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Five Reasons Why God Exists (Pt 1)

Reason 1: A Fully Functioning World

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If all the separate parts of a car were strewn about on a factory floor – the four wheels, windscreen wipers, engine, exhaust pipe, car doors, steering wheel, hood, oil, petrol, battery, and so on – could chance alone ever fix them together in a roadworthy way? Let’s assume for the sake of argument that a truly infinite amount of time is not available (it rarely is). Surely the answer must be no.

When we look at our world suspended in space, it could be compared to a fully functioning car. Just as petrol keeps a car running, the sun fuels all activity on earth. But like the battery inside a car, within the world there are additional energy sources: oil, coal, wood, and others. As a car’s engine turns the wheels, so the extraordinary phenomenon of life powers growth, motion, and reproduction. The parts of a car are tightly screwed into place, and similarly everything in the world holds together: a protective atmosphere, tidal oceans, rain-bearing clouds, soil-covered land, and fresh water rivers. The warning lights on a car’s dashboard could be compared to the invaluable advance signs of changing weather patterns. The complexity of a car’s cooling system is surpassed by the earth’s water cycle, which even oscillates successfully between salty and fresh.

So if we agree that the components of a car could never slot together by accident to form a roadworthy vehicle, shouldn’t we also agree that raw chance couldn’t fix the components of our world into a fully functioning unit?

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What Is the Book of Acts About?

It’s always worth trying to figure out the purpose of a Bible book. For example, there’s a lot to be gained from remembering that John is ‘written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name’ (20:31). That overall purpose has an impact on how we understand particular passages along the way. Or take the Song of Songs: is its primary purpose to celebrate romantic love between a man and his wife, or to teach us about the relationship between Jesus and the Church? That needs a clear answer. Think how different a pastor’s sermons on the Song of Songs will sound according to which of those two views he takes. So it’s good to ask what Luke had in mind when he picked up his pen to write Acts. Understanding his purpose will allow us to ride in his slipstream throughout the book, like cyclists in an Olympic race. At first it seems Luke will tell us immediately: ‘In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up to heaven …’ (Acts 1:1-2). It looks as if he’s about to tell us the purpose of his latest publication. No such luck. He dives straight into his story without further ado.

Three options

1) The purpose of Acts is to tell us the inspiring story of the apostles and their deeds

The book’s traditional title is ‘Acts of the Apostles,’ but that title doesn’t actually come from Luke. The earliest known use of it is in a second century work by Irenaeus. At first sight this view of the book’s purpose seems hard to disagree with. The apostles stay in the frame all the way through. When picking an image for this post I chose the one above because it has such an obvious connection to the book. But I think there’s a powerful theological argument for ruling out this suggestion. The Bible doesn’t glorify human beings. The apostles obviously have a huge role to play in the book, but I can’t believe Luke would set out to promote hero-worship. ‘Not to us, O LORD, not to us but to your name be the glory’ (Psalm 115:1).

2) The purpose of Acts is to explain how Jesus’ ministry continued after his ascension

I’ve heard this view in at least one sermon, and have also found it in commentaries on Acts, and in the ESV Study Bible. It’s based on Luke’s use of the word ‘began’ in the first verse of the book: ‘In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and teach …’ The implication, so the argument goes, is that Luke’s follow-up book will be about everything Jesus continued to do and teach after his ascension, through his apostles. But the evidence seems shaky. New Testament writers have a habit of combining the Greek verb meaning ‘to begin’ with other verbs, even when they aren’t stressing the start of an action. For example Mark 6:7 literally says: ‘He began to send them out two by two;’ and Mark 14:65 says: ‘Some began to spit at him.’ In each case there’s clearly no particular significance in the beginningness of the action described, nor any suggestion of a later continuation. Now we’ve dipped our toe into Greek waters, it would be a shame not to look at another Greek word in Acts 1:1: ‘men’ (it’s the second word of 1:1 in the Greek). There’s no direct equivalent in English, which is why you won’t find the word reflected in English translations of 1:1, but men usually signals that a contrast is on the way, a bit like the English phrase ‘on the one hand.’ So Luke’s use of men in Acts 1:1 might well indicate that he’s contrasting his first book with his latest book – which would mean Acts is definitely not Jesus’ Ministry Vol. II.

3) The purpose of Acts is to show how the Holy Spirit oversees the spread of the gospel

This third option is represented by the fourth century church leader John Chrysostom: ‘The Gospels, then, are a history of what Christ did and said; but the Acts, of what that “other Comforter” said and did.’ Chrysostom’s view seems to have an excellent fit with the opening of Acts. According to a  commentator called Robert C. Tannehill, Greek authors at the time commonly introduced a new book with (1) the dedication (i.e. ‘O Theophilus’), (2) a short summary of their previous book, and (3) a preview of the new book’s subject matter. Tannehill argues that in Acts (3) is woven into the beginning of the narrative: ‘The preview of the book that is beginning appears … as part of Jesus’ speech.’ In that speech (1:4-5, 8), Jesus repeatedly mentions the Holy Spirit: ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised … you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit … you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.’ The rest of Acts also supports the Chrysostom View. The Holy Spirit is mentioned fifty-five times – averaging twice a chapter. No other NT book mentions the Spirit nearly so often. And at key turning points in the book, such as the spread of the gospel to Europe, it’s the Holy Spirit who’s in control (Acts 16:6-10; see also Acts 8:29,39; 9:31; 11:12; 13:2,4; 15:28; 20:22,28). Now, since the Spirit wants to see Jesus glorified (John 16:14), and works in complete trinitarian unity with Jesus; and since he empowers the apostles to carry out great works of gospel service, the Chrysostom View doesn’t actually lead us very far away from the other two options. But that doesn’t mean it’s insignificant. As well as helping us to understand Acts better, it also has multiple applications for evangelism. The Holy Spirit is still present in the world (John 16:7-11), powerfully overseeing the spread of the gospel today, just as he was in the time of Acts. That reminds us to depend on his power as we seek to share our faith. We can ask for the Spirit’s help in meeting non-Christians. We should seek his help in discerning when it might be appropriate to talk about Jesus with non-Christians, because it’s not always appropriate. We certainly need his help in soul-winning or ‘clinching the deal.’ He can help us find out more about world mission and the different ways we can get involved with it. Surely a further application is that we should be careful not to adopt evangelistic strategies without prayerfulness and a sense of the Spirit’s leading. In short, the spread of the gospel is the special project of the third person of the Trinity. Many benefits flow from keeping that in mind.

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The Three Takes of Guidance

Which way?

TAKE HEART

God is a guiding God. All through the Bible he guides his people. He is the God of the pillar of fire and column of smoke, leading his people through the wilderness (Exodus 13:21). He is the God of the Urim and Thummim (Exodus 28:30, Numbers 27:21, and 1 Samuel 23:9-12), a mysterious source of direct divine guidance. He guides people in New Testament times too, as seen in the Book of Acts (e.g. Philip’s and Paul’s movements in 8:26-40 and Acts 16:6-10). If our minds are renewed through God’s word (Romans 12:2); if we pray for his wisdom (Philippians 4:6); and if we submit to his commands in all our ways (Proverbs 3:6), we can be confident that he will honor his promise to make our paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6).

TAKE ADVICE

Other people know the Bible better than we do – and perhaps they also know us better than we know ourselves. Proverbs 20:18 says “Make plans by seeking advice.” So to make significant plans without seeking advice is dangerously unwise. When asking people for advice, don’t choose flattering friends who’ll say what you want them to say (Proverbs 29:5). Ask people from different churches and different backgrounds, ask old and young, ask people who would be upset if you didn’t ask them. Proverbs 3:5-6, which speaks of God making our paths straight, is probably the most famous passage on guidance in the whole Bible. But the very next verse is relevant too: “Do not be wise in your own eyes” (3:7).

TAKE YOUR TIME

Putting the first two “takes” into practice requires time. Proverbs 21:5 says “haste leads to poverty” and hasty decision-making does so often lead to poorer outcomes than might otherwise have been the case. Sinclair Ferguson says: “God’s guidance will require patience on our part. His leading is not usually a direct assurance, a revelation, but His sovereign controlling of the circumstances of our lives, with the Word of God as our rule. It is therefore, inevitable that the unfolding of His purposes will take time – sometimes a very long time.” (I’m told that quote comes from his book Discovering God’s Will.) Attempting to short-circuit the slow unfolding of God’s purposes by impatiently making a decision is a recipe for regret in the long term.

BUT WHAT ABOUT PAST MISTAKES?

Everyone reading this post will have made bad choices in the past. We always need reminding both of God’s forgiveness and his sovereign control. Just as the genealogy leading up to the birth of Jesus includes immoral relationships (see Matthew chapter 1), so God’s plan for the world incorporates our regrets, mistakes and sins, and similarly leads towards the glorifying of his Son. There is great comfort in this – if you’re more concerned with Jesus’ splendor than with your own self.

Recommended reading: “Thou Our Guide” (a chapter on guidance in Knowing God by J.I. Packer)

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Feed Me Till I Want No More

Did you see a nativity play in the run-up to Christmas? Perhaps you have a child or grandchild who had a lead role – or the humble job of acting as the hindquarters for one of the stable animals. The most memorable nativity play I’ve ever seen was put on by York University students at their Christian Union carol service. At the beginning, Mary and Joseph stood in front of us looking lovingly at the bundle in Mary’s arms. Then they went up and down the aisle of the church showing their newborn child to certain people – who made all the right noises in response. Mary and Joseph then returned to the front, accompanied by the people in the audience who had seen their baby. At that point Mary took the unusual step of unravelling the swaddling clothes. When she’d finished, everyone could see that the swaddling clothes had been carefully wrapped round a large French-style loaf of bread. Then Mary began passing chunks of the bread to the people gathered with her at the front, who all started eating her baby.

The students weren’t being unconventional just for the sake of it. Jesus himself says to a huge crowd of people, ‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live for ever’ (John 6:51). He’s calling on people to eat him! These striking words deserve a closer look.

Hungry People

Jesus is teaching people who haven’t eaten all day. They last ate when Jesus fed them all, a crowd of five thousand, with just five small loaves of bread and two small fish. He gave them ‘as much as they wanted’ (6:11), but that was yesterday and this is today and so they’re hungry. In fact, Jesus points out that they’ve only followed him to Capernaum on the other side of Lake Galilee in the hope that he’ll feed them again: ‘I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils’ (6:26-27). They should be looking for Jesus because he’s the long-awaited Prophet, as they themselves recognised after the miracle (6:14). They should be asking him all kinds of questions about God and his plans. But instead they hunt him down because they want seconds. They want more pie. The trouble is, it will never satisfy them in a lasting way.

Hollow Pie

My guess is that after Christmas lunch you were so full of turkey, roast potatoes, parsnips, sprouts and plum pudding that all you could do was move slowly to the sitting room, take a comfy chair, sit down and for a while simply concentrate on breathing. But if you’re anything like me, by 7 pm you were definitely ready to attack the leftovers. Food doesn’t deliver lasting satisfaction. It quickly leaves us empty and wanting more. That’s why every pie is ultimately hollow. And that could be said about everything in this world, not just food. The movie comes to an end – you have to leave the theater and that source of satisfaction is over. The holiday comes to an end – you have to fly home and swap a golden beach for the daily commute. The relationship comes to an end – because of a break-up perhaps, or in due course because of a death. Nothing in this world provides permanent satisfaction. Everything is ultimately hollow pie. Or, in Jesus’ words, ‘food that spoils’ (6:27).

Heavenly Plateful

The dark truths above provide the backdrop to Jesus’ stunning claim: ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry’ (6:35). While everything else is hollow pie, Jesus provides never-ending satisfaction. But how do we ‘eat’ Jesus?

Roman Catholics say that the way to feed on Jesus is to attend Mass regularly, but that turns Jesus’ teaching on its head. His whole point is that life isn’t gained through what we put in our mouths but through trusting in him. He says, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent … everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life’ (6:29, 40). So when he says, ‘the one who feeds on me will live because of me’ (6:57), ‘feeds’ must be very closely related to ‘believes’. Jesus’ flesh and blood do count as true food and drink (6:55), because believing in his atoning death (6:51) truly nourishes us, keeping us alive beyond the grave. So feeding on Jesus is a way of talking about receiving the nourishment of eternal life through faith in him. It begins when we first trust in him, and continues as we enjoy the experience of knowing him – which is how the Bible defines eternal life (see John 17:3).

There are three reasons why feeding on Jesus satisfies while everything else in the world ultimately leaves us empty. First of all, Jesus ‘comes down from heaven and gives life to the world’ (6:33). Unlike his hollow rivals, Jesus isn’t from this world. He came down into it from outside, ‘from heaven’, and bread that comes from heaven isn’t hollow. The next reason why Jesus satisfies like nothing else is because what he offers ‘endures to eternal life’ (6:27). If it came to an end it wouldn’t ultimately be satisfying, but it doesn’t. The third reason is simply because he’s greater, better and more wonderful than everything else. We’re told, ‘On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval’ (6:27). Jesus deserves, and gets, the highest praise on offer. No wonder his people never get tired of knowing him.

Do you find satisfaction through feeding on Jesus? Or in your heart and in your actions are you chasing after hollow pie? If you’re conscious of drifting from Jesus perhaps you need to remind yourself that he alone can satisfy. Take a chunk out of that glorious bread and get chewing.

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Prayer’s Indispensable Ingredient

When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. “Lord, have mercy on my son,” he said. “He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.”

“O unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed from that moment.

Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

He replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:14-20)

What makes prayer, prayer? When does a prayer count as a real live prayer in God’s sight? We’d all agree that we can pray out loud or internally, at any time, in any posture, in any place, alone or with company. While we might have our personal preferences, none of those variables determines whether or not prayer counts as prayer. But there is one ingredient that does make all the difference. Jesus says, ‘I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, “Move from here to there” and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you’ (Matthew 17:20). By implication, praying without faith is a worthless activity.

Matthew 17:20 was brought to my attention at a ministry training meeting some years ago. It’s been on my mind ever since, and has had a big impact on my prayer life. While there’s definitely a strong element of encouragement in what Jesus says, it’s important to bear in mind that the verse comes just after the disciples have failed to drive out a demon. In context, Jesus is rebuking his followers, so the verse challenges before it encourages.

The Challenge of Mustard Seed Faith

It’s possible to have faith in a general way without activating that faith in a particular situation. Shortly before their failure to drive out the demon, Peter declares that Jesus is, ‘the Christ, the Son of the living God’ (Matthew 16:16). Jesus’ reply indicates his faith is genuine: ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven’ (16:17). Yet despite this, the disciples do not act with faith when it comes to the specific task of driving out the demon. They seem to have no confidence in God’s power. (When Jesus says, at the start of 17:20, ‘Because you have so little faith’, it must be his rather withering way of pointing out how faithless they were during the recent incident with the demon. They didn’t even have the mustard seed-sized faith he’s about to discuss. ‘Little faith’ in Matthew’s gospel [8:26] parallels ‘no faith’ in Mark’s gospel [4:40]. See also Matthew 17:17, where the disciples are surely included, because of their handling of the demon incident, among the ‘unbelieving and perverse generation’.)

So Matthew 17:20 teaches us that we can pray in the most polished terms for the most deserving things and yet be entirely ineffective and powerless in prayer. The indispensable ingredient is to believe in our hearts that God will grant our request – if it’s in line with his purposes.

In the Christian life we constantly need reminding that, ‘The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart’ (1 Samuel 16:7). We tend to think that if we drag ourselves out of bed at an early hour and pray with the right words for the right things there’ll be traction between earth and heaven. But God, as always, closely observes what’s going on in our hearts. Unless faith is present, our prayers will go unheard. This doesn’t mean we need to imagine the granting of our requests. God can do ‘immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine’ (Ephesians 3:20). So it’s not about scaling down the hugeness of our requests to fit our faith (as Jesus makes clear with his illustration of mountain shifting). No, praying with faith means scaling up our vision of God. Children sing ‘Our God is so big, so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing that he cannot do,’ but do their parents inwardly agree?

Matthew 17:20 challenges us to focus on God and his promises, and therefore to go large in prayer because he’s more than able to cope. Praying with faith also means adjusting our prayers to our knowledge of God’s character and his purposes. We can’t pray with faith for certain things if Scripture informs us that God has other plans. Those who pray with faith not only note God’s limitless power, but also his revealed will.

The Encouragement of Mustard Seed Faith

At the training meeting mentioned above, the speaker pointed out that we often think of faith like a ‘dimmer switch’. We strive to have great faith rather than little faith. But while it certainly is good to have great faith, like the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:28), the really important thing about faith is simply having it – even mustard seed-sized – rather than not having it. So it might be better to think of faith as more like an on/off switch. This is tremendously encouraging. Very often my confidence that God will bring about what I ask for is as small as a mustard seed. But Jesus says that’s big enough for my prayer to count! Mustard seed faith is all that’s required to move mountains. Doesn’t that spur you on to do business with our omnipotent God today?

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How to Read the Bible in a Year

A lot of people recommend Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s scheme for reading the Bible in a year. M’Cheyne is one of the great heroes of the faith. But I’m not personally a fan of his Bible reading scheme. It requires two readings of both the New Testament and the Psalms on top of one reading of the remainder of the Old Testament, which makes the task more demanding and therefore less realistic. Reading the Bible in a year is challenging enough as it is, why make it harder to achieve?

Here’s an alternative: “The Three Track Method.” It will take you through the whole Bible just once in a year.

Track One: Old Testament
Read two chapters of the Old Testament every day, excluding Psalms and Proverbs (they’re in the other tracks).

Track Two: Psalms and New Testament
Read a psalm every day and two on Sundays. When you’ve finished the Book of Psalms, read one New Testament chapter every day and two on Sundays.

Track Three: Proverbs
Pick a month with thirty-one days and during that month read a chapter from Proverbs every night, in addition to your Track One and Track Two reading earlier in the day.

You’ll finish Track Two with a week to spare, allowing you to increase your daily Track One reading so that you finish the whole Bible by Day 365. You may find you enjoy the experience so much that you do it again the following year! One helpful tip: Psalm 119 is very long so give yourself extra days to read it by reading a couple of psalms a day in the week leading up to it.

OPTIONAL: the order of the OT

The order I’d recommend for reading the OT is the ancient order which is still followed in Hebrew Bibles today:

    • The Law: Genesis–Deuteronomy;
    • The Prophets: Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, Isaiah–Malachi (except for Lamentations and Daniel which are in the next section);
    • The Writings: everything else, namely, Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and 1 & 2 Chronicles.

We know it’s the order Jesus himself used because he refers to it in Luke 24:44: “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” (“The Psalms” is an alternative way of referring to the Writings.) Jesus’ reference to this order suggests that it is divinely-intended. To read the Old Testament according to this order, just pencil in L for the Law, P for the Prophets, and W for the Writings alongside the Old Testament book titles on the Contents page of your Bible, and then read the Ls, followed by the Ps, followed by the Ws. There’s no need to change the order of the Ls and the Ps from the regular English Bible order. When it comes to the Ws, pencil in W1, W2, W3 etc, following the order above (remembering that in this Bible-in-a-year scheme the Psalms and Proverbs don’t belong in the Old Testament reading track).

The Law–Prophets–Writings order has the following advantages:

  • It helps us understand the ‘Former Prophets’ correctly (i.e. Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings). Tim Chester and Steve Timmis put it like this in their book Total Church: ‘In the Hebrew canon the history books of the Old Testament (Joshua to 2 Kings) are called the Former Prophets. The main force in these books is not the kings or the international powers, but the word of the Lord that comes by his prophets. God’s word is sovereign.’
  • It separates 1 Samuel–2 Kings from 1 & 2 Chronicles. In fact, reading the Old Testament in the original order puts a lengthy distance between Samuel–Kings and Chronicles. As a result, the Chronicler’s retelling of Israel’s history doesn’t seem repetitive.
  • It’s helpful having the Latter Prophets (Isaiah–Malachi minus Lamentations and Daniel) positioned right after the Former Prophets (Joshua–2 Kings). It means we’re less likely to have forgotten the relevant history by the time we reach books like Isaiah and Hosea.
  • The Law tells us how God wanted his people Israel to live. The Prophets tell us how things worked out in practice after the Exodus from Egypt, and how things will work out in the future. The Writings reflect on the experience of belonging to God’s people. This is a very natural and satisfying organization of the Old Testament material.

Happy reading! Don’t forget to pray beforehand for God’s help in understanding, and afterwards for his help in obedience.

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The Consolation of Prophecy

‘This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ Luke 2:12

What is your remedy when a glorious spiritual experience, which set your heart on fire and filled you with zeal and joy, has lost all power and become a dim memory? Where do you go for help when you’ve lost your confidence that God is in control?

The shepherds of Luke 2:8-20 have an encounter with divine power. It’s the kind of experience which we might imagine would set them up for life – the spiritual equivalent of a huge financial windfall. 1. An angel of God appears to them. 2. The glory of the Lord shines all around them. 3. The angel speaks to them personally. 4. ‘A multitude of the heavenly army’ (Luke 2:13, lit.) appears alongside the angel. 5. All of the angels begin praising God, with what must have been an extremely high decibel count. Surely the shepherds’ faith in the God of the Bible will be rock solid from that point onwards? The angel knows better. On top of all the marvels they are seeing and hearing, he gives them ‘a sign’. In the Bible supernatural signs are given to help persuade people of the truth, in this case the truth that ‘a Saviour has been born’ (v. 11). What is the nature of the angel’s sign, and how can it possibly trump the signs the shepherds are currently witnessing? The angel says, ‘You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’

This is a prophecy. We are so used to hearing it in carol services and nativity plays that we miss its purpose. The angel predicts that if the shepherds go to Bethlehem they will find the newborn Saviour lying in a feeding trough for animals. The power of this sign comes from the baby’s bizarre and unlikely resting-place. If the shepherds had simply been told that they would find a baby, they might perhaps have put it down to coincidence when they found a newborn child in the village. But to find a baby lying in a feeding trough, exactly as predicted, could not possibly be a fluke. The point we need to grasp is that the most powerful part of the shepherds’ experience in the fields isn’t their personal encounter with an angel, or the sight of the glory of the Lord, or the extraordinary sound of the heavenly multitude praising God, no it’s the sign they receive from the angel: his accurate prediction of the newborn Saviour’s unusual crib. Astonishing sights and sounds come off second best when compared with a detailed message about the future which proves to be accurate. Note how the passage ends: ‘The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.’

Without that sign, the shepherds might have begun joking with one another about the mushrooms in their stew on that evening in the fields. But it is much harder to laugh off the divine power seen in the fulfilment of prophecy. In the Bible, God’s ability to predict the future is presented as proof that he can be trusted. The principle is set out in Isaiah 41:23, where God challenges the idols, ‘Tell us what the future holds, so that we may know you are gods’; and Isaiah 46:9,10: ‘I am God and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come.’ Only God can predict something and then make sure that it comes to pass, and we see that happening time and again in Scripture. To take just one example, Daniel 9:26 predicts that after the Messiah has been ‘cut off’, an incoming ruler will destroy the city of Jerusalem and the Temple. God made the prediction, and then it happened.

My friend Roger Carswell once pointed out to me that not long after the joys and wonders of that first Christmas evening, the shepherds had to endure Herod’s ‘massacre of the innocents’ – the slaughter of ‘all the boys in Bethelehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under’ (Matthew 2:16). Perhaps they lost their own boys. What could possibly console them during their mourning, in the face of such injustice? Only the knowledge that God is ultimately in control, which had been proved so indisputably in their experience by his power to predict the future. In our own time when unbelief sometimes seems all-conquering, the accurate prophecies in the Bible persuade us to live by faith rather than sight. They comfort us by renewing our confidence in God’s control.

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