Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Galatians 2.11-14

So far in his letter Paul has been appealing to the Christians in Galatia to follow the Good News he taught them and hold fast to the promises of God.

Just before our text today we learn that the Good News that Paul preaches is verified to be truth by the ‘Pillars of the Church’ - the key apostles and James the brother of Jesus who were leading the mission to the Jews from Jerusalem.  Paul and Peter agree and Paul says that the same God is working through both of them.

Yet now Peter is shown to be in Paul’s bad books.  Paul is telling the Galatians what he is to show them that he has power over other teachers - a power that comes not from himself or his human skill and strength but by divine appointment.  Without this divine appointment it would have been foolish to challenge one like Peter, the foremost of the twelve disciples.

The Story

But let’s start at the beginning.  Paul tells us that Peter – called by his Hebrew name Cephas – comes to Syrian Antioch which is North East of Cyprus when the coast forms a ninety degree angle.  Antioch was the third largest city in the entire Roman Empire and was a major place of culture and influence.  All trade going East and West had to travel through it and by land it was also a point along the main trading road from North to South or the rest of Europe to Egypt. 

Why did Peter leave Jerusalem to come to this gentile city of commerce and culture? We don’t  know but maybe it was due to the kind of persecution we find recorded in Acts 12.1-19 at the hands of Herod Agrippa in the area that is now Isreal.

Whilst in Antioch Peter enters gentile, non-Jewish, houses and eats with non-Jews.  This is something which is a big no-no for Jews living under the Old Testament Law, not only were gentiles and their houses dirty and unclean but they ate non-Kosher food.  Early in Acts we have the account of God revealing to Peter on a roof top that all foods are clean and Kosher and that it is fine to eat and have fellowship with non-Jews.  God has a tablecloth with all kinds of unclean foods like pork and snake and camel and insects come down three times before Peter’s eyes and each time God tells Peter to eat.  At first Peter thinks it is a test and says he won’t but he finally gets the message.  When he does a messenger arrives and Peter heads to the non-Jewish Roman Centurion Cornelius’ house to tell him about Jesus.  Peter thus begins the mission to the Gentiles and radically breaks with the Jewish laws about purity.

In Antioch Peter was living the Good News of freedom, joy, peace, and love.

The fear and hypocrisy

But then people came from James the brother of Jesus, the man who led the early church from Jerusalem.  Whether James actually sent them or they were just associated with him we don’t know.  When these people get to Antioch Peter slowly begins to withdraw from eating and having fellowship with gentiles or thieves or sinners who would be considered ‘unclean’ by the Jews.  Why? Because of fear and cowardice.

Who did Peter, first among the disciples fear? Likely it was fear of the non-Christian Jews.  There were many ultra-nationalist Jews who were seeking and stating a revolution and demanded strict Old Testament Law observance.  If you didn’t keep the Law and keep pure then you faced an inquisition and likely death.

This fear seems to spread to other ‘Jewish-Christians’ and even to Paul’s trusted Barnabas.  But Paul is having none of it – if Christians are martyred so be it but they must not compromise on the Gospel.

Paul publically opposes Peter face to face, mano-a-mano. The gloves come off as it were.  Paul recognises that by his actions Peter is bringing himself and others into condemnation.  Paul considers Peter a total hypocrite – a word which was used to describe actors in Greek plays who wore different masks to play different characters, you never saw their real faces or heard their real voices.  A hypocrite is someone wearing a mask, someone who hides their real self and their real beliefs behind a fake image out of fear or desire to be loved.  It is something God despises – Christ is the light of the world and unless you walk in the light as He is in the light, which shows up all our darkness, then you have no part of Him.

Peter clearly knows the Old Testament Law is exactly that – Old Testament, Old Covenant Law.  He knows that they are now living under the New Covenant and are in the New Testament.  He knows that what he is doing is wrong, that withdrawing from his brothers and sisters in Christ because of their race is wicked in the sight of the Lord.  But still he does it because of fear.  Fear is a powerful emotion, it drives so much of who we are and what we do.  We so often, knowingly or unknowingly let fear create our identity and mould our actions.

Church Discipline

Paul confronts Peter before a crowd – but this raises a big question.  Jesus tells us in Matthew 18 to firstly confront the person alone.  In that passage Jesus sets out how we as Christians should deal with sin and hurt.  First we must go to the person responsible and tell them and rebuke them and ask them to repent.  If they do then you have won back your brother or sister. If they don’t you take two or three witnesses or experts, perhaps church leaders, and confront them again.  Hopefully they repent, but if they don’t you take them before the whole church for judgement in the hopes the seriousness of their not repenting is clear to see and they change their heart and mind.  If they still remain obstinate and unrepentant then the whole church is to treat them like a non-Jew or tax-collector would be in the time of Jesus– in other words the person is to be shunned and ignored by the entire church family till they come back to the fold with humility.  

In modern society and church life it is most unpopular and controversial to ‘excommunicate’ a person because they have sinned – but it is the biblical model and without such church discipline the wolves will quickly infect the sheepfold and destroy it from within. As the bride of Christ, the moment we depart from His teaching we are putting ourselves in danger – like a child who has been told not to play in the road but goes ahead and does it. 

We so often hear people saying, as Miley Cyrus did in her recent hit single, “only God can judge me.”  They are right, God is the judge, He alone hands out the sentence – but as brothers and sisters it is our duty and our responsibility to look out for, lovingly warn and rebuke, those who are living lives where because of Scripture we know what the judgement is going to be.  Cain after killing his brother Abel said to God sarcastically “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The answer was YES.  As a church we must encourage and build up one another, challenge and rebuke one another, we must be open and humble, submit to proper discipline and be fervent in prayer and the pursuit of holiness.  

We are all going to sin, we are all going to be hypocrites who fail to live up to what we preach, and the world may judge us for that, but what makes us different from the world is that where we sin and mess up we repent to God and neighbour, we recognise the enormity of our guilt and, by the grace and help of the Holy Spirit, we act upon it.
Why didn’t Paul confront Peter alone and follow the pattern Jesus laid out? Because this was not a normal situation – this was not a private issue between two parties, one of which was wronged.  This was a public issue of huge importance, Paul needed to publically rebuke Peter to make sure others didn’t follow Peter’s example.

So what was the Big Deal?

But what was the big deal? Why the need for such a dramatic and climactic throw down with the Apostle?  We know from 2 Corinthians that Paul was a small man, quietly spoken, humble and not intimidating or prone to public rebuke and controversy.  Why such a change of character? What could have driven Paul to such a radical course of action against Peter?

The answer is simple.  It is because Paul, as he says in verse 14 believes that the very truth, the bone and marrow, the flesh and blood, of the Gospel, it’s very heart, is at serious risk of cancer, disease, and ultimately death.  Paul says that he “saw that they were deviating from the truth of the gospel.”

How were they deviating from the truth of the Gospel?

Because they were living under the Old Covenant and not under the New Covenant. They were living as slaves at Mount Sinai not as sons of God at Calvary.

They were not living by grace alone but were adding in works based salvation.  They were living in the chains of legalism not the sunshine of freedom.  Salvation is not by works of the Law and it is not by a genetic claim to be a Jew.  Peter was breaking apart and tearing asunder the unique freedom of unity, of Jew and Gentile, in one single family – the Body of Christ.  He was rebuilding the very walls that Jesus came to rip down and he was reinforcing the barricade the Holy Spirit had been showing needed to be dismantled. 

Ignatius of Antioch – the Bishop of the same city where all this happened not long after the time of the Apostles – writing around 97 AD to the Megnesian Christians said:

“it is monstrous to talk of Jesus Christ and to proclaim Judaism”

The early church abolished the food laws, it threw away the Passover, it dismantled the Sabbath, and it abolished the Jewish Festivals and Holidays.  The old has passed away and clinging to it can only bring imprisonment.

Paul was making clear that these things had no place in a life lived under Jesus Christ, in a life lived under the Grace of the Cross.

In their song ‘Feeling Good’ the band Muse has the words:

“It’s a new dawn,
It’s a new day,
It’s a new life...
And this old world is a new world
And a bold world...”

It is indeed a new dawn: a new dawn with the light of hope shining from the tomb of Jesus. It is indeed a new day: a new day under the grace of the Holy Spirit. It is indeed a new life, a new life purchased with the blood of Jesus Christ.  It is indeed a new world made from the ruins and sin of the old world - a bold world of freedom and intimate relationship with God.  A world in which the curtains and the walls that divide God and man and man and his brothers have been torn down and trampled under foot by the feet by the angels as Jesus cried out the words "IT IS FINISHED!"

Because of this, as Muse go on to sing:

“Yeah, freedom is mine,
And you know how I feel!
I'm feeling good!”

We must hold fast to the joyous Gospel no matter what persecutions or temptations come.  Do not ever give in to legalism, do not ever submit to the yoke of Sinai – submit to the love and power of Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Genesis 26.1-33

Genesis 26.1-33

            Here in Genesis 26 we have the only chapter of Scripture that is solely about Isaac.  Yet when reading it feels like a case of déjà-vu.  The whole passage seems to mirror the story of Abraham, Isaac’s Father, in so many ways. 

            First we have “another famine in the land in addition to the one that had occurred in Abraham’s time.”  From the first verse we are drawn into recalling the story of Abraham.

            Then we have in verse two the Lord appearing to Isaac and delivering a confirmation of His covenant to Abraham.  Just as the Lord, the Word of God, appeared to Abraham, so He does Isaac. Just as He made a covenant with Abraham, so He renews it with Isaac.  What we see is that because of the famine Isaac had set his heart on going to Egypt, the bread basket of the ancient world.  This is exactly the same plan his father had.  But this time God steps in to stop him from following in Abraham’s footsteps.  Instead, Isaac stays in the ‘promised land’ and settles in Gerar – just as his father had been a stranger and alien in the land promised to him so now was Isaac. 

            Then comes the ‘shocker.’  Isaac follows his father not only in his faith in God but in his sins as well.   Though this should not really surprise us, how closely he follows the dark path of Abraham is remarkable.  Both Abraham and Isaac fear that their wife will be sought after by the locals for her beauty.  So they both concoct the plan to play her off as their sister!  Remarkably some people even have the same names as back in the time of Abraham.  Perhaps they were related, perhaps not.
            Once again we find a man named Abimelech.  Likely this is not a normal name but a royal name – just as there have been many King Henry’s and a number of Queen Elizabeth’s.  Alternatively it may be a title like ‘pharaoh’ or ‘emperor.’  The fact that it is likely not a real name per-se is shown by the fact that Psalm 34 refers to a king Abimelech but we know from 1 Samuel 21 that his real name was Achish. The word Abimelech means simply “my father is king.”

            Continuing through the story we find that just as his father Abraham had a conflict with locals over water and wells, so too does his son Isaac.  Abraham fought and argued with Lot and Lot’s servants over wells and in the current passage it is explicitly these wells that Abraham dug that are re-dug and become a source of contention.  Both Abraham and Isaac name the same place Beersheba! Again Moses, the author, wants us to see the links between father and son.    
            Just as in Abraham’s lifetime the people of the land sought peace and diplomatic treaties with Abraham, so now they do with Isaac who is so obviously, as was his father, blessed by God.

            Clearly Isaac is a patriarch after his father’s own footsteps and fits snugly in his father’s shoes.

            Yet, Isaac is also a pale shadow of the largely righteous man Abraham was.  He makes many of the same errors as his father but adds countless more.

            Firstly, like Abraham, he does the despicable thing of fobbing off his wife as his sister.  It must have become a national stereotype joke among the locals.  Oh the German’s are efficient and put towels on deckchairs early in the morning, the Italians are smooth and always being romantic, the British are prudes and keep a stiff upper lip, oh and the family of Abraham, well they pretend their wives are their sisters.
            Isaac had no excuse. His father’s testimony should have been clear enough that it was a bad move. Yet in this instance Isaac didn’t even need to do it – he spent quite a while in Gerah and no-one tried to kidnap, abuse, or seduce his wife!
            Then Isaac reveals himself to not only be a liar – a selfish liar – but he is proven to be one who lacks even basic discretion when he is found out because he couldn’t keep his hands off his wife and intimates foreplay with her in public – in clear view of the King’s window!  Maybe this was the equivalent of the modern mile-high club, but in any case it was a stupid move by a man who needed to have his passions under control.

            We also learn from last week and will learn next week too that Isaac favoured his son Esau over Jacob despite, and in rebellion to, God’s clear statements that Jacob was the chosen one.  To his shame, Isaac even fails to find a good wife for Esau, something Abraham had been at pains to do for him.

            Later, when Abimelech approaches him to make a treaty and bring peace Isaac is rude, brash, belligerent and inhospitable.  He is immediately questioning and doubting and insulting the locals whilst refusing to hear their side of the picture first.

            Clearly Isaac is not exactly what you would call a role-model.  Yet he was God’s chosen instrument by which to continue His covenant promise.  Despite the lies, sins, and failings, God blesses him one hundred fold.  He was not only undeserving of God’s love and blessing but ill-deserving of it.
            So why did God do it? Why did God love him and bless him?  Because He made a covenant with Isaac’s father Abraham – though even Abraham was a deeply flawed sinner.  Even though Abraham sinned, in view of God’s free gift of grace, Abraham was seen to uphold the covenant.

            In this sense, Abraham and Isaac are an image of us and Jesus, an image of our salvation.
            God is our Father and we are made in His image.  But we mar and dirty it every day.  We are pale shadows and muddy reflections.  We are sinners from the moment we are conceived, we are born in a state of rebellion against God by nature.  We are all Isaacs who are undeserving and ill-deserving of the promise to eternal life.
            Yet what does God tell Isaac?  “I will be with you and I will bless you.”  This is the first time God is called something like ‘Emmanuel’ – God will be with us, God with us. 


            Because of the covenant promise He made to us before we deserved it, and He made this promise knowing full well that we would break our side of the bargain.  But to fulfil the covenant the Father gave up to us Jesus His only begotten Son from all eternity.

Why will the covenant occur and all nations be blessed?

            “Because Abraham listened to My voice, and kept My mandate, My commands, My statutes, and My instructions.” (26.5)
            Only Jesus is without sin, only Jesus truly kept all God’s commands, truly kept all His statutes, truly listened at all times to God’s instructions.  Jesus was the sinless sacrifice needed to destroy and remove our sin – to obliterate it as Calvin would say.  Jesus was the sinless sacrifice needed to remove God’s perfectly just and righteous wrath against us and our sin.
            When we believe in Jesus, His record of keeping the whole Law perfectly, of living the perfect life of holiness, is given to each of us just as 2000 years ago He took all of our filth and sin and wickedness, the full extent, the unabridged form, of our terrible record and He nailed it to the cross in His body and blood.  And He died crying out ‘it is finished’ – and at that moment so was our sin, so was our shame, our guilt, our darkness. 

            In verse 24 when the Word of God again visits Isaac He tells us what our response to this Good News should be:

            We should not be afraid.
            We should know that He is with us.
            We should be blessed by God.

            We should all be afraid, terrified even, of God and His righteous judgement, of the sentence of death and Hell against all sins – BUT ONLY IF we don’t believe in Jesus as Lord, God, and Saviour.

            We must acknowledge, humbly, that we are Isaac and have done nothing to deserve God’s love.  But we must know that because He loves the elect anyway – those who truly believe - we who believe need have no fear or condemnation but rather know He is with us in every moment of our lives and He is a God of innumerable blessings.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Remembrance Sunday Sermon 10/11/13

Remembrance Sunday  10/11/13

Today is many things.  To some it is a day of mourning, to others a day of celebrating our freedom, and to some it is a day to reflect on the heroism and bravery of British and Empire soldiers past and present.

Because it is a day of many meanings I have a number of thoughts to share with you.

Firstly, any time of remembrance, even one of mourning such as a funeral, should begin, or at least include, thanksgiving.  Today we give thanks to God Almighty for the victory we have received at His gracious hands and by His mighty arm.  Great Britain has been blessed with victory more than any other nation in all of history.  The history of the British military is one of legendary proportions and global reach such as had never before been seen or ever after till this day been known.

When Napoleon tried to subject Europe under his self-messianic dictatorship, Britain formed that thin red line in the sand of Egypt through to the grass of Waterloo.  By British soldiers and ships He was twice defeated and his dangerous empire left in ruins. 

When the German Emperor Wilhelm II start World War I, hell bent on conquering Europe, we went to the aid of our allies, we sacrificed our men on Flanders’s Fields for their freedom.  And by God’s grace we were victorious.

When Hitler, one of the darkest and most evil, most vile of men, sought to bring the world under his darkness and hatred; When Hitler invaded Poland, crushed France and left Europe on its knees, defenceless before him, when he killed millions of Jews and Romani; When he had the ill and infirm, the sick and disabled, rounded up and killed – Britain did not stand idly by.  When Hitler sought our allegiance and our hand, even in the face of near certain defeat we spat in his face.  We defended our land from the bombs and the planes, we fought in the lands where our fathers had died in the trenches.   We stood for freedom, freedom written in the blood of our heroes.  Imagine if Hitler had won – how evil our nation would be, how evil the world would have become!  But against all odds, by God’s guiding hand victory was won for justice, equality, freedom.

When Korea was torn apart in the 'forgotten war' and the North invaded the South to try an impose communism, over 14,000 British soldiers were sent to fight in a country they knew nothing of.  Over a thousand never returned.  But God gave a victory against seeming impossible odds.

When the Argentineans invaded the Falkland’s we would not stand for the insult, for the destruction of freedoms, and we travelled half way across the world with only a tiny force to take on a whole nation.  And by God’s hand we fought, we lay flat their entire military, air, land, and sea, to such an extent they have still not recovered.  And the Falkland’s were once again free.

Or think now of the wars that rage, the war we fight against terror, against an enemy far more insidious and silent – silent till the trigger is pushed and the bombs explode.  The war we wage to be set free from the fear of our enemies.  Think of the soldiers barely out of school who died in the fiery hell of the Iraqi desert and Afghani mountains.  But victory will be ours.

Today is indeed a day to reflect on all I have just said, on the evil that could have been, and it is a day to praise God the King that He could not allow it to pass.

But today is also a day to mourn the loss of our fathers and our mothers, our sons and our daughters, our brothers and our sisters, our family and our friends.  Those whose light has been snuffed out by evil whilst fighting against the encroaching darkness.  It is a time to remember the pain of a whole nation where in World War I alone only 53 parishes knew not death in all of England, Scotland, Wales, and the entirety of Ireland put together. 

Yet what was the point of their deaths and sacrifice if nothing is changed?

Today is a day to remember the evil of humanity, the evil and darkness in all of us, in each and every one of us.  The Germans who shoved Jews into gas chambers were no different to you or me, they were normal people told to do a job, given permission and set free to do what in the depths of their hearts, and ours, is to be found – evil, darkness, depravity, and sin.  The lust for power, the greed for more, the hatred and anger against others, the smut and the passion for physical gratification that is in each of us is the source of the world’s evil.  When a man wrote to The Times newspaper asking “what is wrong with the world” one man recognised the truth of it, and replied “Dear Sir, I am. Yours G.K. Chesterton.”  Chesterton was not a Hitler, he never killed a man or raped a woman, but he saw clearly the truth of it – in his heart, in his secret thoughts, he was no different than the worst.   Today is a day to recognise this sin in us and throw ourselves on the mercy of Jesus Christ, on the mercy and pity and love of God, who will come again and judge the living and the dead, who will come again and judge you and me.

In 1882 the German Philosopher Nietzsche boldly declared “God is dead... And we have killed Him!”  He said it as a boast, he took pride in it as if it were some great achievement of mankind to be rid of true religion – that is to say Christianity the only true religion and the only way to heaven.  He and so many others saw the success and the power of man and machine, of innovation and science. They asked “Why do we need God? Can we not explain everything in this universe? Can we not heal our own sick? Can we not give sight to the blind and make the leper whole? Can we not cure the insane?  What need is there of God in a Golden Age of atheism and science?” 

What need is there of God in a Golden Age of atheism and science? Indeed!

More have died at human hands in the past one hundred years than all the centuries before combined.  Famed atheists Jospeh Stalin and Pol Pot killed more of their own people in forty years than all the Christian crusades and inquisitions of history put together. Never has poverty been so easily solved and yet forced to remain because of selfish greed. Never has the gap between the super-rich and super-poor been so great.  Never have depression and anxiety afflicted so many – in the past ten years the amount of anti-depressants prescribed has more than doubled, 46 million people are on anti-depressants in the UK, in Wales one in five people are prescribed drugs to help battle depression. One in Five!! Here in Cleveland one in six adults is on such medication. Today there are more slaves in the sex industry than there were slaves in total at the time of William Wilberforce.  An estimated 27 million people are slaves of some form today.  As I speak over 2 million girls under the age of 16 are being exploited as sex slaves against their will. 

If the past one hundred years has been an experiment of what a world is like where “God is Dead” then it was an error in conception and a disaster in execution.  And the world knows it.

Christianity worldwide is growing faster than ever.  Christianity in Britain is now growing and not dying.  Why?  Why would people who have the glories of science and the joy of total autonomy turn to Christ?  Because a godless world can never satisfy those who were made in the image of God Himself. 

And this is why Remembrance Sunday so resonates within our hearts.  This is why this day plays the strings of our hearts more than any other.

C.S. Lewis (or Tolkien, I forget which!) once said that all great stories are merely a retelling of the one true story of God and His saving love.  When we read of good triumphing over evil – either on a national scale like World Wars or on a personal level like overcoming addiction – it is so powerful because we know deep down, spiritually, it is what we long for in our own lives.  We long for victorious living, we long to be saved from all that is wrong around us, and especially - if we are truthful – all that is wrong within us.

It is no accident that superhero movies are so successful.  It is no accident that in them there is almost always a moment of humiliating defeat or a time of weakness and humility that the hero must go through to save the world or win the girl.

It is no accident that often the heroes are so... ordinary.  Think of Harry Potter, a boy who had no great physical strength, who lived in poverty under the stairs in a dysfunctional family.  Think of Peter Parker – Spiderman for those of you wondering who I am speaking about – a boy who was orphaned by the death or leaving of his parents and who grew up with his aunt and uncle in no fantastic wealth, a boy bullied at school.  Think of Bilbo or Frodo Baggins, Hobbits of small stature, not warriors, great only at eating and smoking and gardening.  Hobbits who are the least of all the peoples of Middle Earth and yet save the world from the greatest of evils.  Think of Luke Skywalker, a no-body growing up parentless in a desert as a moisture farmer – some country bumpkin who knows next to nothing of the universe or the Empire he is soon to bring to its knees.      All these heroes fight the impossible from a place of weakness, they are all so normal, so relatable, to frail.

These are so successful, so memorable, because they are but a pale shadow of Jesus Christ.

There was a bridge near Dunkirk in 1940 stained with British blood.  As their friends were evacuated some soldiers stood their ground, made their last stand to stop the Nazis from getting through.  They fought till there were no more grenades, no more bullets, they died with knives in their hands and bayonets in their rifles.  That day they sacrificed themselves and saved the lives of many of their friends and family, their brothers in both blood and arms.  It was a modern day 300 and we must never, ever, forget them.

But on a hill outside Jerusalem, just under 2000 years ago, a greater sacrifice was made, a greater victory won, a greater freedom purchased by the blood of God.

What made this unique was that Jesus didn’t die for His friends as our brave soldiers did at Dunkirk. He didn’t even die for His family.  He died, willingly, for His enemies.  Listen to What Saint Paul in Romans 5 tells us of that fateful day:

For while we were still helpless, at the appointed moment, Christ died for the ungodly. 
For rarely will someone die for a just person—though for a good person perhaps someone might even dare to die. But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us! Much more then, since we have now been declared righteous by His blood, we will be saved through Him from wrath. 10 For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, then how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by His life!

We are helpless sinners, lost in our sin, at war with God – doomed to the coming judgement. We are evil - whether deep down inside or plain for all to see.  We turn against God day and night; we are under the righteous wrath and anger of God.  We deserve to die in penalty for our sins and wickedness, and we have no right to any future but eternity in hell, an eternity in torment, burning fire, and choking darkness.  We deserve the worst internment camp, the worst Prisoner of War Camp imaginable.  We are not just sinners we are active enemies of heaven and all that is perfectly Holy and Good. 

Yet “while we were helpless” “while we were still sinners” “while we were enemies” Christ Jesus died to reconcile us to God.  By His blood and His blood alone can we be saved from the righteous wrath of God.  For those who believe in Jesus as Lord, God, and Saviour – for them Christ Jesus took all our sin on Himself, He became helpless and put Himself in our place, in the shoes of an enemy of God – and He took our punishment, our just deserts, our judgement and our penalty.  And He died in agony in our place, sacrificed up for us that we might be set free from sin, from our evil nature, and from Devil himself.

Be reconciled to God today, this minute, this moment.  Remember the freedom that was bought for you by British soldiers that you may choose Christ as your King and not fear death and punishment from the state or others.  Throw yourself at the foot of the old rugged cross where Jesus wept and bled and died.  Throw yourself on the mercy of God almighty, repent of your sin, acknowledge the evil within you and cast it upon Him, open your heart to the Holy Spirit that He may fill you with joys unspeakable and hope unstoppable!

In Oxford there is a street that I dare say is my favourite in all the nation – St. Giles.  On one end is found the war memorial for Oxford, a cross rising up out of the ground as a monument to the heroic dead of war.  A monument to celebrate the freedom we have from tyranny of evil empires and rulers. 

At the other end of the street rises up something like the ornate spire of a cathedral, it is a monument to the deaths of three men who were burned at the stake just down the road.  Those men were Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley, and Thomas Cranmer – the Oxford Martyrs.  They died defending the true faith from superstition and heresy, they died that we might know the freely given love of God, they died that we might know mercy and hope, that we can know that it is not what we do that saves us but what Jesus did on the Cross.  They died for the true religion, the Protestant, Reformed, faith. 

Here in that one street we have two great blessings – freedom from evil on the one hand and freedom to God on the other.  Take up the call and do not squander their gifts to you this day, make a new start in Christ Jesus – rejoicing that you can do so without fear.  And then, through faith in Jesus, one day you will meet Latimer, Ridley, and Cranmer, and many of those who died in the World Wars and you may thank them as you all feast at the greatest banquet the universe has ever known.


Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Is Jesus in the Old Testament?

Jesus in the Old Testament

To begin with it is made clear in the Gospel of John that "no-one has seen the Father except the One who is from God (i.e. Jesus).  He has seen the Father."  John 6.46.   If the Father has not been seen up till the point of Jesus' earthly life, and the Holy Spirit is exactly that - a Spirit that doesn't take physical form (or at least in Scripture never takes the form of a human) - then any physical manifestation of God which is seen up to this point must be the second person of the Trinity.  Some argue it should not be said that 'Jesus' was in the Old Testament but rather the 'Word' or '2nd Person of the Trinity' as Jesus was His 'incarnational' name.  However the correct translation of Jude 5 states that "Jesus rescued the people of Israel out of Egypt" - clearly the 2nd person of the Trinity had not been 'incarnated' as Jesus at that point but Scripture reveals that it is right and true to still refer to Him as Jesus.  I say that the Father had not been seen up until the life of Jesus as it is clear that in Revelation the figure sat on the Throne must be the Father as the Lion of Judah the Lamb of God Jesus Christ enters the stage when the Holy Lord God is already seen sat on the throne.

The first reference to Jesus in physical form comes in Genesis 3 where it says "Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and they hid themselves from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. So the Lord God called out to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard You in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.”  Genesis 3.8-10.  Here we see The Lord 'walking' in the garden in such a way that He could be heard at a distance.  This clearly implies a physical form.

Following this the most common sight of God is in the mysterious 'The Messenger of the Lord/God' more commonly translated 'The Angel of the Lord.' It is important to distinguish between 'an angel of the Lord' and 'The Angel of the Lord.'  As a general principle 'an angel' refers to what would widely be understood as a normal angel, which should not be worshipped - Revelation 22.8-9.  Thus the presence of worship which is accepted by 'The Angel' would point to Him being God for no angel of Heaven would dare to allow worship towards anything but the LORD.

The first instance of importance is in Genesis 16.7-14.  Here we hear that "The Angel of the Lord found her... she called the Lord who spoke to her 'The GOD who sees...'  Clearly the 'Angel' who found her and spoke to her is identified as God.

In Genesis 18 Abraham has three visitors who are Angels.  Widely seen as a type of the Trinity it is important to read carefully.  Only one of the ‘men’ is ever identified as The Lord - two head off to Sodom and Gomorrah where they are simply 'angels' but one remains with Abraham and this one is identified as The Lord in verse 22.

Genesis 22.15-18 has "Then The Angel of The Lord called to Abraham... and said 'by MYSELF I have sworn' this is the Lord's declaration."  Here The Angel swears by His own Name and promises blessings on Abraham and his descendants.

Genesis 32.24-32 is the account of Jacob wrestling with an unnamed figure who blesses Jacob and changes his name to Israel.  Hosea 12.4 claims "Jacob struggled with The Angel" whilst, importantly, Jacob boldly declares "I have seen God face to face" in  Genesis 32.30.

Genesis 48.15-16 "The God before... The Angel who has redeemed me from all harm, may He bless these boys."  In This passage Jacob (now Israel) blesses his children and appears to use the words God and The Angel interchangeably, furthermore, The Angel is said to have 'redeemed' Jacob - God alone is the redeemer of His people.

Exodus 3.2 is the account of the Burning Bush where God reveals Himself by His own name YHWH.  But shockingly it states "The Angel of The Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire within a bush... God called out him from the bush... the place where you are standing is Holy ground (i.e. God is there)."  Clearly The Angel of the Lord is identified as one and the same with the God who declares Himself to be called 'I AM' and who Jesus would claim to be in the Gospel of John.

Exodus 14.19 "Then The Angel of God, who was [in] the pillar of cloud, moved... 24 The Lord looked down on the Egyptian forces from the pillar of fire and cloud."  Again we see The Angel and The Lord being identified as one and the same person.

Numbers 22.22-38 In the story of Balaam and the Donkey we see Balaam bowing down to The Angel of God, but Revelation 22.8-9 makes clear angels do not accept this kind of behaviour.

Judges 2.1-4 states "The Angel of the Lord went up...'I brought you out... I also said: 'I will never break my covenant with you.'"  Whilst it is clearly The Angel who 'went up' it is equally clear that it is God who speaks once up there.

Judges 6.11-14 "The Angel of the Lord came, and He sat... the Lord turned to him and said..." As in the previous passage, it is The Angel who moves but the Lord who is said to 'turn' and speak.

Judges 6.22 "When Gideon realised He was The Angel of the Lord, he said 'oh no Lord God, I have seen The Angel of the Lord face to face."  In this bold statement we see the idea that seeing God face to face brings death (Judges 13.22) - clearly Gideon felt that he had truly seen God face to face and that is why he is no astonished.

In Judges 13 The Angel of the Lord doesn't eat but asks for a sacrifice and says His name is 'Wonderful.'  Not only should sacrifice only be given to God and people fear for their lives after seeing His face, but 'Wonderful' is one of the Names of Jesus Christ prophesied in Isaiah 9.6 (note in the Hebrew there is no punctuation so either 'Wonderful, counsellor' or 'Wonderful Counsellor' is possible.)

Joshua 5.13-14 - 6.2 recalls the events surrounding 'The Commander of the Armies of the Lord.  This mysterious but very physical figure bears the hallmarks of divinity: Joshua is told to remove his sandals for the ground around The Commander is Holy as at the Burning Bush, The Commander answers to no-one and in 6.2 the text continues by definitively stating "The Lord said to Joshua."

In 2 Samuel 14 The Angel of God discerns good and bad (vs.17) and knows 'everything' (vs.20) both of which are signs of divinity - omniscience and complete morality.

2 Samuel 19.27 Here the earthly lord and king of Israel is compared to The Angel of God to demonstrate his complete control over the situation and people involved.

Isaiah 63 is a passage all about Jesus and yet verse 9 states "The Angel of His Presence saved them, He redeemed..." Here Jesus is clearly cast as the Angel of His Presence who saves and redeems His people.

Zechariah 3 has The Angel of the Lord standing before Joshua and Satan with verse 2 saying "The Lord  said to Satan" and verse 4 saying "The Angel of the Lord declares 'I have removed their guilt'"  Mark 2.7 makes clear that only God can forgive sin and remove guilt.

Finally Zechariah 12.8, "the house of David will be like God, like The Angel of the Lord..."  Here once again God and The Angel are used to represent the same person.

Given, as described above, no-one has seen the Father and the Spirit is invisible, all these bodily manifestations of God in the Old Testament MUST be Jesus Christ.

Furthermore, during the time of Moses God was physically seen.  In Exodus 24.9-11 we see Moses and 73 others go up to see the Lord and though it is not clear they saw His face, they certainly saw “His feet” which implies a human form.   Later (Exodus 33.10) Moses would be known for speaking “face to face with God as with a friend” in the Tent of Meeting in the desert.   Again in Numbers 12.8 the Lord says of Moses: I speak with him directly, openly, and not in riddles; he sees the form of the LORD.”  What then are we to make of the rest of Exodus 33 where the Lord says that Moses will die if he sees His face and God will have to hide Moses as He passes by in His glory?  This is still to be understood as Jesus for it is clear in the next chapter that God ‘stood’ before passing by.  On mount Tabor at the Transfiguration Jesus, whilst incarnated in the flesh, was transfigured and just a fraction of His Divine Glory was seen by the disciples yet it was nearly blinding – if God revealed not just His presence but His ‘Glory’ to Moses it is little wonder he could have faced death by looking directly into the eyes of the glorified Jesus.

Concerning the vision that Isaiah has of the throne room of God, and God sat on the throne in Isaiah 6 we are told by John in 12.41 of his Gospel that Isaiah saw Jesus.  It is likely it was also Jesus that Ezekiel saw in his visions and calling and Daniel in his (chapter 7 – more on this in a moment).

Likewise it is important to note that often in the Old Testament 'The Word of the Lord' (which is clearly identified with Jesus in John 1) is a physical person and not a voice or imparted thought.  When The Word of the Lord first appears in Scripture in Genesis 15 it is clear from the text that The Word is a 'He' who can walk about, speak, and point to the stars.  Whilst not always the case, many other instances of 'The Word of the Lord came to...' can be best understood as a physical manifestation of God in Jesus Christ actually coming to speak with the prophet in question – for example in Jonah where fleeing from the presence of the Lord can be understood as meaning the Lord was actually present.

Another poignant instance of the physical manifestation of Jesus as ‘the Word of the Lord’ in the Old Testament in is 1 Samuel 3.  Here God calls twice to the young Samuel whilst he sleeps.  Importantly, it is said that Samuel does not recognise who is speaking to him because he has not yet experienced the Lord and the “Word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him” (verse 7).  On the third calling, when Samuel is to answer and has been told to speak to God we are told not only that there was a disembodied voice but "The LORD came, and stood there, and called as before, "Samuel, Samuel!" (verses 10). This is clearly a physical presence of God - it is the Word of the Lord being revealed to Samuel and him experiencing the Lord.  The Story end with verse 21 by saying "The LORD continued to appear in Shiloh, because there He revealed Himself to Samuel by His Word."  This implies, given the above, that the Lord’s appearing was physical – as it had been with Moses and many others.


There is also strong tradition that Melchizedek in Genesis 14 may be the pre-incarnate Jesus (at the very least he is an incredible type of Jesus who recapitulates so much of Jesus' work.)

The only example in the Old Testament which could be (wrongly) understood as portraying the 'Father' is the figure of the ‘Ancient of Days’ on the throne in Daniel 7 whom gives authority to the ‘Son of Man.’  The physical description of the ‘Ancient of Days ‘matches that of The Word of God who leads the armies of Heaven in Revelation and the Ancient of Days role in the later part of Daniel 7 regarding end time and judgement matches the Jesus of Revelation also.  Furthermore, the title 'Ancient of Days' fits well with the titles given to Jesus in Revelation such as 'the first and the last' and 'the alpha to the omega.'  So what is happening here?  It is important to read all of Daniel 7 – the interpretation of the vision is given straight away by the Angel.  In the interpretation we find out in verse 18 that it is “the holy ones of the Most High” who receive the Kingdom – that is to say the saints, the people of God.  The direct interpretation of this passage is that Jesus is the Most High, the Ancient of Days, on the Throne of Judgement, the “one like a son of man” is the personified people of God – much as the people of God are personified as a woman in Revelation and the female lover in the Song of Songs – the Bride of Christ.  It is, nonetheless, true that this passage is also a prophecy of Jesus Christ and His ascension into Heaven as The Son of Man, the first fruits of the resurrection, the New Adam in whom dwell the redeemed people of God.  We are reckoned as saints because when we come before the Throne of God and are judged it is The Son of Man who takes our place and receives the judgement for us – we are in Him.  Thus it can be seen that the ‘Ancient of Days’ is not the Father, but Jesus, the eternal Word of God from the before the beginning of time to beyond the end of time. 

If Scripture is taken as seriously as it demands it should be, then there can be no other conclusion except that Jesus Christ was physically manifest numerous times in the Old Testament prior to His incarnation – that is to say these events are ‘Christophanies’.  God could never be said to have abandoned His people, He repeatedly came down to help them.  The People of God in the Old Testament worshipped Jesus just as we do – it is just a sorrowful shame that unlike Abraham they did not recognise Him when He returned.  In doing this they no longer believe in the God of the Old Testament, who revealed Himself by His Word, but in a shadow of the revelation given them, a shadow which cannot save them as there is salvation only in the Name of Jesus.

Pentecost Acts 2.1-40

Pentecost - Acts 2.1-40  (19/5/13)

            Imagine that you were a Hebrew thousands of years ago, on that night which none would ever forget.  You are a slave in Egypt, slavery and toil and racism is all you have ever known.  You back bears many scars from the whip, your stomach knows of true hunger and your throat of true thirst.  Just moments ago your father took a knife and killed an innocent lamb and then took its pure red blood and smeared it upon the door posts of your house saying to his family as he did "God is going to pass through this street, and the Destroyer, the Angel of Death, will follow and kill the firstborn child of every family in every house - but if the Lord sees the blood of the innocent Lamb He will tell the Destroyer to pass over that house.  We will be safe, we will be saved, because of this blood."  And so you spend the night inside huddled close, trusting God but fearing nonetheless - after all where has He been all your life?

            In the morning you awake to the screams of horror from the Egyptian families as they all, each and every one without exception, find their first born son dead, struck down by the Angel of Death at the Lord's personal command.  Pharaoh tells Moses to take his people away and so you and your family join the Exodus and follow Moses out of your city and through the desert before reaching the Red Sea.  With Pharaoh close behind with an army God parts the waters and you walk through without even getting wet, but they come crashing down on Pharaoh killing his army.  You are finally out of Egypt, finally free.

            It has now been fifty days since your father killed that innocent lamb to save your life from the wrath and just judgement of God.  Moses has been up a mountain, hidden by an immense cloud, for days speaking with God.  Finally, you see Moses coming down the mountain holding two stone tablets - the covenant between you and the Lord, the Law you must follow.

            This is the first Pentecost.  The day the covenant began, the day the Law was given.

            In later years it would be celebrated with a harvest festival where the first fruits of the land were brought to the Temple and offered to God as thanks for freedom from Egypt and as thanks for the Law.

            But now God is to do a new thing.  What was just described was a mere shadow of the substance; the reality was yet to come.  Thousands of years after that first Pentecost the True and Greater Passover Lamb was killed.  Not to save a people from physical slavery to a human power, but to save all who would believe in Him from slavery to sin, the Devil, and even death itself.  The Holy Blood of this Lamb would not just save the body from being destroyed, but save the soul and body from eternity in Hell. Jesus Christ on the Cross was the True and Greater Passover Lamb - He was all that it pointed towards.

            And after being sacrificed for us, Jesus rose from the dead and promised yet more - He promised to send the Holy Spirit to bring power and new life to the disciples, to bring in the New Covenant, not written on stone tablets but written on the hearts of believers in the blood of Jesus.

            Pentecost as we know it was the beginning of the New Covenant and the end of the Old.

            But it was also the beginning of a New Creation.  At creation the Holy Spirit - the 'Wind' as it can also be translated - hovered over the abyss.  Now at Pentecost the Holy Spirit rushes into the house where the disciples are gathered.  A new start.  At creation Jesus breathed - again, 'wind' - the Holy Spirit into Adam and the first true human was created.  Later God would call on Ezekiel to behold wind, the Spirit, coming over the valley of dry bones, and like the breath the Holy Spirit re-enter the bones, knit bone to sinew and sinew to flesh and brings a new life, a resurrection from the dead.  Before ascending, to point to what was to happen at Pentecost Jesus would again breathe on His creation, on His disciples, and declare He is giving them the Holy Spirit - giving them life.

            Now at Pentecost the Spirit of Life enters and fills the entire room and fills the disciples - a new creation, a new people, a new church, for a new covenant.
            So Pentecost point us to a New Covenant and the New Creation.

            But what did it cause?

            Fire.  Fire came down.  John the Baptist prophesied that Jesus would baptise His people with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  Here at Pentecost this is fulfilled, the fire came down and formed tongues of flame on the disciples heads.  Then they went outside and began speaking in tongues, in countless different languages and they preached.

            Now this was not the 'gift of tongues' that we often think of today and of which Paul is likely speaking of in 1 Corinthians where he says it is for the building up of the believer.  Rather this was a gift to speak fluently in languages which the speakers did not know or perhaps had never even heard of! Likely each disciple present spoke in one such language, but it is clear that all those present, from all over the ancient world, from Spain and France to Iran and Iraq, from Turkey and Greece to Egypt and Libya, could understand what was being said.

            This was a remarkable undoing of the Tower of Babel where all the different languages and cultures we see today find their origin. And it is even more profound given that all those present could have understood Greek - to an extent the miracle was somewhat superfluous!

            And of what did the disciples speak?  What was the content of their message?


            I don't believe in 'hellfire and brimstone' preaching, but I do believe in fiery preaching! As Spurgeon, the greatest of preachers, said:

"God did not raise up preachers with wonderful poems and lovely speeches as if at Pentecost flowers had appeared on their heads.  NO! God placed fire on their heads and raised up preachers to reflect this!"

            Sermons that change lives are ones of fire not flowers.  Fire brings light onto a sinners situation, fire burns away all our sin and shame fire warms a stone cold heart, fire fans into flame and spreads like a roaring forest fire - uncontrollable, powerful, amazing, terrifying, beautiful but fearful!

            Does not Scripture say "The Lord IS A CONSUMING FIRE"? Was not the East African Revival described by the term "Hills ABLAZE"?

            When Peter spoke to the crowd at Pentecost he had no flowery words, no sweetness of tongue, he spoke as God instructed and as the Spirit allowed.  And he spoke of the end of times, of the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans he looked the crowd in the eye and said words to this effect:

            "Jesus was God, the Saviour you have been waiting for since Adam and Eve were kicked out of God's garden, and you, each one of you, you killed Him, you killed your saviour by nailing Him to a Roman cross!  But He rose again from the dead, He ascended into Heaven before our eyes and He has now sent the Holy Spirit of God to us in power."

            That is not a message of flowers but of fire! It says that on hearing this people were pierced to their hearts - the message cut them to the core, it was emotional, they felt the fire in their hearts and cried out "What must we do?"

            And what did Peter say? He certainly did not say "just be a good person, live a good life and everything will be fine - be a good moral people who give to charity and you will get to Heaven." No! That is flowers not fire, that is a message not from the Holy Spirit but from Satan himself.  No, Peter said:

            "REPENT!  and be baptised, your sins will be forgiven and the Holy Spirit will come and make you a new creation.  He will welcome you into the New Covenant where all is forgiven, where you cannot earn your way to heaven, but heaven is freely given to all who believe."

            And Peter meant it! Think of the Prophecy he quoted from Joel (and notice that when the Spirit comes He always points us to Scripture and Jesus, He does not bring us new things!)

            "And it will be in the last days, says God, that I will pour out My Spirit on all humanity; then your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams.  I will even pour out My Spirit on My male and female slaves in those days, and they will prophesy.  I will display wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below: blood and fire and a cloud of smoke.  The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the great and remarkable Day of the Lord comes.  Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." (Joel 2.28-32)

            Listen to those words, let them sink in.  All are made new and are liberated, all are given the Holy Spirit and His gifts:

            young and old
            male and female
            slaves and free

and how does it finish?  "Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."

           And that name is JESUS.  Only a few days later Peter would boldly declare in court:  "There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven but Jesus given to people by which we can be saved."

I will say again:

 "There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven but Jesus given to people by which we can be saved."

            Only the name of Jesus Christ can save.  Not Allah, not Buddha, not Vishnu, not Mother Earth or Sky Goddess - they are fantasies, delusions, lifeless stone statues, or even demons leading people into damnation.  Only Jesus Christ can save.  As it says in Proverbs 18.10 "The name of the Lord is strong forever, the righteous run to it and are safe."  And that name is JESUS, the rightous run to JESUS and are safe.

            It is my hope and prayer that our celebration of Jesus' death fifty days ago cut you to your heart, knowing that it was you who nailed Him there and you who killed Him, it was for you that He died.  I Hope and pray that our celebration of His resurrection brought joy to your soul, that our celebration of His glorious Ascension last week brought confidence to your mind, and that now, at the last, I hope and pray that the Holy Spirit Himself would set your hearts on fire and fill you with power, that He would fan you all into flame with a passion for His name  - that filled by the Spirit and guided by Him, you would tell everyone that most important thing, that only the name of Jesus can save.

            I am not usually a fan of John Wesley, but nothing is more fitting to end with than the answer he allegedly gave when asked why so many people came to hear from him about Jesus.  He said "I set myself on fire, people come to watch me burn."

            Let that be you and me today - a new creation, born again in the fire of the Holy Spirit.

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