I’ve finally got my act together.
Scriptural Devotions all indexed and referenced here.
Sermons and talks all indexed and referenced here.
Bit cross-eyed now…
Now available in three formats…
(Get 20% off your order if you quote the code “FELICITAS” before 14 December)
Also available as a Kindle…
When I began the King’s English, I was looking forward to covering this phrase. I only realised today that I never did! Well here it is, finally.
On the surface it’s a quaint archaism. But it speaks of a deadly trap. “Filthy lucre” is used four times in the King James Bible and in each case it refers to a grave temptation for gospel ministers (1 Timothy 3:3,8; Titus 1:7; 1 Peter 5:2). Eg:
Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind. (1 Peter 5:2)
The KJV follows Tyndale in leaving the Vulgate’s lucrum untranslated. Lucrum is the Latin word from which we get “lucrative”. It just means profit. The underlying Greek word is a compound word meaning “unclean gain”. So here’s what we’re being warned against: unclean gain, base profit, filthy lucre.
The repetition of this biblical warning should make us think. But it rarely does. Many times people have joked with me: “What attracted you to the ministry? It can’t have been the money!” Everyone has a good laugh. Everyone except the Apostles. They were worried about ministering for the money in the first century. What about in the twenty first century when Christianity is big business?
Listen to John Bunyan illustrate the dangers of lucre.
Then CHRISTIAN and HOPEFUL went till they came at a delicate plain, called Ease, where they went with much content; but that plain was but narrow, so they were quickly got over it. Now at the further side of that plain was a little hill called Lucre, and in that hill a silver mine, which some of them that had formerly gone that way, because of the rarity of it, had turned aside to see; but going too near the brink of the pit, the ground being deceitful under them, broke, and they were slain; some also had been maimed there, and could not to their dying day be their own men again.
Then I saw in my dream, that a little off the road, over against the silver mine, stood DEMAS (gentleman-like), to call to passengers to come and see; who said to CHRISTIAN and his fellow, “Ho, turn aside hither, and I will show you a thing.”
CHRISTIAN. What thing is so deserving as to turn us out of the way to see it?
DEMAS. Here is a silver mine, and some digging in it for treasure; if you will come, with a little pain you may richly provide for yourselves.
HOPEFUL. Then said HOPEFUL, “Let us go and see.”
CHRISTIAN. “Not I,” said CHRISTIAN; “I have heard of this place before now and how many have there been slain; and besides, that treasure is a snare to those that seek it, for it hinders them in their pilgrimage.” (Pilgrim’s Progress)
It is indeed a snare and a hindrance. So how can we avoid it?
At heart, we must recapture a vision of the Generous Father. Our God treats nothing as a means to some other end. It is His eternal nature to love the other. First His Son, and then, through His Son and by the Spirit, He loves the world. “God so loved the world He gave” (John 3:16). He is a Fountain of life and love whose glory is to pour Himself out. His activity is not mercenary. He’s not in the whole “creation-salvation game” for what He can get out of it. He commits Himself to us for the sake of committing Himself to us. Because this is the kind of God He is. He genuinely loves to give and He gives to love.
Once we’ve grasped this, we’ve learnt the secret of life and of ministry. Immanuel Kant wasn’t so far off really. Treating people as ends in themselves is absolutely right and good. If even God does it, then it must be the good life. But such living is the fruit of the gospel. It’s the good life that comes about with this good God.
So when I’m tempted to minister for “shameful gain” (NIV) or “filthy lucre” I should not be surprised. It’s actually a perennial temptation. But look first to the Father, poured out in Jesus. I have all I need in His generosity. And look, secondly, to “the flock of God which is among you.” They are not means towards further gain. They are my “crown” and “joy” (Philippians 4:1; 2 Thessalonians 2:19). They are my reward – a reward far greater than that snare and hindrance: “filthy lucre.”
Armageddon is well known in our culture as the “final battle” for the future of the planet. But the way people imagine this battle differs greatly from the biblical reality.
According to Hollywood, “Armageddon” is a special effects punch-up where the outcome is doubtful right up to the last minute. According to the Bible, “Armageddon” is all build-up and no follow-through. It’s a case of “first round, first minute” for the good guys!
Before we consider it, we’ll set the scene in the book of Revelation. If you like, you can skip the outline below, but it shows some of my “working” for why I consider “Armageddon” the way that I do…
Outline of Revelation
In Chapter 1 John sees a vision of the risen Christ.
In Chapters 2-3: Christ addresses seven churches.
In Chapters 4-5: As a slain Lamb, the Son approaches the enthroned Father and takes the scroll from His hand – here are the title deeds to creation.
Then we have the largest section of Revelation: from chapter 6 to chapter 20. This shows the unravelling of the scroll. Jesus, the Lamb, unfolds God’s history. These chapters show us the history of the world from Christ’s first coming until His second.
And so chapters 21-22 show us God’s new world – the new heavens and new earth. This is the ultimate “happily ever after”.
Most people think of Revelation as a book about the future, yet the great majority of the book tells us about the present. What we see in chapters 6-20 are are 7 action replays of this history from different angles. So we see…
Chapter 6: The opening of the seven seals.
Chapter 8-11: The blowing of the seven trumpets.
Chapters 12-14: We meet the unholy trinity: the Dragon (Satan), the Beast and the False Prophet (his earthly intermediaries). We also meet the anti-church: Babylon.
Chapters 15-16: The pouring out of the seven bowls of judgement.
Then we see the defeat of the four evil forces…
Chapters 17-18: The destruction of Babylon (the false church)
Chapter 19: The destruction of the Beast and the False prophet.
Chapter 20: The destruction of Satan.
Some may not agree with my outline, but it seems clear to me that these are not seven consecutive scenes of judgement. Here are seven “action replays” of the same reality viewed from different angles.
One of the reasons I take this view is because of “Armageddon”. There are three final “punch-ups” narrated in Revelation. They correspond to the defeat of Babylon, the defeat of the Beast and False Prophet and the defeat of Satan. Either God fails to eradicate evil twice but gets it right on the third attempt, or all three descriptions are true descriptions of “the end.”
If that’s right, then the “Armageddon” passage is one of three angles on the same last battle. See if you can spot the common theme in all three tellings:
[They were gathered] to the battle of that great day of God Almighty…. And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon. And the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air; and there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, It is done. (Revelation 16:14-17)
And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army. And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him. (Revelation 19:19-20)
Satan shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them. And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever. (Revelation 20:7-10)
Did you notice the common theme? There is a menacing build up followed by a complete non-event of a conclusion. There’s stockpiling of weapons, there’s amassing of troops, there’s sabre-rattling. But the minute God’s had enough – it’s over. There’s a knockout punch before the bell has sounded.
Evil is not an equal and opposite force which gives God a run for His money. As we saw with “the bottomless pit” – darkness is no match for light. Emptiness is no match for fullness.
Do you worry about the future? Does it seem like the darkness will win?
Take heart, the Lamb wins. When push really does come to shove, Armageddon is no contest!
The word in Greek is “Abyss.” Jerome’s Vulgate left it untranslated. John Wycliffe rendered it “the pit of depnesse”. But it’s been William Tyndale’s turn of phrase that has endured: “bottomless pit”! Rightly, the KJV decided it could not improve on Tyndale. The phrase occurs seven times, all in the book of Revelation (where sevens abound!). Take this representative example:
They had a king over them, which is the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon, but in the Greek tongue hath his name Apollyon. (Revelation 9:11)
The sense of the “bottomless pit” (or “abyss”) is an unbounded chaos. Infinite emptiness. An immeasurable depth. Limitless nothingness. This place of destruction and corruption is highlighted at the beginning and end of the Bible.
In the opening verses of Scripture we read about a void opened up in the creation of heaven and earth:
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. (Genesis 1:1-2)
“The deep” is the Abyss. And its presence is felt in the second verse of the Bible!
God, having created a reality beyond Himself, is faced, not with a mere extension of His divine being, but with something very distinct from Himself. God is light but here is darkness. God is full but here is an emptiness. In creation there is something beyond God which needs enlightening and filling full. This is what the work of creation involves. Over the six days God forms and then fills the universe, acting redemptively upon what is, by nature, “without form and void”.
God separates light from darkness and sea from dry land. He divides and adjudicates – “Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further” (Job 38:11). God’s creative work is all about undoing the abyss. He brings light, fullness and form – bounding the boundless.
Yet somehow there is a sphere that stands against the spreading goodness of God. There is an abyss. And it does not stand on an alternative foundation. The only true foundation can be the living God. Whatever stands against God cannot stand on anything substantial. No, God’s enemies have nothing to stand on. Their realm is groundless – a bottomless pit.
Think about this negative reality. The realm of evil is not an equal and opposite kingdom. It is darkness, somehow resisting God’s radiant light. It is a boundless emptiness, somehow resisting God’s glory filling the earth. It is rebellion without a cause.
Sin and evil have no ultimate foundation, no reasons, no footing. They are madness. Those swallowed by the bottomless pit can only keep falling. Think of the tragedy: it’s one kind of death to fall far – it’s another to fall forever.
What hope is there in the face of this abyss?
Paul writes to the Romans to tell them that we have no hope against the powers of darkness. None of us can ascend to heaven and none of us can plumb the bottomless pit. But Christ has come down from the heights. And He has risen from the abyss:
Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:) Or, Who shall descend into the deep [the abyss]? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead) (Romans 10:6-7)
We don’t have to climb up to heaven and we don’t have to climb out of the bottomless pit. Christ has done it all. He is the Radiant Light of the Father. He is the Spreading Goodness of God. And He has come to plunder Satan’s house (Mark 3:27). He has entered into our darkness and risen to bring us home.
We cannot reason with evil – it’s insanity. We cannot climb out of the bottomless pit – there is no footing. But Christ has done it all. We need only trust Him and He’ll turn our pit to paradise:
If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. (Romans 10:9)
“Out, damned spot! out, I say!”
Lady Macbeth’s line is one of Shakespeare’s most famous. In the first act of Macbeth she helps her husband to murder the King. By the end of the play she is in mental torment and eventually takes her own life. In her final scene she is before a doctor and cannot cleanse her conscience.
Out, damned spot! out, I say!… who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him? …What, will these hands ne’er be clean?…Here’s the smell of the blood still; all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh, oh, oh!
The Doctor says “What a sigh is there! The heart is sorely charg’d. …This disease is beyond my practice.”
Shame and guilt is a disease. And it’s a disease beyond the practice of 17th century doctors. It’s beyond the practice of 21st century doctors. Taking away our guilt and shame is beyond every power on earth, even – and perhaps especially – religion. But in Hebrews 10 we learn about a “once for all” cleansing that contrasts starkly with the old religious ways.
In verses 1-4, we’re told that even God’s own religion did not cleanse people from sin – it only reminded them of sin. Every day the blood of animals was shed, yet everyone knows that animals can’t pay for sin. Every year there was a grand theatrical performance called the Day of Atonement. The High Priest had a starring role and there was a scapegoat. You confessed your sins over the scapegoat and there were sacrifices and at the end it was pronounced that God was “at one” with Israel. But… the next year they did it all over again. They weren’t cleansed from their sins, they were only reminded of their sins.
This whole system was a shadow of the coming reality (v1). The real atonement was achieved when Christ came into the world (v5-10).
There is a true and willing Sacrifice who steps forward amidst the bloodshed of the temple and says “Enough! Here I am. I’m the Reality to which these shadows have pointed.”
Jesus, our Scapegoat, died the death of every slanderer, every pornographer, every bully, every murderer, swindler, adulterer, terrorist… every sinner. And now
we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10:10)
That phrase “once for all” is so precious. Understanding it will transport you from the shadow-lands of guilt and perpetual striving to the freedom of Christ’s finished work. Therefore in the next paragraph, Hebrews lays out the stark difference between the reality of Christ’s sacrifice and the shadow of the old covenant (v11-14).
The old sacrifices were continual, Christ’s was once for all
The old sacrifices were powerless, Christ’s was completely effective.
The old priests stood for their constant work, Christ sits having finished the work.
Do you realise the wonder of Christ’s finished work? Do you understand that, through Him, you are made holy “once for all”?
The final paragraph will help us (v15-18). Here the writer returns to his favourite passage – Jeremiah chapter 31. He proclaims the glorious truth that our “sins and iniquities God remembers no more.”
Imagine debts piling up. You pay off one credit card with another. It snowballs and suddenly you’re £90 000 in the red. The debt collectors are after you. You don’t answer the phone, you pretend you’re not in.
Eventually you get some financial advice. They tell you to phone the credit card company and explain your situation. You pluck up courage and give your details over the phone. Then you begin to make excuses… “Now, about the £90 000, I’ll try to pay it back, I just need some time…” The woman on the other end of the phone says “We have no record of any debts in your name.” You ask her to double check. She double checks, “We have no record of any debts in your name.”
If you’ve trusted Jesus your Scapegoat, those are God’s words to you today.
Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. (Hebrews 10:17)
Don’t live in the shadows. Don’t try to clean yourself up. Remember you’ve been cleansed through the cross of Christ – once and for all.
Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O LORD. 2 Lord, hear my voice: let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications. 3 If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? 4 But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared. 5 I wait for the LORD, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope. 6 My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: I say, more than they that watch for the morning. 7 Let Israel hope in the LORD: for with the LORD there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption. 8 And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities. (Psalm 130)