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.

Ascension Day Sermon - Luke 24.44-end + Daniel 7.9-14 + Ephesians 1.15-end

Ascension Day - Luke 24.44-end; Daniel 7.9-14; Ephesians .15-end (9/5/13)

            The Ascension of King Jesus is often overlooked by Christians because we are so uncomfortable with it.  It seems so strange and comical, hard to imagine.  I remember sitting in the chapel of The Queen's College in Oxford many times and looking at the stained glass windows reflecting sincerely on the life of Christ before coming to the picture of the Ascension and trying hard not to laugh - there were the disciples below on the hill looking up with sadness and above them in the top right hand corner was a grey could with two large sandled feet popping out at odd angles! It looked ridiculous! Even more ridiculous I am sure is the chapel of the Ascension at Walsingham which has two wooden feet coming down from the ceiling.  The only thing that could make such representations more horrific is if the feet were also wearing socks!

            Because of this absurdity we often try to either minimalise the Ascension of Christ or to 'spiritualise' it.  But the fact that it was a real, historical, physical event is of great importance.  We know that it is important as Luke is at such pains to emphasise that it was a physical event.  Just before the account of the Ascension he has the disciples both see and touch Jesus to prove that He is real and even tells of Jesus eating fish to prove He is in a real, physical body.

            But what is important to remember, and where such ludicrous artistic images fall flat, is that the 'cloud' was no normal cloud as you might see in the sky on a rainy day (or every day when you live in England) - it was the glory of God.  When Moses ascended Mount Sinai to converse with God a huge cloud descended and covered them ("I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that people will hear when I speak with you and will always believe you." Exodus 19.9 - see also Exodus 24.16; 34.5), likewise God personally led His people through the wilderness in the cloud (Exodus 14).  The cloud also descended on the Tabernacle when Moses went to speak to Jesus there (Exodus 33.9-10; 40.34-38 see also Numbers 9) and at the blessing of the Temple in 1 Kings 8 (2 Chronicles 5) the cloud physically descended to symbolise the falling presence of God upon that place. Again in Ezekiel 1.4 when Jesus approaches him in the vision of God's glory He comes in a whirlwind from the North - a great cloud with fire and lightening.  Even in the New Testament we find the cloud of God's glory descending upon Jesus at His transfiguration (Matthew 17; Mark 9; Luke 9) and we are told that Jesus will come again to judge the earth with power and glory in a cloud (Luke 21.27;  Revelation 14). Just as Jesus "descended in the cloud" in Numbers 11 and 12 so He now ascended in the cloud to heaven - the cloud being the heavy and weighty presence of the glory of God.

            We must not overlook the saving significance of the Ascension of Jesus Christ - the Ascension it the linchpin of Christ's work.  On the one side it is the confirmation and vindication of Jesus as the Messiah, all that He said and did is proved to be right and true as He ascends to heaven to sit at the right hand of His Father.  The Ascension proves the past.  But the Ascension also guarantees the future.  Jesus said in John 16.7 that "I am telling you the truth. It is to your benefit that I go away, because if I don't go away the Counsellor will not come to you.  If I go, I will send Him to you."  Because of the Ascension we know this must be true as Jesus is confirmed as God - thus we also know that the Ascension is vital to God's plan as without it the Holy Spirit will not come.  The Ascension opened to us the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

            When we say the creed we find that it is all in the past tense.  "Who for us and for our salvation came down from heaven, was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and was made man.  For our sake He was crucified under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried. On the third day He rose again in accordance with the Scriptures and He ascended into Heaven." The creed to this point is all past tense - but then it changes, subtly yet vitally! "He ascended into Heaven (past tense), and is seated at the right hand of the Father (present tense), and He will come again to judge the living and the dead (future tense)."  The ascension is thus seen to be crucial to the ministry of Christ and the plan of salvation - it takes the past and brings His ministry into the present and ensures the certain outcome of the future.

            The Ascension was also foretold in the Old Testament in Daniel 7.  Here we have a real scary picture of God.  Indeed it is from this reading we often get that image of God as an old man with a long white beard sat on a throne.  But what is important is that in this passage the Son ascends to His Father surrounded by the clouds of glory. Then the Son is given all authority to rule in glory over the Kingdom that every people and language and tribe and race and nation should serve Him.  He is given charge over the eternal dominion, over the Kingdom that cannot be destroyed - the Kingdom of God. 

[[It can be hard to understand Daniel 7 in light of Jesus saying that “no one has seen the Father except [the Son]” as it seems that Daniel did.  This is not, however, the case.  What we see in Daniel is a twofold prophecy like so many of the prophecies in the Old Testament. If one continues reading the interpretation that the angel gives of the rest of the chapter it is clear that ‘the one like a Son of Man’  is Israel, the people of God, personified in an individual, coming before the Throne of God – Jesus – and being invited into the Kingdom to reign from Jerusalem as kings (Daniel 9.22, 26-27).  But the People of God are only ‘kings’ and invited to reign because they are one in Jesus Christ the true and greater King of Kings and Lord of Lord, and the only Ruler of Princes.  Thus the person who comes before the throne is also rightly understood as representing Jesus, the Son, coming before the Father at the end of time and receiving all authority and power – even though the Father Himself is not the one seen on the throne.]]

            What this tells us is of great importance.  It assures us that Christ is now Lord and King over everything and everyone (whether they like it or acknowledge it!).  Satan and sin has lost, their destruction is assured and the reign of the Kingdom of Heaven is certain.  We who believe can rest assured of this and place our hope in Jesus knowing He ascended to His Father and received the Kingdom.

            It is also worth noting that just before Jesus ascends and leaves His disciples He blesses them (Luke 24.50-51).  This is important as that same blessing is given to us.  The Ascension means that we know that Christ has won the victory over sin, the flesh, and the Devil, and that the Holy Spirit has been sent to empower us with God's blessing.  But what is the Holy Spirit there to empower us to do?

            In verses 46-47 Jesus says "This is what is written: the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations beginning at Jerusalem." Jesus then speaks of sending the Holy Spirit to help them do this proclaiming and blesses them.  We are empowered by the same Holy Spirit and the blessing of God to proclaim repentance and forgiveness in (and only in) the name of Jesus.  That is to say we are called to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ that people might believe, repent, and be saved.

            J.C. Ryle possibly the second greatest Anglican in all of history (after George Whitfield) said concerning the doctrines of repentance and forgiveness "No Christian teaching, be it remembered, is scriptural and sound, which does not give the principle place to these two great doctrines."

            This is THE message - repentance and forgiveness in Christ - this is the Gospel, this is our life, this is our task, this is our mission.  The Ascension is the linchpin of our ministry as disciples of Christ proclaiming the Good News, it is the assurance of our victory, our Saviour, our power, the Holy Spirit and the future glory.

Galatians 1.1-5

Galatians 1.1-5

1 Paul, an apostle-not from men or by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead- 2 and all the brothers who are with me: To the churches of Galatia. 3 Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Today we begin our new sermon series on Paul’s letter to the Galatians. 

But why Galatians?  Of all the books of the Bible why are we preaching through Galatians?

The answer is simple – Galatians is all about the Gospel, it is all pure, unadulterated good news about freedom and where true joy comes from.  Above everything, it is all about Jesus.  Galatians has been described as “The Christians declaration of independence” “the great charter of religious freedom” and importantly “the battle-cry of the Reformation!”  Martin Luther, who began the Reformation in 1552 by nailing his 95 theses – his arguments against the corrupt and doctrinally compromised mediaeval Catholic church – to the church door in Wittenberg called Galatians “my epistles, to it I am as it were in wedlock.  It is my Katherine.”

Obviously Galatians is very important, but what is its big idea?  What is the big idea behind all of Galatians?  It is this:  That we are all Pharisees and even if we believe in ‘grace’ and ‘Jesus’, still we feel we need to keep God happy with good works and nice deeds so that we are not punished.  The issue is that we are by nature, from the moment we are conceived, legalists and not people of grace.  We are all born with ‘cause and effect’ wired into our brains and souls.  But God is above that, God is so much greater.

Often when you read about Galatians people you will come across people who think that Martin Luther read Galatians wrong, that it was not about legalism and he was just projecting his issues with the Catholic Church onto Paul.  This is called “the New Perspective” – and like so many new-fangled ideas, it is not only wrong but dangerous.  It goes against the plain meaning of the text and against the traditions and understanding handed down by the apostles themselves.  The truth of the matter is that Galatians applied perfectly to the Catholic Church in Luther’s time because the real issue is not the church in one time and place but human nature itself.  That it applied just as well in the 1500’s as it did in the first century is a great proof and testimony that we are all fallen legalists with ‘religious’ tendencies that remove us from communion with God.

Marius Victorinus, whose name should go down in history as one of the most epic of all time, in 303AD wrote the first ever commentary on Galatians in Latin and he said this about the big idea behind Galatians: “the Galatians are going astray because they are adding Judaism to the Gospel of faith in Christ, disturbed by these tendencies Paul writes this letter in order that they may preserve faith in Christ alone.”  The mixing of Judaism with Christianity, the mixing of legalism and works based salvation with freedom and salvation by faith alone is as relevant today as it was then. 

But what of these first five verses? What do we learn from these?  These sentences introduce us to many key things in the letter. To an extent it begins with a fairly standard ancient letter opening:
  •                    The authors name
  •                    The recipients
  •                    A blessing

Yet how Paul expands and phrases these three sections opens up the whole letter for plain viewing.  So let’s take a walk through our text.

Verse 1: Paul, an apostle-not from men or by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead, and all the brothers who are with me.”  Notice that the name given is Paul and not Saul his Jewish name.  Some speculate that following his conversion Saul changed his name to Paul, but Acts does not support this as he continued to be called Saul for some time afterwards – if anything the use of Paul seems linked to his mission to non-Jews, his being Apostles to the Gentiles.  The fact is that Paul was from Tarsus, a place full of Jews and non-Jews. Not only was Paul a Jew but he was also a Roman Citizen (a rare and great honour!).  Because of this he likely had both names from birth, one to use in Jewish circles and one in Roman circles and Paul and Saul were chosen because they sound similar.  We shouldn’t read too much into the name he uses, but it is worth noting that Galatians is written primarily to gentile, non-Jewish Christians, and Paul uses his non-Jewish name with them. 

Paul then declares that he is “an apostle-not from men or by man.”  He feels the need to defend his ‘apostleship’ and authority as a teacher of the faith.  People in Galatia have been stirring up trouble and trying to discredit Paul and all He does and teachers.  Paul wants to make clear from the outset that he IS an apostles, just as the twelve disciples were.  Paul reflects here on his Damascus Road incident.  On his way to kill and persecute Christians in Damascus, backed by the Jewish authorities, Paul was a man to be feared by any who would say “Jesus is Lord.”  But on the road Jesus stops him and asks “why are you persecuting me” and reveals that He is Jesus and Paul is doing a grave sin, something so bad he should be considered the “chief of all sinners.” 

Here we see an amazing example of the grace and mercy of God – a picture of what Galatians is all about.  You have a Pharisee named Saul who was all about tithing everything, even spices and herbs, all about rules and regulations, whose religion was all legal and regal, who stood by as Stephen was martyred.  But this man is forgiven, though he certainly deserves nothing but eternity in the fires and darkness of Hell, he is forgiven, even though he doesn’t seek and ask and repent, still God meets with him and calls him.  He goes from being a Pharisee, a man feared like an SS soldier, to a slave of Jesus Christ, who proclaims His message from Jerusalem to Rome and everywhere in-between – and to people who before he would not even stand to be in the same room as!

Never underestimate the power and grace of God to change the worst of sinners, the most lost, into the found and saved.

Notice also how in this verse Paul makes clear that Jesus is divine, that He is God and not just another human as were the prophets of old and Paul himself.  Jesus has God as His Father, Jesus is the promised Messiah – the Christ – Jesus was raised by the Father from the dead to prove that all Jesus said was true (including that De was God).  It was this same Jesus who called and appointed Paul an Apostle, to argue with Paul’s authority is to argue with the God who called Him.

“And all the brothers who are with me.”  Paul makes clear that he does not stand alone, Paul and the Gospel he preaches is not a one man show – Paul did not invent Christianity whilst all the other Apostles disagreed with him!  Paul was not an isolated voice, his Good News is shared and supported by others, as he will later explain in more detail.  We also see here, and elsewhere in his letters, that Paul and his mission are not a ‘one man show’ – he needs friend around him to support him. Even the greatest need their brothers and sisters in Christ, you cannot be a true Christian, you cannot be part of the Body of Christ, and be alone.   Salvation is a one man job – but it is not our job – Jesus is the man and the only man and He did the job on the Cross for us.  We are not our own saviours, Jesus is. 

Paul continues in verse two “To the Churches in Galatia.”  There is much debate over just what Paul is referring to here, was it the whole Roman Province of ‘Galatia’ which took up much of central Turkey just North of Cyprus – or was it just the Southern part, often called Phrygia?  Or was it the North of the larger area?  The problem is that around the time of the writing of Galatians what ‘Galatia’ referred to depended on who you were talking to and what the context was.  It is, however, most likely that Paul is referring to Phrygia, to South Galatia, which is where he planted churches during his first missionary journey as recorded in Acts. 

Galatians is likely Paul’s earliest epistle written around 48 AD – just 15-18 years after Jesus was crucified.  This means it was written BEFORE the Jerusalem Council we hear of in Acts 15 and what Paul goes on to speak about, his meeting with the ‘Pillars’ in Jerusalem is a different and private meeting. But more of that in a later week.

Who were the people in Galatia the letter was written to?  It was mainly to non-Jews, that is to say ‘Gentiles’, who felt they needed to keep the Law of the Old Testament and get circumcised, do the Passover, keep the Sabbath, eat only kosher food etc.  It also seems that there were some Jews who had become Christians who we backsliding away from freedom in Christ and returning to observing the Torah – the Old Testament Law.

Paul carries on with the blessing in verse 3 “Grace to you and peace.”  This is Paul’s unique blessing, he begins and ends every single letter he wrote with “grace and peace.”  He uses it to replace the usual letter opening of “carien” or ‘greetings’ that we find in other Greek letters with “cariV or ‘grace.’  Just as ‘greetings’ is the most common term found in the opening of Greek letters, so ‘peace’ or ‘shalom’ is the usual term in Jewish letters.  Paul mixes the usual Greek blessing with the Jewish one in a unique way. 

Of course, ‘grace’ is hugely important, arguably the most important theme in Galatians. But what does ‘grace’ actually mean?  Christians use it all the time but I fear we often don’t understand its true nature.  Grace is not just a name given to girls; it is the centre of God’s relationship with us and underpins all that He has ever done.
Grace is quite simply the free gift of love, salvation, and forgiveness to people who are not only completely undeserving of it but actually totally ill-deserving of it.  You cannot earn grace, you cannot merit grace, you cannot buy grace, and you cannot bargain for grace.  It is a freely given gift that nothing you do will ever warrant.  It is because of this that ‘peace’ follows ‘grace’ – there is no peace in works based salvation, there is no peace in trying to earn God’s love, there is only peace in the sure and certain knowledge that He loves you because He has chosen to – not because of anything you have or will do.

Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” 
Paul tells us that Jesus ‘gave’ Himself for our sins.  Here is the proof of grace, the living then dying then living again proof of God’s grace.  Whilst we were still enemies of God, the King of the Universe died for us sinners.  Sin is serious, that can never be understood enough, sin is so serious that it cost Jesus His life to take away our sin and the righteous wrath of God that we deserved because of it.  Grace is never, ever, an excuse of continuing in sin, there is no such thing as cheap grace – the price of grace is steeping than we could ever imagine.   In John 3.16 we see this too – God ‘gave’ His only begotten Son, He didn’t just ‘send’ Him.  The Father gave His Son over to us knowing that He would die to pay the price we could never afford.

Jesus was given according to this passage to “rescue us from this present evil age.” Jesus came to rescue and deliver us like He did the slaves in Egypt, from the evil age, from Sin, the Flesh, and the Devil.  In Christ we are made new creations, we die to sin and are made righteous by grace.  But this will not be fully realised till Jesus returns at the end of time and all are judged and he looks at Christians as says “good and faithful servant, come into my kingdom and joy.”  In the meantime we must fight evil, both the evil within us who are by nature evil, and the evil from outside us both demonic and very human.  This is why we pray in the Lord’s Prayer that God would “deliver us from evil” or more precisely “deliver us from the Evil One.”  Never forget that Satan and his armies of evil angels are very, very, real and they love nothing more than provoking and bringing down those who pose them the greatest thread – Christians who believe in grace and refuse to believe their lies of guilt and condemnation.

All that Jesus did and does is “according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. Jesus dying on the cross was the Father’s will, it was ‘plan A’ from before the world existed, Jesus from eternity was “the lamb slain before the foundations of the world.”  When the eternal Trinity made mankind they knew what it would cost and they knew what would happen.  Jesus’ death was the ONLY way to deal with sin in love, holiness, and perfect justice.

We see here also that the Christian life is doing the will of the Father in all things – “not my will but yours be done” should be the mantra of every decision and action in our lives alongside “Yours be the glory.”  We must kill the pride and arrogance of our hard stone hearts and live radically as we are called by His will.  God is, well, God, His WILL is ALL that matters.  Likewise His glory is all that matters and all we do should be to His glory and never to our own.  All glory belongs to Him, everything including our being saved are to God’s glory – to the glory of God alone.

Thus, in conclusion, we see in these five short verses many key Christians teaching, all of which are dealt with in more detail through the letter to the Galatians.

  • Jesus is God and was raised from dead after dying for sin
  •  Grace leads to peace and not to burnout through ‘works’
  • Everything is to be to God’s glory alone
  • Evil and opposition to the Gospel is very real
  • We must not buckle, but keep the faith, supporting one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.

King Jesus I pray that all those here would be filled by your Holy Spirit and given new hearts and new minds, that they would live by grace and not by works, that they would find peace and shalom in your arms, that you would strengthen them to fight sin, the flesh, and the Devil, that they would support one another in love and charity and everything they do from their work to their conversations, right down to the beating of their hearts would all be for Your glory and Yours alone.

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