’ has been used for centuries to mean ‘to have a narrow escape.’ Whether this is what the original Biblical expression actually means is open to debate. It is, however, used in situations where survival or rescue is achieved at the last minute, or only-just. Perhaps someone misses a flight that subsequently crashes, or climbs out of the wreckage of a write-off. It could also be used of someone who leaves it to the very last minute to get right with God, and yet succeeds in doing so. When a man or woman, who has lived a life without God, repents just before they die and rests all hope of peace with God in the death of Christ on the cross, it can be said of them that they were saved by the skin of their teeth. This is simply because the Bible always tells us to get right with God the moment we believe He is speaking to us, calling us to faith in Him and warns us not to leave it until tomorrow. We do not know whether we will see tomorrow. ‘Now is the accepted time, behold now is the day of salvation,’ 2 Cors. 6. 2.
Two thieves were crucified with the Lord Jesus. One believed and trusted in Christ at the last moment. His experience shows that God can still receive a sinner who repents last minute, while there is yet life and consciousness, and asks to be saved from God’s judgement on sin; but only one was saved, so that no-one should presume that such vital matters as gaining peace with God should be left to the last moment. Don’t bank on a death-bed conversion, will you. You may not be given one. If God is calling you, come now.
He that is surety for a stranger shall smart for it.. Proverbs 11. 15.
A friend of mine, with his wife, moved to Britain a while ago. John had emigrated from Botswana to the UK to read for a post-graduate degree in Bath University. He had been a primary school teacher for several years, and had taught our children when we were resident in Botswana. His wife is a qualified pharmacist, who had run single-handedly a pharmacy in Francistown. Both were mature – in their forties – had been married to each other for twenty years and had put aside money to fund John’s post-graduate degree.
Given, then, that they were a mature, professional couple, who intended to settle in Bath for post-graduate studies and had funds available, one could be forgiven for thinking that finding a flat would not be difficult. Try it. Some estate agents would hardly give them the time of day as, wishing to be sensible in their use of funds, they did not want to rent a sumptuous apartment. Others refused even to consider them as John was ‘ a student’ and ‘We don’t rent to students’, or because they were self-funding and had no guaranteed income. Whatever happened to self-help and independence these days?
Happily, one estate agent was willing to rent to them, providing they could get good references. Was I prepared to give them a reference? Of course I was. I had the highest opinion possible of them and was even prepared to stand surety for them, guaranteeing payment of the rent if necessary. I am sure you would have done the same.
To stand surety for a friend is one thing, however. To stand surety for a total stranger is another. Would I give a good reference and be willing to bail out a total stranger should the need arise? Probably not. The proverb above tells us that one who is willing to stand as guarantee for a stranger may get into trouble – may ‘smart for it.’ We would think twice about that. Yet Christ Himself stood surety for sinners when we were not just strangers to Him, we were even enemies. He suffered on the cross, ‘the just for the unjust that He might bring us to God.’ He took upon Himself sin He had not committed and bore the punishment for it, so that all who come to Him in repentance and faith might be forgiven and have peace with God. You might say that was foolhardy. He certainly smarted for it, but He did so knowingly and willingly. His death for sinners, rather than showing folly in standing for them, shows His great love, for ‘God commends His love toward us in that, whilst we were yet sinners, Christ died for us’.
‘What love to Thee we owe, our God, for all Thy grace.’