Christianity 201

May 8, 2015

When You Run Toward God, You Find God Running Toward You

Today we have a bonus article from Clarke Dixon, mostly because the one I posted on Wednesday wasn’t intended for C201. Well, I enjoyed it. As always go to his blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon to read this at source.

An Outcast Seeks God

How would you feel if you made a very long journey to see the natural beauty of Niagara Falls, but when you arrived you were told “you must keep your distance.” There you are, close enough to see the mist rising from the falls, but instead of enjoying that wonderful natural beauty you are kept in the highly commercialized part of town. There is something similar happening to an Ethiopian eunuch we meet in Acts 8. He has a desire to worship the God of Israel, and takes a long trek to seek God’s presence at the temple in Jerusalem. But he can only get so close before he is barred from going further. He is a foreigner and a eunuch, a guarantee of always being considered as too unclean to enter the temple. And so he can only go as far as the busy and noisy outer courts of the temple, where people are buying and selling for the sacrifices. Perhaps you feel you have a similar problem, wanting to draw close to God, but not feeling good enough to do so?

When we meet the eunuch, he is already on his way home. He has gone as far as he was allowed to go in his pursuit of God’s presence. Now, on his way home, we find something remarkable. God is pursuing him.

26 Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) 27 So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” Acts 8:26-29 NRSV

Sometimes we fail to see God in the details. We might be ready to affirm that God desires to bring salvation to sinners, but we might fail to appreciate that God desires to work in the life of this or that particular sinner. We might even be that particular person we doubt God could be interested in. Yet God’s work in the life of one individual could not be clearer than we find in His pursuit of the Ethiopian eunuch. Let’s see what happens next:

30 So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. 32 Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. 33 In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” 34 The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35 Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. Acts 8:30-35 NRSV

The good news Phillip has for the eunuch is that Jesus is the one described in that prophecy of Isaiah 53:7,8 and he is now risen from the dead. Jesus is the suffering servant. And you can imagine Phillip pointing out the surrounding verses in that same prophecy of Isaiah to tell why he suffered:

4 Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:4-6 NRSV

9 They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. 10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him with pain. When you make his life an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days; through him the will of the LORD shall prosper. 11 Out of his anguish he shall see light; he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge. The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. Isaiah 53:9-12 NRSV

Jesus suffered to bring salvation to the sinner. But did he suffer for an outcast like the Ethiopian eunuch? “Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus.” I wonder if Phillip went on to the prophecy of Isaiah chapter 56:

3 Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say,
“The Lord will surely separate me from his people”;
and do not let the eunuch say,
“I am just a dry tree.”
4 For thus says the Lord:
To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,
who choose the things that please me
and hold fast my covenant,
5 I will give, in my house and within my walls,
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off.
6 And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it,
and hold fast my covenant—
7 these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.
8 Thus says the Lord God,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel,
I will gather others to them
besides those already gathered.
Isaiah 56:3-8 NRSV

I wonder if Phillip told the eunuch about Jesus quoting from this passage in the outer courtyards of the temple as he rebuked those making profits there. This was to be a house of prayer for all nations, but how could the nations worship among all the buzz of commerce? Did the eunuch’s heart warm as he heard about Jesus’ concern for the outcast, for the foreigner and the eunuch who came to the temple to worship? Did it burn as he heard that Jesus was the servant who suffered even for an outcast like him? Did it rejoice to know that this Jesus was risen from the dead and that God was pursuing him, specifically sending Phillip to tell him the good news? Something did indeed happen in the eunuch’s heart:

36 As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” 38 He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. Acts 8:36-38 NRSV

As an Ethiopian and a eunuch, there was only so far this man could go in becoming a Jewish convert with full privileges. And yet here he was baptized, symbolizing his complete inclusion into the body of Christ. As an Ethiopian and a eunuch, there was only so far he could go in pursuing the presence of God at the temple before he would be stopped by the religious authorities. But here God pursued him. Now through the Holy Spirit he had become the place of God’s presence. The good news for the Ethiopian eunuch is good news for us. God loves and pursues the outcast. Are you pursuing Him?

May 7, 2014

The Church Behind Closed Doors

NRSV John 20:19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Early Church 1

Our featured writer today is Canadian pastor Clarke Dixon whose “Shrunk Sermons” appear weekly on his blog. You’re encouraged (as always!) to read this at source where it appeared as The Church Behind Locked Doors.

The doors are locked. Locked from the inside by the disciples out of fear of the religious leaders. It is a scary time with Jesus so recently crucified and the women besides themselves with the strange news that He has risen. But for now there is no celebration, just confusion, wondering, and locked doors.

That could an apt description of the church in Canada. Confusion, wondering, and hiding behind locked doors. Locked doors? How so you ask? We hide behind locked doors when:

  • we consider religion and faith as a private matter.
  • we fear turning people off by being open about our faith.
  • we leave speaking to people about Jesus to the “professionals.”
  • all our friends are Christians, and all events we attend are Christian.
  • we immerse ourselves in a thoroughly Christian subculture.
  • fear over our reputation overpowers our courage.

And so while there is no need for we Canadian Christians to fear for our lives like the disciples, or like many disciples around the world today, we can all too easily hide behind locked doors. Is there hope that we can get out?

Despite the fear and the locked doors the disciples are on the verge of a turning point. Fear will be replaced with courage, the huddled group will be out and about. Though it will be Pentecost, several weeks later, before that turn is complete, it begins here in this moment behind locked doors. What makes this change possible?

The Presence of Jesus. It begins with Jesus, oblivious to all doors locked or otherwise, standing before the disciples. He says “Peace be with you” (John 2-:19 NRSV). Given that the disciples deserted Jesus not too many days before, Jesus’ greeting would be encouraging, a sign of forgiveness. “After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side” (John 20:20 NRSV). Seeing the wounds, there could be no doubt that yes, this really is Jesus, back from the dead. But those wounds say more than that. It is as if Jesus is saying “You have your doors locked out of fear of what they will do to you? Look what they did to me, and yet look at what they could not do to me! I am not dead, but alive!” That’s encouraging and a reason for courage.

The Task. Next we hear of an incredible task: “Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you’” (John 20:21 NRSV). The implication of this is clear, the doors will need to be unlocked. Not so that people can get in, but so that the disciples can get out with the incredible message of Jesus. A massive change will need to take place.

The Gift. Next an incredible gift is given to enable that change: “When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (John 20:22 NRSV). We are to be reminded here of the creation of humanity when God breathed life into Adam (Genesis 2:7) and so are to think of the creation of a new humanity, in perfect relationship with God and with God’s creation. Think back to that time of dwelling with God in the garden. There is no need for locked doors there. Nor here now.

The Responsibility. But finally we read of an incredible responsibility: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:23 NRSV). Now some will read this in a far too black and white fashion and will question what role we could have in forgiveness when the forgiveness of sin is God’s work. Yes it is, but the point shines through loud and clear, God will use His people in a significant way to help people become aware of that forgiveness He offers. This will go beyond the declaration of God’s offer of forgiveness, though, yes, that is supremely important, to modelling forgiveness and demonstrating how grace works. It will not be long before a Jesus follower, Stephen, will be doing just that as his last words echo the words of Jesus from the cross: “Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he died (Acts 7:60 NRSV) Such incredible grace would never have been seen had Stephen kept himself safe and sound behind locked doors. Forgiveness does not work very well when we are huddled together behind locked doors but works best when we are rubbing shoulders with people who will hurt us.

There is hope that we as Canadian Christians can get out from behind our locked doors. But it will not happen if we are not with Jesus experiencing His forgiveness and peace. It will happen when we hear the call, receive the Spirit, and realize the awesome responsibility and privilege that comes with being forgiven. Do you have some doors to unlock?

April 8, 2012

Zombies in the Bible?

The “post time” for this blog is usually later in the afternoon EST, and it’s already Easter Monday when other people are reading this. So in a post-resurrection environment, I can’t think of a more unusual focus for today than this piece from the blog Cindy By The Sea. I just wish I had my own computer today so I could add some pictures to this piece!!


You’ve seen them, their glassy-eyed stare a dead give away, as to who they really are; advancing at you across the theatre screen with slow determination, as if, they really are – coming for you.  Giggling nervously, you reach in to your popcorn bag, hoping, in the silliness of it all, that when the theatre lights go back on, you’ll find, it really isn’t true; Zombies are not for real and they certainly are not – coming for you.


I have to confess I have not spent much time thinking about these “not dead- yet, not alive” animated corpses, which, for some reason or another have made their way into pop-movie culture since the early days of cinema.  That was until this past week, when, I heard that a co-worker had asked my son-in-law, if, Zombies were mentioned in the Bible. Apparently, he had read Matthew 27:51-52 and thought that it might be a reference to Zombies.

“Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of their graves after His resurrection, they went in to the holy city and appeared to many.”

And, while that may seem laughable to those of us more studied in scripture, it is actually a good question, for this verse (mentioned, only in the gospel of Matthew), is a mystery that even commentators cannot agree upon.

So, what is it talking about?

First of all, it is not talking about Zombies. But, is related, rather, to the death and resurrection of Jesus.  A Zombie, according to Wikipedia is an animated corpse brought back to life by mystical means, such as witchcraft, but, this is not the case in the gospel of Matthew; for these people are not simply re-animated corpses; they are fully alive, resurrected, flesh and blood human beings, who went into the city and interacted with the residents living there.

And, while, we are not given many details as to the reason why, we can safely assert that their appearance is somehow, tied to the sacrificial death of Jesus, by, virtue of the other very important detail mentioned in the verse, the tearing of the veil in two.

Up until this time, one man and one man only, could enter the presence of God in the Holy place of the temple, as a thick, heavy curtain separated this place from all but, the high priest, who was allowed to enter it, once per year on the day of Atonement, and only then, with a sacrifice of blood.  The tearing of the veil, when, Jesus was crucified, indicated that God had accepted the sacrifice of his son as an atonement for sin and was satisfied that it was sufficient to permanently pay for sin. Therefore, access to the presence of God, once limited to the High Priest alone, was now open, to all who would accept that payment as their own.

The resurrection of Old Testament saints, further demonstrated, the power over life and death that Jesus held, confirming, by their appearance the reality of the transaction, which, had taken place – the power of the resurrection over all who believe; past, present and future – to those, who by faith looked forward to the cross, as well, as to those of us who by faith are looking back.

Zombies, if you look closer into the subject, is a mixture of voodoo and sorcery, the mixing and administration of powerful central nervous suppressing and mind altering drugs.  Witch doctors, or those trained in the use of these drugs administer them to their victims causing them to fall into a trance like state with respirations and blood pressures, so low, the victim actually appears  to be dead.  The victim is then buried and revived hours or even days later, fully under the control of the perpetrator in their mind altered state.  Witch doctors and those who, practice the magic arts use these things to create fear and hysteria among those who are vulnerable, which gives them an enormous amount of power and control.

This is not what happened to Jesus, nor is it, what had happened to the Saints, who were resurrected at the time of the crucifixion.  Jesus, was undeniably dead, when, the spear that pierced his heart caused a sudden rush of blood and water from the wound,  undeniable proof that the pericardial sac, which encloses the heart had been punctured.  And, the OT Saints, they had been dead for centuries, their flesh and bones long decayed in to the sands of time.

There is a lot that can be gleaned from this brief passage of scripture. I see the hint of a rapture event, as these Saints obviously did not return to the graves from which they had come, but, most likely ascended in to heaven, some days later, just as Jesus did.

It also, makes me think about the supposed restoration to life the Anti-Christ will have after suffering a deadly head wound. Satan can do alot of things, but, he has no power over life and death, therefore, what appears to be a resurrection, will most assuredly be a deception.  A body double, a clone or powerful drugs used to simulate a death; I’m not sure.

But, Zombies, in the Bible? No, no, Zombies in the Bible. In the White House, maybe, but, not in the Bible!

Thank you, God for the sacrifice of your Son and the assurance your word gives us that we too, by faith in him, will one day be resurrected or raptured in to the presence of your glory.