Per Omnia Saecula Saeculorum

By the way, for some thoughts on Easter, see Some Easter Thoughts.

I remember as a small child going to the big St. Paul Cathedral in St. Paul, Minnesota, with my grandmother. This was definitely in the “old days” when it was in Latin and you pretty much sat there and listened. But there were a few times when the priest would turn to the congregation and say something in Latin and we were expected to answer in Latin. The one I remember hearing first was “Dominus vobiscum,” to which the response sounded to me like “et cum spiri 2-2-0.” I kept looking in the missal for those numbers, but I couldn’t find them. Of course in English it is “The Lord be with you,” followed by “and also with you” or “and with your spirit,” the Latin being “et cum spirtu tuo.” So no numbers at all.

During a High Mass the priest would sing (chant, actually) some of the words, and the congregation would sing back. One expression I remember that the priest sang was “Per omnia saecula saeculorum,” to which the congregation would reply “Amen.” Later, when the Mass was set in the English vernacular, this became “for ever and ever, amen.” It is a Latin idiom that translates as “unto the ages of the ages” but simply means “for ever and ever.”

Which brings me to what I was thinking about. In John chapter three, Jesus is talking to Nicodemus, one of the teachers in Israel. At one point Jesus says:

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. (John 3:14-17)

Why are there two different expressions, “eternal life” in verse 15 and “everlasting life” in verse 16? Are two different thoughts being expressed? Well it turns out that in Greek they are the same word. But after doing a little more research there are some subtleties in the usage of the word. It can mean “without beginning or end”, “without end”, or “without beginning”.

An example of the last usage is in 2 Tim 1:9:

Who hath saved us, and called [us] with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, (2 Tim 1:9)

God’s purpose and grace existed without beginning, before the world was created. An example of something that never ends can be found in Hebrews:

Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom [be] glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Heb 13:20-21)

Hey, there’s that “for ever and ever, amen!” Here we see that there is an everlasting covenant that will never end, which was sealed with the blood of Christ at Calvary. God Himself is, of course, an example of the other usage, having neither beginning nor ending. So is there a difference between “everlasting” and “eternal?” In the King James Version of the Bible it appears that the words are used interchangeably even though they sometimes have slightly different meanings. I thought of it this way: when everlasting life is being contrasted with perishing or death, it seems to have the meaning of “never-ending,” i.e., you won’t perish (end) but will live forever (everlasting). On the other hand, when it is mentioned in the context of the life of Christ, it seems to mean “no beginning or ending.” since Christ has no start or end. As an example of the first:

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any [man] pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave [them] me, is greater than all; and no [man] is able to pluck [them] out of my Father’s hand. I and [my] Father are one. (John 10:27-30)

Once saved our life will never end, we will never perish, we will live forever. In contrast to that we have:

And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; [and] he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God. (1 John 5:11-13)

Here we see that we have obtained an eternal life that in God’s Son, a life that is “eternal” in the sense that it has neither beginning nor end. So when God saved me, he gave me the life that is in His Son, not just to live forever, but having that eternal character that stretches into the infinite past and into the infinite future. This may seem like a difference without a distinction, but as a one-time math major I see a difference. I will live forever since God saved me. But I will always be able to tell exactly how long I have been saved (at least relative to time on Earth). Since I was saved on Feb 18, 1973, today on April 20, 2014, I have been saved 15,036 days (Excel is very useful). So even though the time ahead of me is infinite, my experience of that time always has a finite measurement. The last verse that is usually sung in the hymn “Amazing Grace” alludes to this:

When we’ve been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.

But we have more than that, we have the life that is in His Son, an eternal life without beginning or end, a truly infinite life:

And you [hath he quickened], who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised [us] up together, and made [us] sit together in heavenly [places] in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in [his] kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: [it is] the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:1-10)

On this Easter, know that God has raised Jesus from the dead, and through Him, His work on the cross, and His resurrection from the dead, God is able to save everyone.

The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)
Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim 2:4)

The choice is yours. Where will you be “for ever and ever?”

Some Easter Thoughts

Here are some thoughts about God’s character that you might consider during the Easter season.

Did you ever notice the first thing God did after He created Adam? Well, He rested:

Gen 2:1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2 And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.

But if you look further down in the passage, you find this:

Gen 2:7 And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. 8 And the LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed.

After He made Adam, God planted a garden. God considered the effort of planting a garden not to be work, but part of his rest. I have known many people who didn’t think of gardening as work, but relaxation. As I have said elsewhere, my earliest memory is of a flower garden. God planted a garden and it was the perfect place for Adam and Eve to live, to grow, and to serve Him. So Adam became a gardener also, the first “job” in human history.

Gen 2:15 And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.

But when Adam and Eve sinned, God cast them out of the garden and death passed upon all men.

Gen 2:22 And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: 23 Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. 24 So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.

Now, let’s look forward to the time of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is sharing His last Passover with His apostles (though they don’t know it), and Judas has left to betray Him. The meal is over and Jesus prays to His Father. These are the last words He spoke at the Last Supper:

John 17:24 Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me. 26 And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.

They leave the upper room and go into the night. But where do they go?

John 18:1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he went forth with his disciples over the brook Cedron, where was a garden, into the which he entered, and his disciples.

He went into a garden, the garden of Gesthemane. And here, leaving His disciples to sleep, He anticipates His final, perfect act of Redemption. While Jesus is in this agony, Judas, having collected his thirty pieces of silver, leads the mob to Jesus. But how does Judas know where He will be?

John 18:2 And Judas also, which betrayed him, knew the place: for Jesus ofttimes resorted thither with his disciples. 3 Judas then, having received a band of men and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, cometh thither with lanterns and torches and weapons.

Of course! Jesus must be in the garden, for He often went there with His disciples. It was a place that He loved to go, to rest, to pray. But this time He is taken by the soldiers, unjustly tried, mocked, scourged, and sent to Calvary, bearing His own cross. He is nailed to that cross and lifted up between heaven and earth (John 3:14-15). On the cross He enters into the darkness and completes the work of redemption, suffering the wrath of God that we deserved, so that we might be delivered from our sin and its consequences. But the darkness clears and the Savior remains! “Finished!” He cries. What happens next is fitting because in life the Lord Jesus had no place of His own, saying to the crowd at one point, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head. (Matt 8:20)” But here at last He finds the only place to rest His head: His own breast.

John 19:30 When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.

Jesus is dead. Where will He be buried?

John 19:41 Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid. 42 There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews’ preparation day; for the sepulchre was nigh at hand.

His body is laid in a new tomb which is, of course, in a garden.

Now we move ahead to Sunday, the day after the Sabbath, and the women come to the garden to anoint the body of their beloved Lord. They came early, and one can only assume that the men are still sleeping. Who is there first?

John 20:1 The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre. 2 Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him.

Peter and John run to the garden and enter the sepulchre, but they are baffled. They still do not understand that the Messiah, their crucified Lord, must rise from the dead. They leave, but Mary, completely distraught, remains behind.

John 20:10 Then the disciples went away again unto their own home. 11 But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre, 12 And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. 13 And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him. 14 And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away. 16 Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master. 17 Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.

Not recognizing the Lord through her tears, Mary nevertheless perceives someone asking her a question, and she assumes it is the gardener! God’s character has never changed since the days of creation and it never will.

The Song of Songs is the poem of the Bridegroom and the Bride. Our Bridegroom has ascended into glory. The daughters ask, “Where has He gone?”

Song 6:1 Whither is thy beloved gone, O thou fairest among women? whither is thy beloved turned aside? that we may seek him with thee. 2 My beloved is gone down into his garden, to the beds of spices, to feed in the gardens, and to gather lilies. 3 I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine: he feedeth among the lilies.

I am my Beloved’s, and He is mine! He is in His heavenly garden, and for now we are away from Him. But we know He will return for us, our Savior, our Bridegroom, our Beloved, our Gardener. We will hear His voice and be caught up to meet Him, and so shall we ever be with the Lord (1Th 4:13-17).

Song 2:8 The voice of my beloved! behold, he cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills. 9 My beloved is like a roe or a young hart: behold, he standeth behind our wall, he looketh forth at the windows, shewing himself through the lattice. 10 My beloved spake, and said unto me, Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away. 11 For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; 12 The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle [dove] is heard in our land; 13 The fig tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away!

“Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” Rev 22:20

Why The Flood?

Why The Flood?

The movie “Noah” is now in the theaters. It is difficult to produce a movie based on a biblical story and make it appealing to a wide, secular audience, so I understand some cinematic liberties were taken. I guess some people are upset because it shows Noah getting drunk after the flood, but that really happened (Gen 9: 20-21). It happens to be the first time either vineyards or wine are mentioned in the Bible. I’ll probably take a pass on going to see it since my taste runs more to comedies and cartoons. The last movie I saw was the Lego Movie, and before that was Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs II, not to mention Frozen.

But let’s answer a different question: why did God send the flood anyway? And what difference does it make today?

The story begins in Genesis chapter 6.

And GOD saw that the wickedness of man [was] great in the earth, and [that] every imagination of the thoughts of his heart [was] only evil continually. And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them. But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD. (Gen 6:5-8)

Man’s wickedness was so great, that even his imaginations and thoughts were evil, ALL THE TIME! And notice that the reference is to the thoughts of the heart, not the mind (see “Your Heart“). All of man’s affections and desires were captivated by his own evil thoughts and imaginations. But Noah was different. It has been said that mercy withholds punishment that is deserved and grace provides blessing and happiness that is not deserved. Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.

Unlike what the movie portrays, God actually spoke to Noah and gave him instructions, and when he does he provides more information about why he has come to this destructive decision:

The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. And God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth. And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth. Make thee an ark … (Gen 6:11-14)

The earth was filled with violence. This was the main reason that God decided to destroy the earth. Man exhibited his violent nature right from the start. After Cain and Abel were born, Cain turned in rage on his brother and killed him. God said to Cain, “the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.” It was the first human blood shed, but not the last, and now the earth is filled with blood and violence. So God tells Noah that he will destroy the earth.

Even with this depravity before him, God is merciful and patient. Noah spent a hundred years building the ark, and during that time was “a preacher of righteousness” (2 Pet 2:5), telling all who would listen about the judgment that was coming. Noah’s grandfather was Methusaleh, the man who lived longer than anyone else. His name means “his death shall bring judgment” and if you add up the numbers in Genesis chapter 5 you will see that he died the same year as the flood. So 969 years before the flood, a child is born and given a name that predicts that God’s judgment is coming, but then God lets him live longer than anyone else. God is indeed gracious and merciful!

So what does this have to do with us today, other than maybe spending an afternoon at the movie theater to see a story loosely based on the scriptural account? Well, Jesus made a prediction that mentions Noah and his times.

And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is [in your midst]. And he said unto the disciples, The days will come, when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and ye shall not see [it]. And they shall say to you, See here; or, see there: go not after [them], nor follow [them]. For as the lightning, that lighteneth out of the one [part] under heaven, shineth unto the other [part] under heaven; so shall also the Son of man be in his day. But first must he suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation. And as it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man. They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all. Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed [them] all. Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed. In that day, he which shall be upon the housetop, and his stuff in the house, let him not come down to take it away: and he that is in the field, let him likewise not return back. Remember Lot’s wife. Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it. I tell you, in that night there shall be two [men] in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. Two [women] shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two [men] shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. And they answered and said unto him, Where, Lord? And he said unto them, Wheresoever the body [is], thither will the eagles be gathered together.

“As it was in the days of Noah… so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man.” The days when the Lord shall come again will have the same character as there was in Noah’s day – a world full of violence. Now there have been many times in history that were particularly violent: the days of Genghis Khan, the “eastern front” in Russia in World War II, the concentrated violence of the nuclear weapons exploded in Japan, and the destructive nature of communism in the 20th century that led to the deaths of perhaps 100 million people. But I marvel at the nature of violence that currently surrounds us. Obviously there are places in the world that are suffering from war and revolutionary resistance, but here in our peaceful nation we are surrounded by it as a means of entertainment.

In the first place, we can watch all the contrived violence we want at the movies and on TV. Not like the “old days” when the bad guy was shot and he clutched his chest and fell over. Now we have exploding heads and disembowelled teenagers. Video games are becoming more realistically violent at the behest of those who play them; the more violent, the more successful they are. And one of the most popular memes on the internet is the “epic fail”, which tend to show people getting hurt or vehicles being destroyed in various ways. And this violence is not meant to shock or cause moral outrage, it is for entertainment!

The character of our age appears similar to that of the days of Noah. The judgment may well be upon us. So what is the solution, what can one do, where is God’s grace? Here’s more verses from Genesis.

And the LORD said unto Noah, Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation…
For yet seven days, and I will cause it to rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights; and every living substance that I have made will I destroy from off the face of the earth. And Noah did according unto all that the LORD commanded him…
And it came to pass after seven days, that the waters of the flood were upon the earth. In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened. And the rain was upon the earth forty days and forty nights…
And they that went in, went in male and female of all flesh, as God had commanded him: and the LORD shut him in. (Gen 7:1,4-5,10-12,16)

When I read this passage in Sunday School, I ask the kids, “Where was God when he said this to Noah?” Obviously, he had to be in the ark or else he would have said “Go into the ark.” Deliverance from judgment is not obtained by our own efforts, but by responding to an invitation from God, an invitation to be with God. I don’t know what is portrayed in the Noah movie, but notice that Noah didn’t shut the door, God did. Noah and his family and the animals entered the ark, and the door still stood open. Anyone else could have joined them, but no one did, and God finally shut Noah and his family in. The way of deliverance was now closed, and everyone else who had refused the invitation perished.

Jesus Christ offered the same invitation when he was here:

“Come unto me, all [ye] that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke [is] easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt 11:28)

He invites each and every person to come to him. When the door of the ark stood open, there was no more work to be done, Noah had finished it. It was as simple as walking through the door. The same is true today. Christ’s invitation rests on a work that is completed, his death on Calvary. And he also said, “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.” (John 10:9)

Judgment is due. It may not be today or next week, but it is inevitable. There was only one door to the ark, and there is only one door to eternal life, the Lord Jesus Christ. One of the last verses in the Bible still offers the invitation to all:

And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely. (Rev 22:17)

The door is still open, will you come in?

Life is hard…

You’ve all heard this expression in one form or another: “Life is hard, and then you die.” I would like to point out a different perspective from a familiar Bible passage.

Psalm 23
[A Psalm of David.]
The LORD [is] my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou [art] with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

Note the last verse and contrast it with the our current saying:

“Life is hard.”
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.”

“Then you die.”
“And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

David had a view different from that which is common in our cynical world today. Because he had a divine shepherd he knew that his experience would be one of goodness and mercy. If you read about David’s life in Samuel and Kings and Chronicles, you’ll see that his life wasn’t always rosy. He had to hide in caves from King Saul who was trying to kill him, his own son Absalom rebelled against him and tried to steal his kingdom, and because of David’s own sin his little baby boy died. Even in all this he knew that the Lord his shepherd was guiding everything in goodness and mercy. And where was it all leading? David knew his own death would only bring him to an even better place, to be right at home in the house of the Lord, forever. It seems to me that what David had is much better than anything contemporary society has to offer.

But here’s a detail that is not readily apparent. (This is the Bible geek part.) The form of these two phrases includes a construction that is no longer in general use. Remember your grammar lessons? “I am; we are; you are; he, she, or it is; they are.” “I shall; we shall; you will; he, she, or it will; they will.” The second conjugation is the way to express an event or action that is going to take place in the future without any emphasis, though we seldom use the word “shall” any more. However, if you want to emphasize that the event will certainly take place by deliberate action, you reverse the conjugation: “I will; we will; you shall; he, she, or it shall; they shall.”

To illustrate the difference, here’s a (perhaps a bit grisly) example. Imagine two people on the edge of a bridge. One is hanging on, about to fall off, and the other is a BASE jumper with a parachute. The first person would say, “I shall fall, no one will save me!” It is a description of what is about to happen as a matter of course. The BASE jumper would say, “I will jump, no one shall stop me.” This is a statement of intention, of the certainty that he will make the event come to pass.

David doesn’t say that goodness and mercy WILL follow him, he says that they SHALL follow him, without any doubt. In the same way he is certain about what comes after this life is over. He doesn’t say “I SHALL” dwell in the house of the Lord, he says “I WILL” dwell in the house of the Lord forever. How does he know this? Because (see verse 1 in the psalm) he has the Lord as his shepherd.

I have come to understand David’s view of life and eternity. God wants everyone to be certain of eternal life like David was. “[God] will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For [there is] one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time. (1 Tim 2:4-6)” Each of us has the opportunity to choose between the two sayings. Jesus Christ died on the cross and was raised from the dead and is now seated in Heaven. Anyone can accept him and the work that he has done and be delivered from the literal “dead end” of their own sin and from the indifference of the world around us, and instead “dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

I have a Shepherd, one I love so well.
How He has blessed me tongue can never tell.
On the cross He suffered, shed His blood and died,
That I might ever in His love abide.

Following Jesus ever day by day.
Nothing can harm me when He leads the way.
Darkness or sunshine, whate’er befall,
Jesus the Shepherd is my all-in-all!