Pastors Report - 31 May 2019
This Wasn't In The Script

This Wasn't in the Script!

"Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled" (Matthew 24:34) .

A Passing Generation?

And yet another good friend has recently died – a minister in God's church, someone my wife and I went through Ambassador College with – someone who was waiting for the return of Jesus Christ, as we all are. But surely, it wasn't meant to be this way. We were supposed to be the generation who didn't need to see death. The generation that fulfilled Christ's words: "Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled" (Matthew 24:34) . The generation who were to be changed instantly from physical matter to spirit:

  • Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
  • In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. (I Corinthians 15:51-52)

So this wasn't expected ... Or was it? Clearly, in God's mind it was ... but He chose it best not to reveal that fact to us.

I remember as a young teen in the church in the early 1960's hearing the older members discussing the hot topic of "how long is a generation?". And it is indeed a "hot topic" – both then and now – as coupled with the other question, "at what year did the 'generation' mentioned in Matthew 24:34 actually begin?" it determines a group of people who will indeed largely not have to see death. Most at that time reckoned the generation must have begun in 1945 – with the first atomic bomb – and was to last for 30 years (by which age the next generation is generally on its way). Needless to say they were wrong. Others set the start of the 30 year generation at 1953 – the date of the first hydrogen bomb explosion and also the date of the first World Tomorrow broadcast into Europe on Radio Luxembourg. Needless to say, they too were wrong!

And so we come to today. Just what does Christ mean "this generation shall not pass"? Which generation? When does/did it start? And does it indicate a set number of years? Could it even be more the "threescore and ten" scenario? Or just that some of the group will indeed survive until He returns? And how will this impact so many other aspects of our lives, as getting this old certainly wasn't "in the script" in the 1960s! We could hardly contemplate getting married, let alone having children, children reaching teenage, then them in turn getting married, producing grandchildren etc etc.

Abraham's "script"

But we're not alone in this by any means. So often when we look at the lives of those who went before us we somehow imagine God as being in regular and frequent contact with them – constantly shoring them up and encouraging them. But the biblical record does not tend to support that view. Yes, God did reveal Himself to them from time to time, but there must have been many, many years when this was not so. They therefore must have had their own fair share of things that they would perceive weren't "in the script" as well – God requiring them to focus instead on areas which are truly important, while trusting Him, in patience, for as long as it took.

Take Abraham as a prime example: Careful reading of the end of Genesis chapter 11 and the first few verses of chapter 12 indicates God having first revealed Himself to Abram in Ur of the Chaldees, where presumably He told him the general direction he needed to travel. But it appears God remained largely silent as Abram journeyed to Haran where he stayed – making the family wealthy – until his father died. This must have taken several years as he only left Haran at age 75. And only when he actually reached Canaan did God once again appear to him (Genesis 12:7) All this time, Sarah – as she was later called – was barren. Yet this condition was certainly "not in the script" – as the very promise of being the head of a great nation demanded at least one heir!

We can imagine the conversations between Abram and his wife at the time – and how similar to our own "how long is a generation?" discussions they must have been! And all this time God Himself would be able to hear such musings – just as He too can and undoubtedly does, hear our own. In Abram's case, God deliberately allowed the situation to continue until absolutely all human solutions had been totally exhausted. And this position has been recorded specifically for us on whom the ends of the age have fallen. Just look at these two individuals – and learn:

  • Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the LORD: Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn;
  • look to Abraham, your father, and to Sarah, who gave you birth. When I called him he was only one man, and I blessed him and made him many.
  • The LORD will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins; he will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the LORD. Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing. (Isaiah 51:1-3 NIV)
Isaac's "script"

There is absolutely no doubt that Abraham discussed the promises God gave him with his son Isaac – the one God Himself named, and at the same time guaranteed the promises specifically through him:

  • And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him. (Genesis 17:19)

But once more it was not plain sailing. Think how it must have been for Isaac and Rebecca – for twenty long years, their hopes of conceiving were raised and dashed each month – along with Abraham's, undoubtedly, who was still alive at that juncture. All this time, while waiting for the next heir to appear, there is no indication in the Bible that God talked with them, explaining His "script". They had to simply accept the situation – in faith – patiently taking one day, one month at a time. Again, there must have been many conversations on the subject, in the light of Isaac's own conception and God's testing and faithfulness through the entire incident on Mount Moriah ... another totally unforeseen scenario. Undoubtedly Abraham had much to teach his son through the twenty years of waiting.

  • And Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah to wife, the daughter of Bethuel the Syrian of Padanaram, the sister to Laban the Syrian
  • And Isaac intreated the LORD for his wife, because she was barren: and the LORD was intreated of him, and Rebekah his wife conceived ...
  • And after that came his brother out, and his hand took hold on Esau’s heel; and his name was called Jacob: and Isaac was threescore years old when she bare them. (Genesis 25:20,21,26)
Jacob's "script"

Just imagine the trouble that could have been avoided had God stepped in to prevent Jacob being deceived by Laban into marrying Leah. But his own actions in deceiving his brother of both birthright and blessing came back to haunt him. And all this time God was fully aware of what was going on and what the "script" needed to be for Jacob in order to ram the lesson home.

But we can be confident that God's "script" for all of us – Jacob included – will work out in a positive way. We can partially see this from the account of the reunion of the two brothers. What Jacob was expecting was very different indeed from what actually transpired - as so often happens in our lives.

  • And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, We came to thy brother Esau, and also he cometh to meet thee, and four hundred men with him.
  • Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed:...
  • And he passed over before them, and bowed himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother.
  • And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept. (Genesis 32:7, 33:3,4)

But even though this reunion worked out in a positive way and he had spent the previous night in the presence of the one that became Jesus Christ – even wrestling with Him and having his name changed to Israel - in his life he continued to face hardship and heartache. He lost his favourite wife Rachel in childbirth, and then "lost" their eldest son, giving him up for dead. But through all of this, God remained fully aware and was working closely with Jacob – now called Israel – even though he could not see it at all at the time. Surely he would have found himself close to despair on occasions, wondering how on earth this could possibly work out for good.

Once again, there is no record of God personally dealing with Jacob from the wrestling match until his journey into Egypt – a period of several decades.

  • And God spake unto Israel in the visions of the night, and said, Jacob, Jacob. And he said, Here am I.
  • And he said, I am God, the God of thy father: fear not to go down into Egypt; for I will there make of thee a great nation:
  • I will go down with thee into Egypt; and I will also surely bring thee up again: and Joseph shall put his hand upon thine eyes. (Genesis 46:2-4)

But as we know from recorded scripture, God knew there would be a happy ending: "And Israel said unto Joseph, I had not thought to see thy face: and, lo, God hath shewed me also thy seed. (Genesis 48:11)" as He had in HIS "script" for Israel to bless his descendants in such a way that we can identify these individual nations today.

Joseph's "script"

And intertwined with Jacob's life was the life of his son Joseph. In Joseph's case, all he appeared to have were his dreams. Unlike his father, grandfather and great-grandfather, there doesn't seem to be any indication that God actually appeared to him. Yet if there is any account within scripture that seems to apply specifically to us today, it is the story of Joseph.

He was not the most tactful of teenagers and no doubt made all kinds of mistakes – as we do – but he certainly did not deserve what happened to him ... being sold into slavery and then a little later, imprisoned for acting in a righteous way. But God, who sees the end from the beginning, had a much, much greater purpose in mind than just smoothing out the rough spots in the life of this young man all those thousands of years ago. God could even see down to our day and beyond and wanted to give us, on whom the ends of the world have fallen, the most positive message He could.

God remains unseen in our day-to-day lives, but He most certainly has not "gone off somewhere", but is active, on our case, day and night. Those 13 years or so in prison must have seemed a lifetime to Joseph and no doubt, being human, he had times of deep despair, but as we read over the account, we have the advantage of seeing exactly what God was in fact doing ... He was training that young man for an incredible position of authority! Joseph's life of hardship changed overnight ... one day a prisoner and the next, second in command to Pharaoh, in the greatest nation that existed on earth at that time.

Who could possibly have foreseen what actually transpired? Clearly God's "script" is much more expansive and multi-faceted than ours could ever be. Like Joseph – who helped to save many thousands of lives that were endangered by the famine, we too have been called to a vital job – to preserve life:

  • Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life.
  • For these two years hath the famine been in the land: and yet there are five years, in the which there shall neither be earing nor harvest.
  • And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. (Genesis 45:5-7)
  • And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened. (Matthew 24:22)
The Apostles' "script"

When we come to the time of Christ, even John the Baptist must have thought to himself ... "this is not in the script!", as far as the Messiah was concerned. It seems as if no one was expecting a "two-stage Messiahship" ... i.e. firstly dying for all the sins of mankind and THEN returning as the all-conquering King of kings, establishing His government on the earth, and especially over the Roman Empire!

  • And said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?
  • Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see:
  • The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.
  • And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me. (Matthew 11:3-6)

From a number of comments made, this too was the view of the apostles.

  • When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? (Acts 1:6)

There were several "messianic movements" abroad at the time, but none of them involved dying for the sins of their followers! Such scriptures were suitably ignored – against the plethora of passages dealing with the "new age" of a Messiah cast as the all-conquering hero.

Death and Resurrection

So when Christ not only died, but did so in a truly degrading manner, with a thief either side of Him, "this was most certainly not in the script" was undoubtedly on the lips of most, if not all of His followers. To any unconverted eyes, it very much looked as if the party was over and it was back to work ... back to their boats once more;

  • Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing. They say unto him, We also go with thee. They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing. (John 21:3)

Similar feelings were expressed by two of His followers, to the resurrected Christ Himself who appeared 'incognito' and talked with them on the road to the village Emmaus:

  • And he [Christ] said unto them, What things? And they said unto him, Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, which was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people:
  • And how the chief priests and our rulers delivered him to be condemned to death, and have crucified him.
  • But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel: and beside all this, to day is the third day since these things were done. (Luke 24:19-21)

It is worth noting that although Christ – in person – discussed in great detail His forthcoming death and subsequent resurrection (especially in the gospel of John, chapters 13 through to 16), the disciples were unable to mentally grasp what He was telling them, as they had not yet gathered together for the Day of Pentecost. The receiving of the Holy Spirit opened their minds to these awesome spiritual truths and concepts, and brought back to their minds the words and previous teachings they'd been given by the very Messiah Himself.

The Early Church

Yet even with the Holy Spirit guiding them, there were still surprises in store. First of all they had no concept of the time frame involved before the 2nd coming, presuming it would be in their generation. This can be clearly seen within the first few chapters of Acts – in which they were not only "holding all things in common" but also selling their personal possessions and property. No doubt we would have had the same frame of mind, if we had been there at that incredible time of stupendous growth in the early church:

  • And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.
  • And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,
  • Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved. (Acts 2:45-47)

But within a matter of weeks, first Stephen was stoned to death and then later the apostle James was beheaded. Clearly these two deaths were "not in the script." After all, wasn't Christ Himself just about to return as King of kings to bring about the restitution of all things? I doubt if any of them even vaguely imagined the true picture – having to wait, year after year, for 2,000 years! Such a viewpoint most certainly was not "in the script", as can be seen from Paul's epistle to the brethren in Thessalonica:

  • For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not [precede] them which are asleep.
  • For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
  • Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. (I Thessalonians 4:15-17)
More "unscripted" surprises were in store in the coming years, with "arch enemy" Saul being converted, the temple being destroyed, and massive persecution setting in, resulting in what we know as the Diaspora.
Cornelius and the Gentiles

But God's "script" is much more expansive – and inclusive – than anything our frail human minds could conceive. We can see this quite clearly when we examine the vision given to Peter regarding God's desire to include Gentiles in His Plan – a plan that would go on to include ALL mankind, throughout all the ages, clearly shown in our understanding of the Last Great Day.

Certainly, the inclusion of Gentiles in the early church was not "in the script" at all, previous to when God guided Peter towards Cornelius' home. (Acts 10). So important was this step that - even prior to being baptised - the household of Cornelius was given the Holy Spirit with the sign of speaking in tongues – something that accompanied the giving of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost initially. Needless to say, the Jews that accompanied Peter were utterly astounded:

  • While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.
  • And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost.
  • For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter,
  • Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? (Acts 10:44-47)
And Now Today

Looking at all the above examples, is it any wonder at all that the God that changes not, but is the same yesterday, today and forever, deals with us today in a very similar way. We need to take careful note of Jesus Christ's reply to the question "will you at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?":

  • And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. (Acts 1:7)

Christ then encouraged them to concentrate on the job they had been given at that time – to preach the gospel as the prime witnesses of Him and His resurrection (v8) – and to leave the timings entirely in the hands of the Father.

In a similar way, we too must learn to leave the question of timings in God's hands, even including the questions such as "what is a generation?" and "when does a generation start?" And instead concentrate on the job WE have been given – to continue providing appropriate food in due season right through until Christ's return (Matthew 24:45, 46) and to focus God's people on developing the truly caring godly character we all need, so we can be fully qualified to teach that identical loving Way, God's Way, as Firstfruits in His soon coming Kingdom.

And as for timings, the only thing we can be sure of, is that it will be at "a time we think not" (Matthew 24:44). And another thing we can be just as sure of, as could Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, Peter and all the apostles, is that God has promised never to leave us or forsake us through the process. So – even when we find ourselves in difficult or painful situations, wondering what happened to our "script", we can look back from this vantage point of thousands of years on, and realise that all things will indeed "work together for good, to those who love God and are the called, according to His purpose." (Romans 8:28)

You Will Meet Trials

It's worth remembering what Mr Armstrong brought out in his GN article of March 1981, to those newly baptized:

You have entered upon a new life – a life of great happiness and joy – a life to continue FOREVER – yet, in this present evil world it will not be an easy life.

As a matter of fact, you have left behind the “easy way” – the popular, broad road that leads to destruction. You have passed the crossroads and turned off onto the narrow, rutty, bumpy, rocky and HARD and DIFFICULT road that very few people in this world ever are willing to enter – but that leads to SUCCESS, to USEFULNESS, to HAPPINESS, JOY and ETERNAL LIFE.

It leads to rewards – not of idleness and ease, but to usefulness and service and accomplishment and success – so great that I know your mind can’t possibly grasp it, now, BUT YOU’LL HAVE TO PAY THE PRICE! ( The Good News – March 1981)

No, when we were baptized, some of us as many as 50 years ago, it's doubtful we foresaw where the twists and turns of life would take us. Some have suffered broken families, broken health, financial and work issues and most definitely all of us a shattered church. We've had to bury loved ones, endure divorce, children leaving the church, losing homes and yet through all of these hardships, God has been there with us, training us – as the Master Potter – preparing us for the job ahead, for eternity in His family – for there's one thing we can fully trust in, and that's in HIS "script":

  • But now thus saith the LORD that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine.
  • When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.
  • For I am the LORD thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour: I gave Egypt for thy ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for thee.
  • Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee: therefore will I give men for thee, and people for thy life.
  • Fear not: for I am with thee: I will bring thy seed from the east, and gather thee from the west;
  • I will say to the north, Give up; and to the south, Keep not back: bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the ends of the earth;
  • Even every one that is called by my name: for I have created him for my glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him. (Isaiah 43:1-7)