John to Gaius

When John was an old man, and probably in gaol on Patmos, he wrote to his friend Gaius in Ephesus a short letter essentially about three things, but there is a fourth hidden there also which lies behind all three.

It is a personal letter, and the manner in which he writes, hiding in some ways the matter of the things of which he is speaking, makes it clear that he wanted the letter to get to Gaius even if it meant that he would have to leave Gaius to make an intelligent guess about what he meant. Gaius knew John. He would know what John meant even if the uninformed reader did not.

John was probably about ninety years old when he wrote the letter. John had walked with Jesus. John had had some privileges in Jerusalem. It was John who had obtained entrance for Peter to the high priest’s garden at the time of the Lord’s trial. John had been at the foot of the cross with Mary. Gaius would know that he must interpret all that John wrote with that in mind. John therefore speaks a little in riddles to his friend. In this way the letter when read by the prisoner governor would get past his scrutiny and on its way to his friend.

Three things then:

His first subject is something quite close to the hearts of all of us who have any interest in medicine, and also to those who do not. That it go well with you – health and prosperity if you like – a good and normal common greeting of the day in which he wrote this letter, just as it still is in some parts of the world today – but notice what he says next: the good of his body is predicated upon the health of his soul/spirit.  John knew that health and prosperity are nothing. He had heard Jesus tell the story of the rich man and Lazarus: Tonight your soul is required of you, what will become of your wealth then. A man may gain the whole world, but if he lose his soul, what has he gained? Gaius was to look after his soul first.

John goes on to speak of how glad he is when his children walk in the truth. Again Gaius would have understood. Jesus in replying to a question from his disciples said, I am the way, the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father except by me. Pilate had asked him, What is truth? John expresses his desire, and his joy, that Gaius, and all others (his children) should walk with Jesus. Whatever your outward position or status – health or lack of it, prosperity or poverty – if you do not walk with Jesus you have nothing, you are poor indeed. It was John’s first desire, and nothing gave him greater joy than this, that they know Jesus and walk with him. Do we?

Secondly, he warns them about Diotrephes, perhaps those should call him who are medical people, Di-atrophies – two atrophies. Medics know what atrophy means.  The teaching and practice of Diotrephes lead to only one thing the atrophy – the weakening, the decay, dying of the spiritual life of the people.

John had walked with Jesus. He remembered those times when the twelve had argued among themselves about who was the greatest. He remembered that most embarrassing occasion when his own mother had asked Jesus for thrones for the two sons of Zebedee (for his brother and for him). He had walked with the one who really was the First, the Best, the Greatest – the one who holds the highest place, and is seated at the right hand of God. But here he speaks of Di-otrephes who loves to be first. Jesus said, if I your Lord and Master wash your feet…

But Di-otrephes behaves in quite the opposite way so that he demands obedience from everyone in the church, and puts out of it anyone who refuses. We have some like that in England – they are the ones who say: If you are not with me, you are against me! Do as I say! Believe exactly what I tell you! You probably have some where ever you are as well. Beware of them. When the disciples saw someone who was not with them speaking in the name of Jesus, Jesus taught them: Leave him alone, no-one can do these things in my name and not honour me. Even those who teach and lead must remember that once they did not understand and if once they did not understand, then they (and we) may still not understand, so do not be quick to cast someone out. Listen with all patience, and teach carefully. Jesus also reminded John that there will be many who will say: Did we not do this that and the other in your name? but they never knew Jesus. Diotrephes, who wants to be first, who demands obedience, appears to be such a man. What he does he does for honour before men, not for the love of the Master. John says to Gaius and to us, beware of him, and of those like him.

Gaius would also remember that John heard Jesus say: I came not to be served,  but to serve and give my life as a ransom for sinners.

The second atrophy, the message hidden behind this, is: Do not imitate the world – and those like Diotrephes who themselves only display what is important to worldly men –  but Jesus who died for you. The imitation of the world leads to death, but the following of Jesus to life.

Thirdly he turns Gaius’s attention to Demetrius. Dimitry – I want to call him Di-meter – Two Measures.  Dimitry is a man against whom you can measure yourself. No doubt most of us, just as when we measure ourselves against Jesus, even if we measured ourselves against this man, would find ourselves to be wanting. We certainly fall short of what he required. Perhaps that is why he is two measures – we can only ever hope to be one measure if that! – he stands tall spiritually speaking, twice as high as the rest of us. But there is another reason for two. John mentions two characteristics of Dimitry and in doing so John turns our attention again to Jesus.

Demetrius is one who has a good testimony. What can John mean? He has already spoken of it. After telling us that we are to imitate what is good not what is evil, he then exhibits Demetrius to us as one who does those very things. He has a good testimony. No-one speaks evil of him. Indeed nothing can be found against him. Just as Demetrius measured carefully, judging what was good and to be imitated, and what was evil to be shunned, so we should also. Do we not want a good testimony from the truth itself? Do we not want to hear, when we stand before the returning king the Lord saying to us: Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord? Demetrius was one who would hear that call.

Finally, John did not continue writing. There is more he could say, just as when he ends his gospel account he tells us that the world does not have enough room for all that could be written about Jesus, but he will not write it down. To write too much could of course provoke the governor of the gaol to reject the letter, but John has a better purpose. It is better to meet face to face than to write. We are not designed to cut ourselves off and away from each other. God has made us to have fellowship with himself in his Son, and in so doing to have fellowship with one another.

Do you want to know what heaven is like? Jonathan Edwards wrote a short book in which he answered the question, but also did not answer the question: Heaven, a world of love. This is what heaven is like. Gone are all of the things that separate us from each other. Gone are all of the things that we do not want other people to know about us. In his first letter John says: Perfect love casts out fear. We shall love God then with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength and our neighbours as ourselves. But of course Edwards also does not answer the question for he knew that Paul had said that it has not entered even into the imagination of the heart of men what God has prepared. But we know this, and John points to it, that then we shall speak face to face. Then, Paul says, we shall no longer look as if into mirror, but shall see the Lord face to face.

For that day we wait. Are we ready? Has Jesus made you ready?

From the River to the Western Sea

Coco had wondered whether a lengthy introduction would be wise, as Coco has been reliably informed on several occasions that a lengthy introduction, as well as being long-winded, normally puts potential readers off so that they do not become actual readers but merely passers-by, but having learned a lesson of late of one who did precisely that in order to avoid provoking the wrath of the censor, which in his case would have been the Roman governor of his gaol, Coco thought perhaps that he too should seek to avoid his wrath, but by placing this introductory paragraph to the introduction he has probably rather more drawn his attention to the possibility that what is about to be said may be more than a little controversial, though if you, dear reader, carefully read you will note that that there is not a single note of controversy about it at all.  The argument is clear; it is precise; it is too the point; it is not rambling; it does not stray; it is compelling, to the point and it leads to an inescapable and unavoidable conclusion which many may wish to avoid.

With that in mind then Coco wishes to report that whilst we were victualling one evening a friend made reference to the pining for the fjords, which was offered by the pet shop owner as the substantive reason for the rather undesirable state of the parrot which had been brought back in to the shop. Coco failed to hear the reference to the Monty Python sketch, but instead heard and was reminded of an ancient Chinese poem which expresses the pining of the beloved in this way:

How few by moonlight find their tryst
but pine alone by stranded trees.

Zhang Ruoxu (660-720 AD) wrote this delightful work quite some years ago. There is a copy here on this blog, but it is certain that there are many other copies of it available on line. You can hear in the poem the longing of the beloved for the return of her husband. We hear the same expression of longing at the end of the Song of Songs, where Solomon put these words into the mouth of the Beloved after her husband has departed:

Make haste, my beloved,
And be like a gazelle
Or a young stag
On the mountains of spices.
Song of Songs 8

There is delight even in listening to this Chinese ode read in a tongue which you do not understand for you can hear the rhythms and cadences of it so clearly and artfully worked in the construction of the lines. Even when we take into account that mistakes may well be made in a modern reading, for the expression of languages changes over the years. If, as it has been suggested, that the French spoken in Quebec is much more likely to sound like the French that was spoken by the French kings than the French that spoken in Paris today, then the language and tones of the English language as spoken in New England may well be much more appropriate for the expression of Shakespeare than any of our contemporary British dialects. We only need to remember that Summer is ycumen in is not a song for the ending of spring but rather for the height of summer to know that we cannot take for granted that we would correctly understand all that was said and written, nor indeed know how to vocalise and stress our own language as it was spoken even five hundred years ago correctly – we must remember that the past is a foreign country – but even allowing for such difficulties this poem as read by Google in modern Mandarin, and not the Mandarin of thirteen hundred years ago, contains much to show the beauty of the work and the skill of the writer. How much more it would if we could but hear his own contemporaries intone it.

But it was not of the references to the pining that came to mind, but rather more to where the gentleman had gone. These words come immediately before the beloved expresses her pining:

The moon sinks down into the mist
which parts the rivers from the seas.

Have you ever thought about what it is that separates the river from the sea? Where does the river cease to be the river and become the sea? We know that moving downstream we must travel from the river to the sea but we cannot say where that transition takes place, we only know that has taken place after it has occurred. We may want to say that the translation happens when the water becomes salty, but that does not explain all rivers. Many may indeed become salty, by reason of tidal influx long before they reach the sea. Some are so powerful in their flow that the sea itself is fresh water where they leave the land. The poet alone can answer the question for us. There is a mist, not just any kind of mist but a special one into which the moon sinks down. It is this that suggests to the poet where to find the the boundary between the river and the sea. And so we may say in passing from the river to the sea we must enter this mist.

From the river to the sea has taken a new meaning today, but we see that the poet Zhang Ruoxu used the expression a thousand years ago. Indeed when we enquire further we find that the expression is older than that. It was first used two thousand years before, earlier even than when our beloved Shulammite yearned: Make haste, my beloved, and be like a gazelle or a young stag on the mountains of spices. We find it in Moses where he is speaking to the Hebrews in the wilderness:

Every place on which the sole of your foot treads shall be yours: from the wilderness and Lebanon, from the river, the River Euphrates, even to the Western Sea, shall be your territory.
Deuteronomy 11:24

This is, you may note, not simply a reference to the Jordan, but beyond the Jordan to the River, that is to say, the Euphrates. It was not until Solomon that that became a reality, as we read in the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel:

So Solomon reigned over all kingdoms from the River to the land of the Philistines, as far as the border of Egypt. 1 Kings 4
So [Solomon] reigned over all the kings from the River to the land of the Philistines, as far as the border of Egypt. 2 Chronicles 9

That the land of the Philistines is specifically mentioned here is significant and entirely congruent with the special place that they had. The Philistines were not to be one of the nations to be removed by Joshua from the land. That special place continues to be seen, though obscurely, in the Chronicles from time to time.

Whether or not the present occupants of Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Ekron, and Gath are descendants of the people who lived there three thousand years ago is not part of this discussion. They may be, they may be not. There have been many movements of population in the nations from the River to the Western Sea, some voluntary but many involuntary in the intervening period; we would have great difficulty to unravel the knot of past generations. It is however clear that there are a people who occupy this place.

So we see that from the river to the sea is an ancient phrase, not a modern one. We have seen that including our first record of it being used that it has been used in three different ways, and Coco is sure that there are many other ways in which in it has been and may be used other than these. Where it has reference however to a location what we need to note is not the actual location of the land but what it represents. For the Hebrews it represented the fulfilment of a promise made to Abraham, expressed as a land flowing with milk and honey:

Therefore you shall keep every commandment which I command you today, that you may be strong, and go in and possess the land which you cross over to possess, and that you may prolong your days in the land which the Lord swore to give your fathers, to them and their descendants, ‘a land flowing with milk and honey.’ For the land which you go to possess is not like the land of Egypt from which you have come, where you sowed your seed and watered it by foot, as a vegetable garden; but the land which you cross over to possess is a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water from the rain of heaven, a land for which the Lord your God cares; the eyes of the Lord your God are always on it, from the beginning of the year to the very end of the year. Deuteronomy 11:8-12

Moses here contrasts the land with the land of Egypt out of which they had come. What he is expressing is the same longing which has been in the hearts of men since the day on which Adam fell. It is a longing for a better place. We find Lamech saying: This one [Noah] will comfort us concerning our work and the toil of our hands, because of the ground which the Lord has cursed Genesis 5:29. It was not however to be as Lamech thought or hoped for Noah saw the greatest cataclysm that this world has ever yet seen since the fall.

Adam toiled as he sowed the seed in the field, just as the Hebrews did in Egypt. Work, which had been given for our good, had become a hardship. We became slaves to it finding in it toil rather than pleasure – though let Coco not be accused of saying that there is no element at all of pleasure in work. There is still a remnant of it for those who are able to find it. The people in Egypt longed to be released from the toil of their slavery to Pharaoh. Do we not today also? The expression of this longing is found in Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home. It is not just the slaves’ expression of longing to be free, but rather a reference to the Lord’s chariot coming to take Elijah out of this world to a better place. It is an expression of the desire of all men, the longing to be home, the hiraeth of the Welsh.

So we are brought back to the pining not to the pining of the dead parrot but rather to that of our Chinese lady for the return of her mariner husband, and to that of the Shulammite for her king to come as a gazelle over the mountains of spices. The Chinese lady saw the river as a barrier for her mariner. The Shulammite saw the mountains in an entirely different way. They are delightful mountains, they are mountains of spices. What a contrast, but the contrast derives from the difference in their relationship with their Lord and who he is. For the Shulammite he is the supreme commander. He is in charge of all things. Nothing could ever really separate her from his love for all things are his. We hear this expressed at the end of the John’s revelation. So we come back to John as well, who provided Coco with the excuse for the long introduction. The king speaks:

I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.

And just as Moses had done, John adds a reference to obedience: Blessed are those who do his commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. And provides a warning (Moses did also, but Coco did not include above, if you read the words in the book you will quickly find it): But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie.

I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you these things in the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star.

And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.
Revelation 22

Three thousand years ago the Shulammite cried out, as a representative of the people of God, expressing the pining of our hearts for the return of the king:

Make haste, my beloved,
And be like a gazelle
Or a young stag
On the mountains of spices.

A thousand years later the Lord replied: “Surely I am coming quickly.” (v20)

Truly, he is coming to take us, not to the land from the River to the Western Sea, but to the land that is actually flowing with what the milk and honey of Moses represent, to his eternal kingdom. In that day the pining shall be over. We shall work with him in work that is no more toil, and we rest with him.

Amen! Even so, come Lord Jesus!

Never too late

It was a warm afternoon when Elmer and Wilma drove up the mountain from Brenzone through Prada. As they drove behind another tourist, whom they recognised as a tourist from the British number plates, for some reason his thoughts turned to his elder brothers, Barney and Homer. He missed them both, though they were quite different both in the characters and their careers.

He had lost Barney some thirty years earlier to malaria which he had contracted whilst working with indigenous tribes in the Amazon basin. He and Wilma had nursed Barney in his last months at their home and then in Elmer’s clinic in their home town, Milan, in Georgia. It was the name Milan had initially brought them across to Lombardy, but it was the coffee and gelato, which never failed to please that brought them back year after year.

Homer had taken a different path. Early in life he studied in seminary and taken up a pastoral role in a church simply known as Bethel not far from the family home. Upon the retirement of the senior pastor, he took up that position and remained in it for the next forty-five years. Upon his retirement the congregation asked him to remain with them, which he did supporting the new pastor in whatever way he could for a further ten years. Elmer spoke warmly of his elder brother at the funeral celebration only a few months earlier. He had few words to say however as he strongly believed that both Barney and Homer had wasted their lives and though he had often said it to them, he did not wish any hint of that to be heard by the outside world.

Intellectually he regarded them as his superiors, and not simply because they were his elder brothers. He had often tested them out and had never found them wanting in their thinking and reasoning when they were in possession of the correct data, which most often they were. They were also, and especially Homer, ready and able to show him where his own thinking and reasoning was deficient. Homer often corrected him to strengthen his arguments even when his arguments were counter to Homer’s own beliefs. Elmer had greatly valued their help for it had greatly benefitted him in his academic medical work. Homer was never slow to praise where it was due, and so was always quick to read his papers. In addition to giving appropriate praise, he would point out where his argument was weak, or the evidence he had provided did not support quite as well as he had hoped what he wanted to say. Elmer puzzled at times over this as Homer had had absolutely no medical training whatsoever, but when he examined matters again, Homer was never off the mark.

Elmer was ten years younger than the two of them. As a teenager he had watched them grow into men and make their choices. They had all grown up in Milan at the local SB congregation. His two brothers had been baptised when they were twelve, but it was some years later that the faith they professed began to take shape in their lives and influences their choices. Their behaviour changed in their late teens as they became serious, committed believers. At twelve Elmer had refused to be baptised. Despite his brother’s efforts to persuade him, he wanted to play ball and the training matches were Sunday morning. The Sunday morning training was frowned upon by most of the community, but there were enough families who participated to make it happen. It also resulted in better team play and consequently more wins for Elmer’s team.

Leaving college Elmer went to medical school in the north states where he obtained distinctions in all of his exams. He had planned to be simply a local doctor, but his time of study changed his thinking. He went on to become qualified as a surgeon and then took an academic position. In his thirties he became a professor at which point he decided that as to be a local doctor had been his target, that is what he would become. Such was his reputation however that his colleagues, both local and international, persuaded him that he should not do that. He therefore compromised.

It was that compromise that led him and Wilma to set up the clinic in Milan. It would be a new type of clinic, offering both local medical services as well as conducting specialist research and surgery. It was ambitious, but his academic community supported him in it, as did his local community when they eventually understood what he was trying to do. It was in this clinic that Barney had spent his last few weeks.

Barney’s presence in the clinic had had a big impact upon the staff. He was quite different to Elmer. He knew how sick he was. He knew that he was dying, yet he had a quiet confidence in the God who raises from the dead. Though Milan was a religious community most of its inhabitants would not be looking forward to death preferring to find a way, any way, to put it off. Barney was expressing what few could say: Komm! du süße Todesstunde! which some of the Lutherans recognised but not many others. Some of the staff tried to talk with Elmer about this, but Elmer dismissed in the most polite way possible, but privately saying to himself: Nonsense, Barney.

Elmer had often rebuffed his brothers who had questioned him about his world view. He could not argue against them successfully, he knew that, and as related above Homer when pointing out the weaknesses of his argument would show him how to strengthen it. Even when he did follow Homer’s advice, Homer still managed to unpick the argument! Elmer dismissed their thoughts of eternity as religious phantasy. He would do what he did in his way for the good of those around him.

Then it happened. A vehicle coming down the road, misjudged the road as much as the British driver did in the car ahead of them. There was a passenger in the car who had taken much of the force of the impact. Elmer stopped.

The British driver got out, and Elmer shouted: I am a doctor. You need help?

Clearly they did. Elmer moved over to the vehicles as quickly as he could where he realised that they must get the passenger out without any delay. The other vehicle had to be moved back. The passenger, a young lad of barely sixteen years was dazed and bled greatly. Elmer tried to staunch the flow. Wílma ran back to bring tourniquets from their car in the hope they might be of use, but too little could be done.

After a short while the young boy opened his eyes. His father’s countenance brightened, but Elmer knew otherwise.  The boy spoke only briefly: Don’t worry about me; I’m with Jesus. It was the last moment of his breath. In the thrall of death the young fight, but cannot overcome. The old acquiesce.

Elmer reflected: If the British car had not been there, I would have been in that same seat as the young boy. If the car in front had not been British, the boy would have not have been in that seat. He had come from Milan to Milan to hear what his two brothers had told him for sixty years from a boy who was only a little older than he had been when he had stopped listening to his brothers and had dismissed their teaching, from the same boy who had now died in his place. He remembered what John had written to Gaius: Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers. It burned through him. In his life he had focussed simply on prosperity and being in health, he had not seen before that John premised Gaius’s external well-being upon that of his soul. Elmer knew he had neglected, even rejected, the well-being of, his soul.

It was not Barney and Homer who had wasted their lives as Elmer now saw so very clearly. He returned to Bethel to be baptised, and to follow Jesus just as Barney and Elmer had done.

Based upon a true story….whose origin Coco has forgotten

Darwin’s Finches

It was the proposal of the American Ornithological Society to rename some of the native birds of their homeland for reasons apparently dismissed by their counterpart body the National Audubon Society as reported by the BBC (US ornithological society says dozens of birds will be renamed) that prompted Coco to write. Once again it is evidence of a failure on the part of modern society to face its history – the journey it has taken to get where we are today – and it ready preparedness to efface its history in order to give the appearance of not participating in the sins of its fathers.

Why should the thick-billed longspur not be known as rhynchophanes mccownii (the Thick Billed Longspur of McCown rather like the Kyle of Lochalsh except it looks like a sparrow to this non-ornithologist)? Why should the names of Wilson’s warbler and snipe be changed? Or is it that what is really being said here is that we should suppress the names of all who are called Wilson or McCown in order to completely eradicate any memory of anything untoward that those of those names, and many others, did in our history? Perhaps Coco’s suggestion is merely an innocuous conspiracy theory.

McCown's Longspur

The Lord spoke of those who seek to efface history in these terms: Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.’ Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets*.

If Darwin had known what we know today he would not have been so quick to label his finches as multiple differentiated species evolved from a common ancestor, but rather a single species of birds as diverse in their morphological appearance as humanity. His comment that ‘two species may be often seen climbing about the flowers of the great cactus-trees; but all the other species of this group of finches, mingled together in flocks, feed on the dry and sterile ground of the lower districts’ should have alerted him to ignore the conclusions of Gould, which would only mislead him further. He did not benefit from contemporary genetic work nor the field work of the Grants so we should not treat him too harshly; he was as much a man of his day as McCown, Aubudon and Wilson. Perhaps though if Coco were to wish to efface our history, and the impact of the Darwinism in the provocation of at least some of the atrocities of the twentieth century Coco may wish to remove the epitaph of Darwin’s Finches, but let it stand as a witness to the folly of contemptorary(sic.) thought on our origins.

The witness of those who built the tombs did indeed fall upon themselves for it was not many days later that they were instrumental in bringing to pass what had long been foretold, the death of the Innocent One for we who are guilty. God accepted his sacrifice for us and raised Jesus from the dead. We cannot erase our past, but must face up to it, acknowledge it to him, and he will blot it out, efface it in the blood of Jesus.

Matthew 23:29-31, 32-36
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.’ Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets.
Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt. Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell? Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.

Luke 11:47-51
Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets, and your fathers killed them. In fact, you bear witness that you approve the deeds of your fathers; for they indeed killed them, and you build their tombs. 49 Therefore the wisdom of God also said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill and persecute,’ that the blood of all the prophets which was shed from the foundation of the world may be required of this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah who perished between the altar and the temple. Yes, I say to you, it shall be required of this generation.


After Paul had left Titus in Crete to complete a very necessary task in the churches Titus found that there was no little discouragement and some opposition to the work. Paul therefore wrote a letter to him in which he included clear instructions and warnings. When we read the letter it is obvious that Paul intended it not just for Titus but also for the churches with whom Titus was working. He wanted them to know that the work Titus had been given to do had been given with apostolic authority and therefore from the Lord himself. Whether you accept that latter point or not is neither here nor there, as we shall see in another instance shortly, it was enough that Titus had apostolic authority for his work. Paul had some difficult things to say to Titus, and in order to avoid any charge of xenophobia (at least so I infer), he enlists one of the Cretans’ own poets to make a point that would have been obvious to anyone, and was probably the root cause of the difficulties and discouragements that Titus faced when he first began. Coco shall not quote it here, you, dear reader, may easily look it up. In itself it and what it says are not relevant to what Coco is going to say here, but the importance of the manner of its use should not be overlooked.

There is much division in this world, and particularly in recent weeks, one of those divisions has been brought, in a tangible and most brutal way, to the surface. The astonishment, and perhaps irony, is that whilst part of it is called anti-semitism, the division is between two semitic peoples, the peoples who now inhabit the land of Philistia and the inheritors of Canaan. A similar division between the descendants of Ham and of Shem resulted in the well-known encounter of the then future king, David with the giant of Gath, Goliath. It was also the reason that an older and proven warrior David was not permitted to march with the armies of the Philistines against the armies of Saul, the king of Israel.

Some five hundred years later the prophet Jeremiah was raised up in Israel and pronounced some words which in part at least bear witness to the cause of something of what we see in the world today and which suggests perhaps reasons for the persistence of this attitude for the past two and a half thousand years:

I shall scatter you to the nations….and you shall become a byword to be spoken against.

Now had Coco have said these words, even though clearly Coco would not be able to put them into effect, then you could rightly accuse him of antisemitism, in the narrow sense of being anti-Jew, for they were spoken primarily against the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, though there were people of the other ten tribes mixed in among them, and the charge may stick if you could also prove intent to stir up hatred, except that the words do not indicate any attempt to stir up hatred at all if you read them carefully. If hatred is found in the people towards those who were exiled among them, the cause is not the scattering, nor the utterance of the words but rather it derives from the hearts of those to which the people were scattered, not from the mouth of the utterer of the words.  

But Coco did not say these things, they were spoken the one of Israel’s own prophets, hence my reference above to Titus’s work among the Cretans, and Jeremiah was merely reporting what the Jehovah had said to him. You will find them in the 25th chapter of Jeremiah. Again, whether you accept the latter point is neither here nor there, it was a Jewish prophet who spoke those words against his own people.

There will be some who would say that this simply proves how bad the OT religion was, but no, if you understand it incorrectly then yes, but read this carefully. The Lord is simply setting out what the inevitable consequences will be. This is hinted in the Jonah’s account of his attempt to escape his assignment to Nineveh. During the storm the sailors berated Jonah for not calling upon his god to save them. When the Jews were scattered to the nations, of course the nations would understand that they had been scattered because they had been unfaithful to their god. That would be the inevitable consequence for in any animistic religion if you did not appease your gods then bad things will happen to you, and the only reason for not appeasing them is that you are yourself a bad person. There is a truth hidden in this partial mis-understanding but we shall not explore that here. The nations, in their own minds and understanding of the way the world worked, apart from any possibility of the presence of xenophobia, would come to the conclusion that these people, who had betrayed their own god, are to be a byword to be spoken against. And that attitude would be entirely in line with their own moral code.

We need to read on in Jeremiah to understand more fully what is happening. The nations, whilst thinking they were right, were actually wrong. The attitudes that would grow up among them would be bad attitudes. The religion of the OT says exactly that: the stranger within your gates shall be as one of you. Moses made that very clear in every way. The stranger would be permitted even to take part in the Passover feast. The religion of the God of Israel is to benefit the whole world not just one nation.

As we read on we find that though the attitude adopted by the nations is entirely predictably, the Lord is not pleased with it. At the end of the 26th chapter of Jeremiah we read:

He shall judge

The prophet Habakkuk is troubled in much the same way by the wicked actions of wicked men, who are destroying the innocent in the most violent of ways they could imagine. Again however the Lord shows him that the actions of these men, though necessary, shall not go unpunished. They shall give an account of what they do. Notice the word necessary. It was necessary that the people be scattered in Jeremiah’s day. It was necessary that the Chaldeans build an empire in Habakkuk’s day. Later it was necessary that Greece and Rome build their empires but once the purpose of each had been accomplished in the providence of God, they gave way the next.

We have in our day seen actions undertaken by men against men which, from whatever perspective you look, are wicked. We can also, from all perspectives see necessary reasons, which may be contradictory reasons, for the actions taken, just as the pagan nations of Jeremiah’s day would reach their conclusions concerning the scattered people. We may be, and we must in some respects be, incorrect in our conclusions for we do not see everything that takes, and has taken, place, nor do we see into the hearts of the men who initiated or performed the actions.

We know this however, that those who take part in this wickedness shall be brought to account. Both Jeremiah and Habakkuk, having had to announce a righteous judgement on the nation of Israel, were then shown that the executors of that judgement would themselves be held to account for the wicked things that they did as they executed that judgement.

It is beyond our understanding how this will be done, but it shall, in the words, which we sing to the Londonderry Air (perhaps Coco should say Derry Air) written by William Young Fullerton (1857-1932)):

I cannot tell how he will win the nations,
How he will claim his earthly heritage,
How satisfy the needs and aspirations
Of east and west, of sinner and of sage.

But we know this, Peter saw an even greater wicked act than ever Jeremiah or Habakkuk saw and reported it in these terms, echoing words that Joseph had spoken to his brothers some twenty five hundred years earlier:

Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves also know— him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that he should be held by it … Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ … Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.

This Jesus whom you with wicked hands handed over to the Gentiles, God has raised from the dead, and now commands you to repent. God intended their wicked act for good. It was necessary that this wicked act take place, just as we mentioned earlier of others though the reasons for the necessity are partially obscured from our view, but if he can turn the most wicked of acts for good, what will he not do for the good of his people?