Christianity 201

October 18, 2017

The Fishnet

We’re continuing our midweek series with teaching on The Kingdom Parables from the devotional Living Truth, a ministry of The Peoples Church in Toronto, Canada, where for many years Charles Price was the Senior Pastor. We have just one left after today!

The Fishnet

47 “Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48 When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. 49 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous. – Matthew 13:47-49

Andrew, Peter, James and John were fishermen who had dropped everything when Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19 NKJV). The symbolism used in the above parable would naturally be very familiar to them.

The casting of the net into the sea would seem to represent the evangelistic ministry of the church. The net is the large dragnet, drawn along by two boats or with ropes from the shore. All kinds of fish and creatures of the sea, good and bad, are caught in the net and hauled up together. This picture may be particularly apt in forms of mass evangelism where crowds are confronted with the Gospel and invited to receive Jesus Christ.  It becomes easy for people to make the same outward response to this invitation, but for varying motives. Hence, the good and bad become mingled together in the one net. True as that picture of evangelism may be, the catching of the fish is not the main point.

Jesus gave an interpretation which focused entirely on the separation of the good and bad fish. “The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:49-50).  This is similar to what Jesus said of the weeds and the wheat. “The Son of Man will send out his angels, and… there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of the Father.” (13:41-43). The final image is of the good seed stored safely in the barn where they will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. In this parable, addressed to the disciples, the final image is throwing the wicked into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (13:49-50).”

To the crowds, Jesus emphasized the prospect of heaven, but to the disciples he gave a vision of hell.  The prospect of hell is unambiguous in Jesus’ teaching and we dare not belittle the reality and seriousness of it. However, Jesus is not primarily teaching about hell, but showing that ultimately the separation of the good from the bad will take place. No matter how compromised the earthly expression of the kingdom of God appears, the day will come when there will be a separation of the good from the bad, and an in-gathering of the true kingdom of heaven.

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, I am grateful that there is no deceiving You, and look forward to the day when Your kingdom will be made righteous and pure. Amen.

October 16, 2017

A Message That Offends

Today once again we are back with Josh Ketchum, a pastor in Mayfield, Kentucky who also has a passion for marriage and family counseling. Click the title below to look around his blog, Life in the Kingdom.

How Jesus Handled Offending Others

Is it me or does it seem that everyone is offended nowadays?  People are offended by all kinds of things from decorations to beliefs.  While we are all entitled to our own opinions and right to be offended, it sure seems to me that it has gotten out of hand.  “I am offended!” has become a common cry that seems often self-serving and unbalanced.  This caused me to investigate how Jesus handled the issue of offending others.

The greek term skandlon means “to put a stumbling-block or impediment in the way, upon which another may trip and fall; to be a stumbling block” (Thayer).  It is used metaphorically in the NT to cause or make one to stumble, not physically but spiritually. It is often translated “offense” or the verb form “to offend.”

When I researched the gospels I discovered three key ideas about how Jesus dealt with offending others.

  1. He expected that his message and actions would offend others.  When John the Baptist sends disciples asking Jesus if he truly is the Messiah, Jesus tells them about his miraculous works which he is doing.  Then he adds, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Mat. 11:6).  He understood that his message would be offensive and controversial.  Once many of his disciples turned away from following after him because of his hard teachings, but he didn’t change his teachings or chase after them (John 6:61-67).  He came as the light of the world and he knew the darkness would try to overcome the light (John 1:5).
  2. He practiced and counseled his disciples to leave offended people alone.  Once the disciples came to tell Jesus the Pharisees were offended because of his teachings.  Jesus instructs his disciples to “let them alone” (Mat. 15:14).  He says if they follow these blind guides they will both fall in the ditch.  Earlier, when his hometown of Nazareth was offended because of his teaching, he understood it was because he had grown up there.  He chose to move on and do no more works in the area (Mat. 13:57-58).
  3. When possible, in cases that did not violate the truth of God, Jesus tried to not offend others.  Jesus didn’t intentionally try to offend people.  In fact, even though he didn’t have to technically pay the temple tax since he was the Son of God, he told Peter to pay the tax so as not to offend them.  They would not understand how he was exempt from such a tax, so Jesus paid it, rather than offend them (Mat. 17:24-27).

What are some lessons we can apply to our own lives in 2017 in this ultra-offensive culture from Jesus?  Here are a few for you to consider, I am sure there are more.

  1. The Christian message will still offend people today.  If we craft a version of Christianity that is politically correct and offends no one, then we are not preaching the true gospel of God.  The gospel, in its very nature, is offensive (1 Cor. 1, Gal. 1).
  2. We need to be willing to keep our distance from folks who claim they are offended.  We should try to work through the issue, but if they are not willing, then we need to let them alone.  We should practice the golden rule, always being kind and respectful, but we may be best served by ending the discussion and moving on to other works.
  3. Christians should not be in the business of trying to offend others.  We should try to adopt cultural norms that are acceptable standards of word and action when possible.  Our message and our leader cause the offense, it should not be our petty opinions that really don’t matter that cause them.  For example, we should adopt appropriate terms for races and ethnic groups, rather than persistently using older terms that are now considered offensive.

I hope this study has been a blessing as you try to navigate our overly-sensitive culture and one that is becoming more hostile to the Christian faith.

 

October 11, 2017

The Pearl of Great Price

We’re continuing our midweek series with teaching on The Kingdom Parables from the devotional Living Truth, a ministry of The Peoples Church in Toronto, Canada, where for many years Charles Price was the Senior Pastor.

The Pearl of Great Price

45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. – Matthew 13: 45-46 NIV

The parable is very similar to the last one.  The main difference is in the treasure, specified as a pearl. Jesus did not give an explanation, so again we tread carefully. As the pearl is the distinguishing feature, it is a key to our understanding of this parable.

A pearl is the only precious stone that is produced by a living organism. A grain of sand or other irritants get under the skin of the oyster, hurting and injuring it. The oyster responds by covering the injury with a substance called “nacre,” known as “mother of pearl.” The oyster pours layer after layer of nacre on the injury until the pearl is formed as a beautiful jewel.

The common interpretation sees Jesus Christ as the pearl of great price, but again, this is a misconception, for no price can be put on Jesus, nor do we have to pay for Him!  It is true that to be a disciple of Christ a person must surrender everything to Him, but by no stretch of the imagination is that a purchase. We are to give up everything because Christ comes to be everything in us, and there must be no competition for His place in our lives.  There is no purchase of Christ or of our salvation. As in the last parable, we are the treasure, and it is Christ who purchases us at great cost to Himself.

The image of the pearl holds a beautiful aspect of the Gospel.  By our sin, we have offended God, yet we are being changed by the One we have offended into something beautiful.  Paul writes, “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever increasing glory…”  (2 Corinthians 3:18)  This is like the formation of a pearl. Our injury of God is the means by which He turns us into something beautiful.    The pearl is the response of the injured to the injury done.

Another important distinction from the last parable is that the treasure in the first parable is described very generally as hidden treasure, but in the second, it is described specifically as a pearl. If the field is the world, it is true to say Christ died for the whole world, and His work has general application to the entire human race. In this parable, however, the merchant finds only one pearl of great value and sells everything he has to buy it.  It is wonderfully true that Christ died for the whole world, but it is also true He died for us individually. As such he singles us out individually and draws us to Himself.

PRAYER: Dear Lord, I pray for a great gathering of new pearls added to Your kingdom.  May Your Holy Spirit draw them and their lives become a precious jewel in Your sight.

October 4, 2017

The Hidden Treasure

We’re continuing our Wednesday series (sorry about the delay last week!) with Charles Price on The Kingdom Parables. Find more devotions like this at Living Truth, a ministry of The Peoples Church in Toronto, Canada.

The Hidden Treasure

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
 – Matthew 13:44 NIV

We now turn to the Good News of the kingdom of heaven.  After speaking to the crowds, Jesus entered a house with His disciples and conveyed these next four parables to them in private.  They represent the kingdom of heaven from God’s perspective.

A very common interpretation of this parable sees the hidden treasure as being Christ or salvation, and the person who sells everything to obtain the treasure is the penitent sinner who comes to Christ. In light of the entire picture given by Jesus in the eight parables, this would be a wrong  assumption. If we interpret it according to the symbols already used, the man who sells everything to purchase the field is the Son of Man who finds treasure in the world and gives up everything He has in order to purchase it.  Rather than being a picture of how the sinner obtains Christ, it is a picture of how Christ obtains the sinner.  It is Christ finding treasure in the world, and giving up everything in order to purchase it for His own.

What can be described as God’s treasure in the world? On what has He set His heart to the extent He gives up everything to purchase it?  The answer is that God’s treasure is people.  The Psalmist asks, “What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you visit him?” (Psalm 8:4-5 NKJV)  Job asks, “What is mankind that you make so much of them, that you give them so much attention?”  (Job 7:17)

If the treasure is human beings, the parable states, “When a man found it…” which implies he was looking.  Jesus said of Himself, “The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.”  (Luke 19:10)   It is a wonderful thing to be described as lost, because it means we are wanted and every human being is of value and precious to Christ. To obtain the treasure, he gave all He had to make our salvation possible.  Jesus did not only die for us, but with His blood, He purchased us outright. To be a Christian is to acknowledge we are not our own. Our salvation may be free, but it is not cheap.  It came at great cost and suffering to Jesus Christ.

The man in the parable did not begrudge the purchase. On the contrary, “…in his joy went and sold all that he had and bought the field.”  This fits what is said of Christ — “…who for the joy  set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame”  (Hebrews 12:2).  It was in joy Christ made the transaction and purchased us for Himself with His blood shed on the cross.

PRAYER:  As sinful as I am, Lord, thank You for looking upon me as Your treasure, for purchasing me with Your blood and making me Yours. You are my life! Thank you, Lord.

 

 

September 28, 2017

The Leaven and the Loaf

We continue our midweek series looking at a few of the Kingdom parables as interpreted by Charles Price, Minister at Large and former Pastor of The Peoples Church in Toronto. Some of his takes on these may be just slightly different from what you’ve heard or thought. Find more devotions like this at Living Truth.

The Leaven and the Loaf

“The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.” Matthew 13:33

This is the final brief parable that sums up to the crowd the picture given by Jesus of the kingdom of heaven so far. It is also known as the parable of “The Yeast”, and is often understood as the yeast being a picture of the spread of the goodness of God throughout the world, but it is more likely the complete opposite.

Yeast in Scripture is a consistent picture of evil. From the time of the Passover when God brought Israel out of Egypt, bread eaten in celebration of God’s goodness was to be without yeast. Jesus speaks of the “yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees”, which the disciples understood Him to mean guarding against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16:6 & 12). Paul exhorted the Corinthian church, “Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast… not with the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with the bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:6-8).

If yeast is consistently used to depict evil in Scripture, this parable is unlikely to be an exception. It is not that the kingdom of heaven is like yeast, but that the kingdom of heaven is like yeast mixed into a large amount of flour until it works through the dough. It is the whole picture, all of the dough that is likened to the kingdom of heaven. Evil is contagious; righteousness is not. Cleanliness does not spread; dirt does. The yeast permeates to every part of the dough, which is why we are not given hope on earth of perfection in our personal lives or in the corporate life of the church. As long as we live within a fallen environment we are vulnerable to contamination by sin and subject to failure. Only in heaven is there the prospect of being free from the contamination of sin.

This is not to put a pessimistic view of the kingdom of heaven in its expression on earth, but to be utterly realistic as history and contemporary experience have served to confirm.

This is the view of the kingdom given to the crowds. It is the perspective from outside the kingdom and is neither attractive nor appealing. It is unlikely to be held up as the ideal of society, and will not draw people in its natural state. There will always be reason to criticize and disregard it, which is how the kingdom of God is seen by the world at large.

PRAYER: : I pray for the world, Lord, and ask for a deeper work of Your Spirit so that Your goodness prevails over evil, both in our lives and in the church. Thank You, Lord.

September 26, 2017

Humility We Must Sing to Imagine

Today’s thoughts are from Chaplain Mike Mercer at the website Internet Monk. I chose a passage in the online series; Philippians: Friends in the Gospel. At the bottom you’ll see the most up-to-date links I have to other installments in the series. Out of necessity today, in addition to stealing the article, we had to steal a graphic! So please click through and read this at its source page.

Ordinary Time Bible Study: Philippians — Friends in the Gospel (10)

There are some things that can, perhaps, only be said in poetry, and perhaps this [Phil 2:5-11] is one of them. 
• Tom Wright

PHILIPPIANS 2:5-11

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became humanHaving become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.

Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.

As we mentioned last week, this is one of the most discussed theological texts in the New Testament is Philippians 2:5-11, the “Christ-hymn” that describes the “kenosis” of Jesus.

Gerald F. Hawthorne’s interpretation of Phil. 2:5-11 is one of my favorite commentary passages that I have read in biblical studies.

He first describes the near universal agreement that “vv 6-11 constitute a beautiful example of a very early hymn of the Christian church.” Scholars, however, have a number of different ideas about how the hymn might have been structured. Whatever the versification of the hymn might have been, it is clear that it has two basic parts. There are four main verbs: the first two have Jesus as the subject, the second two have God. The hymn then naturally falls into the story of (1) Jesus’ acts of humbling himself, and (2) God’s act of exalting Jesus.

Hawthorne notes that Paul himself may be the author of the hymn or it may come from another source. The striking insight that I learned many years ago from him when considering this passage is that it appears to be a meditation on an event recorded in the Gospel of John.

“…may be the result of deep meditation…on one particular event from the life of Christ as recorded in the gospel tradition — Jesus washing his disciples’ feet (John 13:3-17). Although verbal parallels between John 13:3-17 and Phil 2:6-11 are few, but nonetheless significant, the parallels in thought and in the progression of action are startling. So precise in fact are these parallels that it is difficult to consider them the result of mere coincidence.

Hawthorne uses the following diagram to portray these parallels:

This hymn, whether Paul wrote it or not, emphasizes Jesus’ act of humility using an “descent-ascent motif that is prominent in the Johannine story.”

Gerald Hawthorne also notes another important parallel between the way both John and this epistle reflect on the foot-washing story:

It is also interesting and instructive to note that the purpose of each pericope is similar. The Johannine account is an acted parable to summarize the essence of Jesus’ teaching: “Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to hold the first place among you must be everybody’s slave” (Mark 10:43-44), while the Philippian text is a hymn to illustrate powerfully Paul’s teaching, which at this point is identical with that of Jesus:  humble, self-sacrificing service to one another done in love is a must for a Christian disciple who would live as a Christian disciple should (Phil 2:3-4).

• • •

Ordinary Time Bible Study
Philippians – Friends in the Gospel

September 20, 2017

The Mustard Seed

We continue our September Wednesday series looking at a few of the Kingdom parables as interpreted by Charles Price, Minister at Large and former Pastor of The Peoples Church in Toronto. Some of his takes on these may be just slightly different from what you’ve heard or thought. Find more devotions like this at Living Truth.

The Mustard Seed

“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field.” Matthew 13:31

Though the mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, “so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.” Jesus gives no explanation of this parable, so we must tread carefully. If we remain consistent in our interpretation with the first two parables, which also include a sower sowing seed in a field, then it is a picture of the Son of Man sowing seed into the world, but this time specified as mustard seed.

The popular interpretation is that the kingdom grows from humble beginnings into something good and great, which provides a refuge for the birds. This is not a proper understanding. The key to this parable is in the seed being specifically stated as mustard seed. Mustard is a herb and not a tree. It normally grows to about four feet and would not be a place you would expect to find a bird’s nest. This is not a picture of natural growth but of something unnatural, portraying a false greatness. The birds nesting in the branches are not something good, but evil. In the first parable, the birds came and ate up the seed on the path. Jesus described them as representing “the evil one”.

There is a similar image in a vision given to the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, in which a tree, representing himself, grows large and strong, “with its top touching the sky, visible to the whole earth… and having nesting places in its branches for the birds of the air” (Daniel 4:20-21). The tree demonstrated Nebuchadnezzar’s arrogance, and in due time, a messenger of God came and chopped the tree down and Nebuchadnezzar was greatly humbled and reduced to poverty.

It would seem what Jesus is saying here is that instead of being characterized by humility and gentleness, the kingdom of heaven in its manifestation on earth has become rich, powerful and, in some instances, authoritative and arrogant. Its strategies are in danger of not deriving from obedience to Jesus Christ, dependency on the Holy Spirit and child-like trust in a heavenly Father, but from marketing tactics, high profiled publicity, public relations expertise and the attempt to woo others with our bigness and noise. It has become a nesting place for the birds!

This parable does not teach the failure of the church as a manifestation of the kingdom of God, but it does predict its distortion and corruption, which history and current experiences have shown to be true. This is how those outside of Christ will perceive the kingdom of God in our world today.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, grant me a humbled heart that remains in submission to You, and keep me from falling prey to arrogance in those who falsely represent Your kingdom. Thank You, Lord.

 

May 13, 2017

Jesus Builds His Core Team

Sometimes I have been guilty of using terminology incorrectly. I know in my younger days this was true with disciples versus apostles. To be clear, Jesus chose 12 apostles, but had many disciples. In Luke 6 we see a turning point where he, to use a modern church term, chooses his board members. …Actually, that may not be a great analogy; make that Jesus chooses his ministry staff.

12 During that time, Jesus went out to the mountain to pray, and he prayed to God all night long. 13 At daybreak, he called together his disciples. He chose twelve of them whom he called apostles

When did this take place in the overall chronology? Meyers N.T. Commentary states:

According to Matthew, the choice of the Twelve had not yet occurred before the Sermon on the Mount; nevertheless it is implied in Matthew, not, indeed, sooner than at Luke 10:1 [the sending out of the 72] but after the call of Matthew himself. Luke in substance follows Mark in what concerns the choice of the apostles. But he here assigns to the Sermon on the Mount—which Mark has not got at all—a position different from that in Matthew, following a tradition which attached itself to the locality of the choice of the apostles (τὸ ὄρος) as readily as to the description and the contents of the sermon.

The important takeaway from the passage is not chronology, however. The thing we’re meant to see with greatest clarity is that Jesus made the decision after much prayer. At Heartlight we read:

Few events were more important in Jesus’ ministry than his selection of apostles. How would Jesus select 12 from the mob that followed him? These men would have to change the world. Could he actually find 12 that could do that? Jesus knew what was in the hearts of people. Would anyone be able to stand up to the challenges that he would have to face as one of Jesus’ chosen 12? Jesus withdrew to the mountains to be alone with God and pray as he faced this momentous decision. He didn’t choose 12 and then ask God to bless his choice. No, he spent the night in prayer before he chose the 12. When faced with decisions, whether they appear important or not, we need to follow the example of our Lord!

At Redeeming God there is an excellent article — also on audio — on this passage. We can’t reproduce it all here, but I want to share some of it; click here to read it all (including a biography of each one).

We often think of the twelve apostles as the only disciples Jesus had. But that is simply not true. He had hundreds, if not thousands of other disciples. Out of them, He chose twelve to pour most of His time, energy and attention into. The twelve are named apostles, which means “sent ones.” The question though, is why did He pick twelve, and why these twelve? At that time, when a teacher wanted to focus his time and energy on a few specially selected students, the teacher would pick only one or two, at the most three students to train. If you have ever done any serious discipling, you know that adequately teaching and training even one person is almost a full time task. But Jesus picks twelve! Why twelve?

A. Rulers

The main reason is probably because Jesus was picking men to rule in His kingdom. He was, in a way, inaugurating a new Israel in Himself. Originally, the twelve tribes of Israel were to rule over the nations, and they will again one day, but with the twelve apostles ruling over the twelve tribes (Matt. 19:28). Before that happens, Jesus has something new to establish – the church. And the apostles will be the ones to help establish it. When Jesus picks twelve, he was indicating to them and everyone else, that these were the ones who would help Him rule when He came into His kingdom. They represented a whole new Israel.

This would be a great encouragement to them when they faced trials and tribulations later in life. It can be a great encouragement to you also. If you are a faithful follower of Jesus Christ, you also will rule. You cannot be an apostle, but you can be a disciple, and many passages in the Bible tell us that Jesus Christ is calling you to be His disciple. If you respond and follow Him, you will later be given the right to rule with him (Luke 19:11-27). Not to the same level as the apostles, but still in a very special and significant way. By picking twelve, Jesus was reminding the apostles that if they followed Him faithfully, they would rule and reign with Him in His Kingdom. We need to be reminded that if we follow Him faithfully, we too will rule and reign with Him in His Kingdom. There is great motivation and incentive in that Biblical truth.

You say, “Yeah, but I’m not disciple quality. Jesus wouldn’t pick me.” Guess what? These twelve Jesus picked weren’t quality either. We sometimes elevate them and put them on pedestals, but they were human just like us.

B. Ordinary Men

They were perfectly ordinary in every way. Not one was known for being scholarly or well trained in the Bible. Not one was a great speaker, writer or theologian. None of them had outstanding talents or abilities. To the contrary, they were all too prone to mistakes, misstatements, wrong attitudes, failures of faith, and bitter resentment toward others. Even the leader of the group, Peter, was forever sticking his foot in his mouth. In fact, at times, Jesus is amazed at how slow they are to learn and how spiritually dense they are (Luke 24:25).

Furthermore, we see from them that God loves variety. There is not one perfect mold that all Christians must fit into. Some of them were fishermen. Two of them, one a tax collector and the other a religious zealot, under any other circumstance, would have been trying to kill one another. Some of them were brothers to one another. Some of them were married, some single. Some were probably craftsmen and tradesmen, or maybe farmers. Don’t ever think that you don’t qualify to be a disciple of Christ. If these men qualify, you qualify. Though these men may not amount to much in the eyes of the world, they are exactly what God is looking for…

…God’s way of doing things is not man’s way. According to 1 Corinthians 1:26-29, God chooses the humble, the lowly, the weak and the meek. He doesn’t choose the strong and the talented, the powerful and the rich. He chooses those who would never be chosen so that when He works powerfully through them, everybody knows that only God could do such things. The people we would pick are not the ones God picks. If you feel like you are not qualified to be a follower of Jesus, then you are just right. If you feel, however, that you are just what God needs, then you may have some things to learn before God can start using you…

So Christ picked these twelve to show that He was choosing some rulers for His kingdom, and He also picked these twelve to show us that we don’t have to have great training or popularity to be one of His disciples.

C. Students

What is most curious about Christ’s choice is that at first, it seemed these apostles had nothing to do but follow Jesus around and listen to His teachings. They thought they were going to be put to some grand task, and given some great responsibility, but all they did was sit around, go to parties, watch Jesus interact with other people, and listen to Him teach.

Similarly, when you first become a follower of Jesus Christ, it may seem that God is giving you nothing significant to do. It may seem that Jesus has called you to be his disciple, but then He forgot about you, or doesn’t have any true purpose for you to fulfill. But this is because, frequently, God’s first will for your life is to sit at the feet of Jesus and learn. Before you can live like Jesus, you must learn from Jesus. Before you can do His will, you must know His will. If it seems like you are not being used by God, then you should take the opportunity to patiently learn from God. There is nothing wrong with sitting and learning, as long as you are willing and ready to go when Jesus says, “Go!” In fact, he will not send you, until you have learned what He wants you to know.

Even once they were trained, they were not perfect. After their training was complete, the first night on their own, they all deserted, betrayed and denied Jesus Christ. Afterwards, some of them even tried to go back to their original occupation of fishing, but they failed at that too…until Jesus showed up and got them back on course (John 21). To be a disciple means first and foremost to be a learner. A lot of people think that following Christ is all about doing what Christ would do. That is why we had that fad a few years back where everyone bracelets and T-shirts that said “What Would Jesus Do?”

The problem is that we cannot do what Jesus would do, unless we first become like Jesus, and we cannot become like Jesus until we know Jesus. Not “know” Jesus as in “I know about Jesus” but know Jesus as in “I know Him as if he were my best friend.” And the only way you can become the best friend of Jesus is by spending lots of time with Him. That’s what he wants from you. He doesn’t want you to do great things for Him. He wants to do great things for you and through you. But the only way that is going to happen is if you get to know Jesus. Listen to Him teach. Ask Him questions. Watch how He deals with people. Let Him encourage you, lovingly correct you, and patiently instruct you. As you go through this process, He will eventually give you an assignment. First a small one, then larger and larger until you will be amazed at the things God is doing through you. But it all begins with sitting at His feet and learning…

…continue reading here

 

April 23, 2017

Unless You Repent

by Russell Young

Unless you repent you too will all perish.” (Lk 13:5 NIV) Jesus spoke these words while addressing the people of Jerusalem. The words sound very much like those that John the Baptist would have proclaimed. The need of God for repentance is very clear. Repentance requires a person to recognize an attitude or an act as being offensive to God, to seek forgiveness, and to discontinue its practice. Paul told King Agrippa, “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove (perform repeatedly) their repentance by their deeds.” (Acts 26:20 NIV) Paul did not teach that a single act of repentance was acceptable, but that a person’s life practices were to change.

In truth, there is not much preaching today concerning the need for repentance. One is more apt to hear proclaim the need to invite Jesus into his or her heart, following which he will meet their need for eternal salvation and a blessed life. The call to repentance during the “camp meetings” of past years has been displaced by the overarching love of God. Rather than admonishing “believers” to walk circumspectly, to “work out [their] own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12), to be humble before God, to honour and obey the Lord, believers are being told that they are to trust God because they are loved by him.

Repentance requires that the believer walk closely with his or her Lord so that his voice can be heard and his heart known. Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice.” (Jn 10:27 NIV) He also said, “When [the Spirit] comes he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.” (Jn 16:8 NIV) It is easy to restrict the Lord’s teaching of repentance to those who are acknowledged as not knowing him, who have not “invited him into their heart,” but the world includes those who have made a confession of faith as well. Sin is sin, it is rebellion against God’s government and those who do not repent of their evil deeds will one day do so on their knees before him. Sin is to be acknowledged as the Spirit leads to its awareness; it is to be acknowledged and humbly confessed. “John wrote, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9 NIV) Repentance is not conveyed merely by the mouth but is demonstrated by the deeds that follow.

In spite of teaching that negates a walk of righteousness or of “walking in the light” (1 Jn 1:7 NIV), the Lord requires righteousness leading to holiness. (Rom 6:19) The God of the Old Testament is the God of the New. The God that punished sin in the Old is the same God who will punish it even at the end. “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please the sinful nature from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Gal 6:7-8 NIV) Christ’s admonition was that unless a person repents, they too will die. Do not be deceived!

Christ also revealed that “[The brothers] have overcome [their accuser] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” (Rev 12:11 NIV) Overcoming Satan requires the word of their testimony as well as the blood of Christ. The testimony of their lives, their deeds, loudly proclaimed the word of God. (Note that he did not say, ‘the testimony of their word,’ but “the word of their testimony.”) The righteous manner in which the believer lives his or her life is important.

When asked if only a few people were going to be saved, Christ replied, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” (Lk 13:24 NIV) Note that the Lord required an “effort” to enter his Kingdom. Some will not put forth the required “effort” an will be left outside. The effort requires a victorious walk using all that the Lord has provided, especially his indwelling presence as Spirit. “He who overcomes will inherit all of this (life in the New Jerusalem), and I will be his God and he will be my son.” (Rev 21:7 NIV) Victory can only be accomplished by defeating those practices and by disposing of those attitudes that are offensive to God through repentance and the demonstration of that repentance through a person’s deeds. God’s love does not cover defiance and rebellion which is blasphemy of the Spirit. In the end the believer is to be conformed to the likeness of Christ (Rom 8:29) by walking as Jesus walked. (1 Jn 2:6)


Russell Young is the Sunday contributor to Christianity 201 and author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

9781512757514

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link.

February 18, 2017

Interpreting Christianity Through the Jesus Lens

Jesus also did many other things. If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written  John 21:25 ESV

Tony Campolo and Shane Claiborne are the principle writers behind a website called Red Letter Christians.  Their “about” page begins:

Mission

Staying true to the foundation of combining Jesus and justice, Red Letter Christians mobilizes individuals into a movement of believers who live out Jesus’ counter-cultural teachings.

About Us

The goal of Red Letter Christians is simple: To take Jesus seriously by endeavoring to live out His radical, counter-cultural teachings as set forth in Scripture, and especially embracing the lifestyle prescribed in the Sermon on the Mount.

By calling ourselves Red Letter Christians, we refer to the fact that in many Bibles the words of Jesus are printed in red. What we are asserting, therefore, is that we have committed ourselves first and foremost to doing what Jesus said. Jesus calls us away from the consumerist values that dominate contemporary America. Instead, he calls us to meet the needs of the poor. He also calls us to be merciful, which has strong implications in terms of war and capital punishment. After all, when Jesus tells us to love our enemies, he probably means we shouldn’t kill them.

Some people think this means setting aside the Pauline epistles, or the entire Old Testament. Recently, Tony wrote the following responding to questions and critics. Click the title to read at source:

To Our Critics: Jesus is Our Lens

From time to time, we Red Letter Christians are confronted with the critique that our most serious error is that we discount the black letters of the Bible. Nothing could be further from the truth. We readily declare that without the black letters in the Bible we would have very little in the way of a solid theology. Consider that we would not have a belief system that declares, as do the black letters recorded in Ephesians 2:8-9, that we are saved by grace through faith, and not by our good works.

Undoubtedly, our theologies would be sparse without the writings of Paul. I grew up, however, in numerous church-sponsored Bible studies that seem in retrospect to have been focused almost entirely on the Pauline Epistles. What was lacking in those days was the kind of balance that is provided by the Gospels—and specifically by those red letters in the New Testament that highlight the social justice teachings of Jesus about the Kingdom of God. The good theology provided by Paul’s writings needs the balance of the prescriptions for the radical lifestyle provided by the teachings of Jesus (indeed, Jesus helps us to see that these prescriptions are there in Paul’s writings too).

Theology must have at its side the call to participate with Jesus in raising up oppressed people and meeting the needs of the poor as are emphasized in those red letters of the Bible. Both are held high in the New Testament, and we need both.

The Jesus revealed in the red letters of the Bible declared that He did not come to abolish the writings of the Hebrew Bible (i.e. the Old Testament) but to fulfill them. The laws of Moses pointed beyond themselves to the higher morality of Jesus as set forth in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5: 5-6). The prophesies about The Messiah that we find in the Hebrew Bible were actualized in Jesus (see Psalm 22 and Is. 54) and were the sources for the sermons of the first century church. The cries for social and economic justice preached in both the major and minor prophets are what Jesus legitimated in His many declarations about the new social order that He wills and prays to become a reality here on earth – “as it is in Heaven.”

We Red Letter Christians want to draw attention to the good news that Jesus, through His death and resurrection, not only provided personal salvation to all who put their faith in Him, but also declared that He was initiating a revolution wherein the kingdom of God would become historically real.

The Red Letter Revolution is not only about preaching a savior who forgives sins and promises eternal life, but who also declared that the shalom of God was breaking loose in the here and now. We’re about furthering this kingdom message that is declared in both the red letters and the black letters of the Bible. We declare the whole gospel for the whole world. We want to help make Jesus and what He had to say in the red letters of the Bible the lens through which the entire Bible is read.

 

 

 

January 7, 2017

Horrified at His Unworthiness

Something different today, a recommended website that’s new to us, Life Reference. Writer Don Merritt is working his way through Luke’s gospel, so to read more in the series, or bookmark the site, click the title below.

Calling Disciples

Luke 5:1-11

Luke’s account of the calling of Peter, James and John as disciples differs in many ways from the accounts of Matthew and Mark; I’ll let others speculate on the reasons for this and try to focus on what I see as the really instructive part of Luke’s account. Please read these verses, if you haven’t already, and let’s talk…

…OK, now that you have refreshed your recollection of this account, did you notice Peter’s reaction when Jesus caused his nets to be so overloaded with fish?

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (5:8)

Doesn’t that remind you of Isaiah the prophet?

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

Isaiah 6:1-5

This is from the passage that describes the call of Isaiah to prophesy to the people; do you see the similarity in his response to that of Peter when he saw how amazing and holy Jesus was, that He knew just where to cast their nets for a record catch? Isaiah was accepted for service and went without hesitation:

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:6-8)

Like Isaiah, Peter was horrified at his unworthiness to be in the presence of the Son of God, yet in Luke 5:10 Jesus reassured him, and they dropped everything and followed Him without hesitation. You might also take a look at the call of Moses in Exodus 3 and Gideon in Judges 6.

It would be quite normal for any of us to realize that we are neither qualified nor worthy to serve our Lord; we are all sinners after all. Yet none of the “greats” of Scripture were any more perfect than you or I, and when reassured, they followed God’s call. Each of us knows that our sin has been taken away by the blood of Christ, and each of us has every right to seek His loving arms… and each of us has received His call to follow Him.

Will we follow the example of Peter, James and John?


Ever broken up a small tree or sticks and been aware of the green color inside? Green shows that there is (or at least was!) life inside. That’s why we highlight scripture here in green. To show that while the words of the various writers whose material we borrow are helpful and instructive, it’s God’s Word that brings life.


C201 is always looking for new sources of material. Feel free to refer sites to us — use the contact page here, or Twitter — or even your own writing. We’re also looking for associate editors who can supply us with suggestions on a regular basis.

December 20, 2016

God’s Power and Peter’s Sin

Today we’re paying a return visit to Enoch Anti from Ghana. His blog, Truth Publication may not be currently active, but this, the last article posted, makes for good reading.

Depart From Me…I Am A Sinful Man

Have you ever thought about it? What is the greatest need of humankind? This question will generate a lot of response. Probably, for the majority, top of the list will be eradication of poverty and disease. Others will put forth world peace, eradication of drug and sex trafficking. To others, equal rights for all humankind will top the list. These indeed are commendable, but they are not the greatest need of humankind. The Bible gives us the answer:

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).

This is the divine verdict from God. All humankind have sinned. Not only that, but by our sins, we are estranged, alienated and separated from God. We are enemies of God and liable to receive the just punishment for our sins. Paul describes our hopelessness in Ephesians 2:1-3 saying ,

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind”.

The above is true of every human being. It is the present reality of the unbeliever and it was the reality of the believer who has now come to Faith.

Now the reality of sin as our greatest need came home to me again very strongly today when I read portions of Luke’s gospel for my devotion. In Luke 5, the story is told of Jesus using the boat of Peter to preach and afterwards, He issued a command saying

“Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch” (v.4).

Here is an experienced fisherman who has toiled all night and caught nothing, so he might have been surprised by the command from Jesus. Indeed he was and his response tells:

And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!”(v5a).

However, I suppose having heard Jesus preaching, his heart might have been convicted to obey. So he didn’t stop at questioning Jesus’ instruction. He responded positively afterwards:

“But at your word I will let down the nets.”(v.5b).

After they heeded Jesus’ instruction, we are told a miracle happened. They had a great catch to the extent they had to signal other fisherman to assist with bringing their catch (vv.6-7).

Simon’s report in the narrative is what caught my attention:

“But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”(v.8).

A miracle has taken place. But it seemed the miracle didn’t matter to Simon. We are looking at a great breakthrough for that day. They have a great abundance. But in the midst of that abundance, the state of Simon’s heart was laid bare. He was convicted: “he fell down at Jesus’ feet”. He was broken. He lost himself. Before Him was no ordinary man but Jesus, God incarnate.

In that moment of a great miracle, his sinful heart all played before him in front of a Holy God: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord”. Anyone who encounters the holiness of God is always struck with the wretchedness of their soul (Isaiah 6:5, Romans 7:24). Sin is our greatest predicament (Psalm 51:5, Jeremiah 17:9, Isaiah 53:6) and until we are reconciled to God, nothing else matters that happens to us. A miracle or breakthrough is of no significance to a heart dead in sin.

Like Simon, we must all fall on our knees at the feet of Christ and plead for forgiveness and reconciliation. Our sin must not drive us away from God, rather it must drive us to Him. Jesus didn’t drive away Peter, but He spoke forgiveness to the need of his sinful heart:

“And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”(v.10).

Here is the mercy of God in action; a man not only forgiven, but his life takes on a new direction. A sinful man cleansed and reconciled to God and commissioned to be a soul winner – fisher of men. Our greatest need is to be forgiven of our sins and reconciled to God. That is the foremost reason Christ walked this earth (Ephesians 2:14-17).

June 13, 2016

Preacher’s Notes: A “How To” on Exegetical Preaching

Temptation AheadJust over a month ago I noted that while I’ve linked several times to Michael Newnham, aka Phoenix Preacher at Thinking Out Loud, he had never appeared here at C201. Well, the post we chose wasn’t actually Michael’s own writing, and last week, while reading through several of his Weekend Word posts at his blog Phoenix Preacher, I knew I had to fix this.

Some people end up in fairly heated discussions over the merits of exegetical/expository* (verse-by-verse) preaching versus topical (selected related passages) sermons. I believe there are advantages to both, but opinions on this can get quite passionate, so we’ll leave it there.

Imagine that you had an opportunity to see the pastor’s notes. That’s what his Weekend Word series is all about. Whether it’s phrase-by-phrase or verse-by-verse, there is so much more to be said about each section. My next challenge was choosing which one among his recent posts to use, since they are all informative. I decided to go with one from three weeks ago — click the title below — and then leave you with links to two more from the same chapter of Matthew.

Oh remember…these are his rough notes in point form!

The Weekend Word

Matthew 4:1-11

The Temptation of Jesus

So much of the world doubts the existence of Satan. Have we lost a sound doctrine of Satan?

When you talk about Satan, you must talk about hell – and since everyone is going to heaven … well that is a fly in the ointment.

So Jesus was baptized – Heaven opened up and a grand declaration is made! What should happen next? Cake – Balloons – A post baptism party?

1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

  • You would think, Jesus of all people, would be raptured right up to heaven.
  • The last verse of ch 3 “my beloved son…”
  • And Satan says “oh yay??? Let’s see.
  • Why led by the spirit? Deut 8:2
  • “And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.”
  • This is not accidental – Jesus did not come out of the waters of the Jordan, get confused and make a wrong turn and say “darn, how did I end up here in the wilderness.
  • We have seen this with the Israelites in the desert. In a way Jesus is reenacting their wilderness time.
  • The Israelites did not succeed at all – in fact only 2 of the original travelers went into the Promised Land.
  • Jesus is now Israel reduced down to one – Jesus accomplishes what Israel could not do – the salvation of the world.
  • What about us? This is what happens to all the baptized.
  • Now you begin to fight against the devil. Now the target is on your back.
  • The Christian does not go onto the battlefield – the Christian becomes the battlefield.
  • How is this played out in the Holy Baptism liturgy? When the pastor asks, “Do you renounce the devil and all of his works and all of his ways?”
  • Is the devil happy to hear an affirmative response?
  • After baptism, we & are standing in the wilderness – with the devil prowling around like a roaring lion seeking to devour you – the baptized believer.

2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.

  • For any of you fasters – what is your longest fast?
  • He fasted 40 days and 40 nights
  • If you were a Jew you would fast 40 days but not at night
  • See how the Muslims fast at Ramadan.
  • 40 days and 40 nights … hmmm, sounds like a flood of hunger. LOL

3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

  • Jesus is almost dead – hungry, thirsty and THEN the devil shows up to tempt him.
  • The 1st temptation was physical – food after 40 days.
  • How did the Israelites react when they were hungry and running out of food? Grumbling – whining – complaining
  • Jesus could have sat up there with Satan, having a donut and coffee saying “I’m good for now.”
  • Note the wording – If you are God??? Just like the Garden of Eden – you can’t trust God’s word.

4 But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

  • How did Jesus respond? – with scripture – “it is written”
  • Note that Jesus did not say “well let’s talk about this Satan.”
  • You need to look at this first and foremost as a gift from Jesus, not as an example … although that can come later. But the gift is this – we can learn to pray.
  • “Lord, when we are in the wilderness, help us to trust the Father’s word.”

5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple

  • What do you think was going on here?
  • Almost seems like a scene out of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol

6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you,” and “On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.”

  • 2nd temptation – testing God.
  • How did the Israelites act when they were stuck in the desert?
  • Discouraged and started taking things in to their own hands.
  • The Golden Calf – idols – looking to surrounding gods.

7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”

  • Again Jesus fulfills what Israel could not.
  • Look at us today – the marketing that comes to us and says “you can do it yourself – take control!”
  • Jesus is Israel reduced to one – what Israel could not do, Jesus did.

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.

  • 3rd temptation = Power, Riches and Possessions

9 And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”

  • Worship another god – even if it is just a little pinch of incense to Caesar.
  • All that the Caesars ever asked was that his citizens, people of all religions, once a year offer a pinch of incense and declare him god – once a year.
  • You didn’t have to give up your religion, just acknowledge him

10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “you shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’

  • Satan acts only at the will of the true God.
  • This is a good Bible verse to memorize to fight off temptation – “away with you Satan – I shall worship the Lord MY God and him only shall I serve.”

11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.

  • If Christ was tempted, then we shall surely be tested.
  • Temptation is not sin … giving in to temptation could be sin.

This series continues with the following two editions of The Weekend Word:


* Here is a quote from the discussion site Puritan Board:

Exegesis and exposition are like making a cake. Exegesis is the eggs, the flour, and milk — plus all the tools that you use. Exposition is the final product. You leave your exegesis in the kitchen (study) and bring the finished cake (exposition) to the table (pulpit).

 

April 23, 2016

Why Stop at Just Casting Out Demons?

NIrV: Matthew 8:30 Not very far away, a large herd of pigs was feeding. 31 The demons begged Jesus, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.”

32 Jesus said to them, “Go!” So the demons came out of the men and went into the pigs.


NIrV Matthew 8:43 “What happens when an evil spirit comes out of a person? It goes through dry areas looking for a place to rest. But it doesn’t find it. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives there, it finds the house empty. The house has been swept clean and put in order. 45 Then the evil spirit goes and takes with it seven other spirits more evil than itself. They go in and live there. That person is worse off than before. That is how it will be with the evil people of today.”

If you can cast them out, why not totally annihilate them? Today we return to the writing of pastor, author and Bible translator Christopher R. Smith at the blog Good Question. Due to changes in his life, he is no longer updating this blog, but the resources remain available, presented in a Q&A format. Click the title below to link to this one directly:

Why didn’t Jesus destroy demons when he cast them out?

Q. In any of the situations where Jesus cast out demons, why didn’t he kill them so they would not enter another person?

Matthew’s gospel relates how, when Jesus was casting out demons in the region of the Gadarenes, they cried out, “Son of God, what do you want with us? Have you come here to punish us before the time for us to be judged?” The encounters between Jesus and demons described in the gospels are typically brief and cryptic, but we can at least tell from this one that God has set a time for demons to be judged and punished. But as these demons knew, that time had not yet come during the ministry of Jesus, and they successfully appealed to be sent into a herd of pigs instead.

destroying demonsThe reasons why Jesus allowed such demons to continue to roam the earth, at least for a while, have to do, I believe, with the need for there to be freedom in order for people to make the choice to love God and others. God could have removed all sources of suffering and discord in the world, but this would have been at the cost of making true freedom impossible and depriving the world of the fruits of freedom, including love, courage, creativity, and so forth.

One of Jesus’ parables shows how God wanted people to respond instead to the fact that demons remained at large even after they had been cast out of their victims.  Jesus said, “What happens when an evil spirit comes out of a person? It goes through dry areas looking for a place to rest. But it doesn’t find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives there, it finds the house empty. The house has been swept clean and put in order. Then the evil spirit goes and takes with it seven other spirits more evil than itself. They go in and live there. That person is worse off than before.”

Jesus actually told this parable about his own generation as a whole, to illustrate how, by rejecting his true message of the kingdom of God, they were leaving themselves open to the influence of false messiahs who would lead them astray into destruction.  (This happened during the two Jewish-Roman wars in the decades that followed.) But for the parable to make this point by application, its story needs to make a valid point of its own, and that is that people who have been freed from a demon are responsible themselves to fill their lives with godly and wholesome influences that will discourage any demons from ever returning.

In other words, while Jesus didn’t destroy the demons he cast out, he brought the truth of the kingdom of God, and ultimately he sent the Holy Spirit, to occupy the place the demons had left so that they would never try to fill it again.  And I think this is how we need to think about all of the evil and destructive influences around us as we live in these “in-between times,” when the kingdom of God has already been inaugurated but not yet completely established.  God has not yet removed all these influences from the earth.  But he has sent other influences that can effectively displace them in our own lives, and increasingly in our world, if we recognize and accept our responsibility to welcome and cultivate these life-giving endowments.

 

April 4, 2016

What Would Jesus Do This Morning: The Ascension (Part 1)

Ascension of Jesus

Even among those who pride themselves on reading a wide variety of Christian material online, I believe if you were to check their history, 90% of Americans are reading more than 90% blogs and websites produced by other Americans. So today we ‘cross the pond’ for an article from Christian Today (not to be confused with the U.S. Christianity Today) to look at an article about a vital topic that I decided we would carry in two parts because of the length. But if you’re wanting to read it all in one go, click the link below, and then take tomorrow off.

Where is Jesus now? And what is he doing?

•••by David Robertson

Where is Jesus Now?

It’s the week after Easter.

We repeat the joyous affirmation of faith. “Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.” In St Pete’s as we have some Greeks in our fellowship we always use the Greek version – “Christos Anesti...Alithos Anesti.” But then comes the question: OK, He is Risen. Where is he then? And it’s not just the question of an inquisitive child, it should be a question for every adult and for every Christian.

The Apostles’ Creed tells us – “On the third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.”

AscensionSo Jesus is in heaven. But where is that and what does it mean he ascended? It’s not just non-Christians who regard this as somewhat fanciful, many Christians struggle with this idea. Is the idea that Jesus was on earth and then went up into the heavens like a spaceman? Is this not something that clearly belongs to a past where they believed in a three-tiered universe – heaven above, hell below and earth in the middle? Are we not so much wiser now?

This question is all the more important to our non-Christian friends because Christians talk about knowing Christ, having a personal relationship with Jesus, talking to Christ, and wanting to introduce them to Jesus. Unless this is just spiritual code or mumbo jumbo we need to be able to say what it means. Surely it requires a real Jesus, with a real presence and not just ‘Jesus living in my heart’ (as a child that always made me think about some weird John Malkovich-style body!)

The key to this is the biblical teaching about the Ascension. I have been enormously helped in thinking about this by my book of the week this week, Gerrit Scott Dawson’s Jesus Ascended – the Meaning of Christ’s Continuing Incarnation. I have unashamedly relied on it for much of what follows.

1) What is the ascension?

It is stated simply in at the end of Luke’s gospel –

When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God. (Luke 24 – NIV)

The Ascension seems such a strange doctrine. It’s hard enough to believe that Jesus physically rose from the dead. But the idea that he physically rose to heaven seems far-fetched. The usual liberal dismissal of this is expressed by Bishop Richard Holloway who says Jesus is not coming back. And the best way to honour him on his birthday is to look for him not in the skies, but in the streets of our own town. That’s one solution: deny the Ascension happened and spiritualize its meaning so that it becomes all about us.

For those who actually believe the Bible and don’t just make up their own faith the teaching is quite clear. Two Greek words are used for Ascension. One talks about Christ ascending himself, reflecting the Old Testament’s Psalms of ascent (Ps 120-134), another talks about Christ being raised up. He was raised up. An early church statement of faith is expressed in Paul’s letter to Timothy:

Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great:
He appeared in a body,
was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
was taken up in glory.

There is the key. He was taken up in glory. He was taken up to glory. Again, what does that mean? “I’ve gotta home in Gloryland that outshines the sun” – but where is Gloryland? Where did Jesus go? Where is he now?

Where did Jesus Ascend to?

Heaven. The bible uses the term heaven or heavens in different ways. It can refer to the sky above, or the vast region of stars beyond our world, or another dimension altogether – the realm of God beyond all sense perception. The Ascension does not mean that Jesus is somewhere up there in the stars – where if only we could get a spacecraft which could travel far enough and quick enough we would be able to get to him. One of those ‘ignorant’ earlier Christians, John Calvin, put it clearly: “What? Do we place Christ midway among the spheres? Or do we build a cottage for him among planets? Heaven we regard as the magnificent palace of God far outstripping all this world’s fabric.”

Heaven is the place where God is. He is of course everywhere, but this universe has been tainted by sin and it is therefore not, in Moltmann’s phrase ‘totally pervaded by his glory’. Heaven is. To put it in modern terms, heaven is another universe. Out of this world, but nonetheless real.

What does the Ascension of Jesus tell us about Jesus?

Many Christians seem to think that the Ascension means the undoing of the incarnation. God became man in Jesus, and after Jesus ascended to heaven he became God again. CS Lewis observes: “We also in our heart of hearts, tend to slur over the risen manhood of Jesus to conceive him, after death, simply returning into deity, so that the resurrection would be no more than a reversal or undoing of the incarnation.”This is an enormous error. When Jesus became man he did not cease to be God, and when he ascended he did not cease to be man. He is still the God/Man and that has enormous practical consequences for us. Karl Barth said: “The son of God maintains our humanity to all eternity. It is a clothing which he does not put off. It is his temple which he does not leave. It is the form which he does not lose.” The dust of earth now sits on the throne of heaven.

Tomorrow: What Does the Ascension Mean for Us?


David Robertson is minister of St Peters, Dundee, Scotland; director Solas CPC; husband of Annabel, father of Andrew, Becky and EJ; author, debater, broadcaster and Uni chaplain. Follow him @theweeflea

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