Thursday, April 24, 2014

Approaching Easter differently as a Preacher

This Easter as I drove to Church for a another Easter Good Friday I reflected on how many times I have heard the same passage preached on at Easter with the Same application and how many others in the congregation are in the same boat.
It's not that I don't believe in repeating central truths of the Christian faith. I am all for repetition but I wonder if we are really laying it out for the regular visitor who only comes to Church at Christmas and Easter.

What if we preachers spent the first 5 minutes talking about the death of Jesus ( good Friday ) and the resurrection of Jesus ( Easter Sunday ) and then asked how does this work out in your life? Has this truth transformed you?

So that Jesus has transformed you. And we see this in our day to day living.

The fact of the death of Jesus means I can be right with God - so are you?
Are you then living His way and not running after your own agendas.

Likewise does the resurrection of Jesus, and the fact that then death is not the end changes things immensely.
more significantly than your relationships with spouse and children, your work, career, leisure, golf, music whatever?

Ok so here's a litmus test, you know to to see if a liquid is alkaline or acid we use litmus paper. Let's ask about our lives being dramatically different.
Well let's ask if our lives are worldly or transformed?

Do we meet each Sunday with God's people in church so we can hear the word of God preached and grow? To meet with his people so we can serve them with the gifts He God has given us? So we can encourage rebuke, exhort pray for, love.

Are we compelled to pick up His Word daily to study it to hear what He has to say as opposed to turning on the radio or our ipod or the Television to hear what the world says is the best?
What is it?

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Exegetical Notes John 20:19-31

I thought it would be helpful to summarize the exegetical points on John 20:19-31 which I used for my sermon on that passage.

1. Twice we are told in this passage vs 19 & vs 26 that Jesus came to the disciples who were meeting behind locked doors, and in verse 19 we are told why "for fear of the Jews". the Jews had crucified their Lord and they feared being next on the list.

2. Did then Jesus words "peace" = shalom not dissolve this fear? well there is no rebuke of the disciples the second time for being behind locked doors. so in the passage perhaps the locked doors function to point out two things. First that Jesus resurrection body is both physical, one could touch the wounds in his hands and side, and yet supernatural - it passes through physical objects. Secondly that the circumstances of the appearance of Jesus to the disciples ( missing Judas who hung himself and Thomas ) are the same when Jesus appeared to Thomas, thus "informing" Thomas that what they had told him during the week wasn't a con! They hadn't colluded and fabricated the whole thing.

3. Peace for the Jews this alludes to the well being of God’s Kingdom people in His end time Kingdom.

4. During the week the disciples continually told Thomas of what had happened. elegon – an imperfect tense of repeated action “they kept saying".

5. Jesus shows the marks in his hands and his side, not hands and feet. for his was an unusual case of crucifixion. the spear thrust into his side to make sure he was dead so the body could be taken down and buried before the Sabbath.

6.  it has been reported historically that during the Roman occupation of Israel that over 1 million people were killed and possibly of those 200,000 were crucified. Now the point is that of the incredible large number crucified very few would have had a spear mark in their side.

7. one in a million or at least one in 200,000? the following statistics were found on Body count of the Roman Empire 

Durant, Caesar and Christ

  Revolt of 68-73 CE: 1,197,000 Jews killed acc. to Josephus ix 3. 600,000 killed acc. to Tacitus v 13.

  Revolt of 115-116 CE: 220,000 people k. in Cyrene and 240,000 k. in Cyprus

  Revolt of 132 CE: 580,000 k.

  [TOTAL: Adding gives a total of 1,920,000 ± 300,000 k. in the Jewish Wars according to ancient sources]

Most historians assume that Palestine simply couldn't support a population large enough to produce death tolls as large as these. Among the population estimates are

  Anthony Byatt, "Josephus and population numbers in first century Palestine." Palestine Exploration Quarterly, 105:51 (1973): 2,265,000 inhabitants

  C. C. McCown, 'The Density of Population in Ancient Palestine', Journal of Biblical Literature, 66:425 (1947): less than 1,000,000 inhabitants

  Harnack, Die Mission und Ausbreitung des Christentums (1924): 500,000 inhabitants

  Seth Schwartz, Imperialism and Jewish Society, 200 B.C.E. to 640 C.E. (2001): 500,000 inhabitants

8.Is Doubt something a Christian should not have? Well Thomas only asks for what the other disciples already experienced. Thomas thus gets a bad rap for being singled out.

9. What is Thomas' character? was he a hard nosed skeptic? a pessimist? We need to look at context and John 11:16f and John 14.
It is more likely Thomas was totally devoted to Jesus. He would go and die with him! so he didn't want to led on by the other disciples? after the crucifixion he was a shattered man.

10. Jesus said “be not unbelieving but believing”. how do we take this? as a command to stop doubting - like almost repent? a rebuke as such or is it a command to move on from your doubt - the sufficient evidence is before you.

11. We are not saying someone can intellectually work their way into heaven / salvation rather the emphasis is God has made man in His image with ability to reason, and this is what the Holy Spirit convicts. Luke 16:19-31 tells us that even miraculous resurrection one could deny because of hardness of heart. what is required is the work of the Holy Spirit. Significantly in both Luke and here It tells us Scripture is sufficient!

12. and that's the important thing about verse 29-31. in context they appear right after the Thomas encounter. John teaches us that Scripture is sufficient to be blessed of God.

13. lastly it isn't merely knowing about Christ, even Satan and his demons know Christ is God. it's about right relationship. one that means life - Jesus came to give fullness of life. not mere existing. getting by.

As you can see, much of the above attempts to deal with the literary structure, and context of the passage.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Srm John 20:19-31                                                  Apl 6th 2014
I was in a discussion recently with someone about the evidence for the Christian faith,
            and they raised the problem of doubt which they declared was a severe obstacle for the unbeliever
                        and they suggested that because it was an obstacle
                                                            they shouldn’t be held liable for their beliefs. Or lack of belief
That was the gist of our discussion.
What are we to make of that?
Os Guiness his book ‘Doubt’  gives us the definition of it as “being in two minds”
Sarah Blasko song mentions Doubt  - it’s haunting, almost futile but tragic lyrics when seen from a Christian perspective. Her previous album “embraced solitude as a means of self control” her latest album tackles coming to grips with the outside world. Yet it really a search for meaning in action while she starts from the position of saying no one knows why we’re here.
So Doubt is something that is real for so many people.
Doubt has a place doesn’t it?
When we watch television and see a person sawn in two we doubt, we think our senses are deceiving us, because nobody lives cut in half.
At one time we all doubted anybody could run 100 yards in under 10 seconds.
At another time some of us doubted anybody could walk on the moon.
But when we are presented with different kinds of evidence we move on from those doubts or we express unbelief.

{{ Or we sometimes say I don’t doubt my spouse loves me, and there’s no scientific litmus test of their blood to prove it! Science just doesn’t come into it. There’s a different kind of evidence at play.
Or we see a car accident and how it happened and someone else says they doubt it. }}
There’s different standards and different avenues of evidence for different things – legal, scientific relationships, art appreciation.
Josh McDowell wrote a book evidence that demands a verdict and he lays out the historical evidence before you and he began the book to debunk Christianity and yet ended up convinced and transformed. But some still reject it, others still doubt – Why? Because it takes a work of God to convict someone of the truth. Rebellion persists in spite of evidence.

{{ There’s a certain unease about the experience of doubt – many of us we feel we shouldn’t doubt certain things we hear about the Christian faith.   }}
But you know what? Doubt is not a bad thing!

Open you Bibles to John 20 that well known passage about the appearance of Jesus first to the 10 disciples and then a week later to Thomas.
READ John 20:19-31
You all know it so well,
            it is so common to hear it preached on at Easter about the plain evidence of the resurrection of Jesus. How the facts are related by John.
But I want us to understand what John is teaching us about here.
Sure one important facet is the physical resurrection of Jesus – albeit in a body that while Jesus eats and drinks food, he can pass through locked doors and yet be touched.
Ponder what John tells us in verse 19 the disciples that is missing Thomas and of course Judas who killed himself, are meeting behind locked doors – Why? Because of fear of the Jews. They fear the Jews coming for them now that they have killed their leader Jesus.
And Jesus comes and stands among them, and greets them with a common Jewish greeting , but one that packs a punch – Shalom – Peace – for the Jews this alludes to the wellbeing of God’s Kingdom people in His end time Kingdom.
Now had things changed much because of Jesus’ resurrection appearance?
Well a week later they are meeting again, and this time Thomas is with them. And again they are behind locked doors. See verse 26. Again Jesus starts by saying “Peace be with you.” He doesn’t berate them for their lack of trust.
Now this thing about locked doors serves to tell us a few things.
First that importantly it’s exactly the same circumstances as the other 10 had told Thomas had occurred when Jesus appeared to them. So Thomas couldn’t accuse them of fabricating the whole thing. Because here he was and the doors were again locked and Jesus appears.
Secondly it gives clear historical evidence that Jesus’ resurrected body is supernatural as well as physical. He appears with them, passing through a locked door as it were. And yet they can touch his hands and his side. Upon reading this people cannot just flippantly declare it was all a con – they have to deal with a reported supernatural event – they have to decide one way or another, and that means dealing with everything the apostle John writes.  
Indeed though the 10 disciples during the week had been repeatedly saying to Thomas we have seen the Lord – [ elegon – an imperfect tense of repeated action “they kept saying ] he had replied “unless I see the nail marks in his hands [ includes forearm ] and put my finger where the nails were and put my hand into his side I will not believe it”
Now here Thomas so often gets a bad rap, a bad name. He’s called “doubting Thomas” – sure he doubts but why is he singled out when the other 10 had had that very evidence displayed to them a week earlier?
All this should raise questions in your mind  - What is the gospel writer John teaching us here?
Well one very clear historical bit of evidence about the Resurrected Christ not being a con by the other disciples is that it speaks of the mark in Jesus’ side- where the spear had been plunged by the Roman’s to make sure He would die quickly and so his body could be taken down and buried before the Sabbath.
It has been reported historically that during the Roman occupation of Israel that over 1 million people were killed and possibly of those 200,000 were crucified. Now the point is that of the incredible large number crucified very few would have had a spear mark in their side. And yet, specifically Jesus had!
This is what we are told by John about the resurrected Jesus, he doesn’t refer to nail marks in his hands and feet but nail marks in his hands and spear mark in his side!
Look at this picture of Carivaggio ‘The Incredulity of Thomas’ – it’s powerful, and notice the eyes of Jesus towards Thomas – no condemnation there!
What then are we to make of Thomas’ doubt? He was in two minds but he quickly even without touching or seeing the evidence declares Jesus as my Lord and My God. Something that the Jews considered blasphemous to say of a human – but Thomas has no qualms of saying it of Jesus.
To get a grip on Thomas’ doubt you need to see the two other times Thomas is mentioned in John’s Gospel to see his Character
In John 11 :16 When Jesus upon hearing of Lazarus’ decides to go to Judea – the place which by then had become highly dangerous to Jesus, Thomas asserts – lets go also that we may die with him – this is a statement of devotion not of pessimism.
Then in John 14 Jesus is telling the disciples that he is going to prepare a place for them in his Father's house and that they already know the way. "Thomas says to him, 'Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?' Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.'" This isn’t the objector but the eager enquirer, always wanting to understand, the questioner.
He’s not just a thoughtless pessimist
He’s not some hard nosed skeptic.
He is one who is a close friend of Jesus who would do anything for him and has been shattered by Jesus’ death. “So don’t you guys just lead me on”!
But though he has his doubts, they are resolved on seeing Jesus miraculously appear and say to him his very words spoken to the other disciples.
There’s no indication he actually needed to see or touch the wounds.
Instead Jesus challenges him to believe,
Here understand that Jesus didn’t tell him to stop doubting and believe as though doubt is the opposite of belief.
No Jesus said “be not unbelieving but believing”.
That is move from your doubt to belief, not unbelief!
Jesus challenges Thomas to move on from his Doubt.
Now at this point let’s understand very clearly we are not saying that people can intellectually work their way to God based on evidence.
God must work in a persons heart – we are saved by Grace, it’s God’s work, but that isn’t to say God doesn’t use evidence so that the Holy Spirit then convicts the person of the truth.
God has made us in his image, rational thinking people, and God the Holy Spirit uses that to convict us of the truth and bring us to repentance.
So we do not denigrate a persons sincere doubts, but when given reasons or presented with evidence we must reach a point of challenging them to move on and make the right decision. Just as Jesus did with Thomas.
And this leads me to the last point this morning about John’s account of Thomas and Jesus.
Thomas met the resurrected Lord Jesus face to face. He saw and if he had wanted to could have touched the physically resurrected Jesus.
So what about us?
What do we say to those who say things like “Well I’d believe if God came and stood right in front of me”
Two things crucial thing have to be kept at the forefront of our thinking at this point.
Are they sincere doubts?
                        Are the real Questions?
                                    Or are they unwilling to deal with the evidence they are given?
            After all we are told in Luke 16:19-31 that the rich man wanted a resurrected beggar to go back from the dead and warn his family to repent and believe and Abraham says “even if one should rise from the dead they won’t believe
Because we have hardened hearts that need breaking and convicting by the Holy Spirit.
But also and it is the same thought raise in the passage about the rich man and the beggar that occurs here in verses 30 - 31 that they have the Scriptures – that is enough.
The Scriptures are sufficient evidence.
John tell us the same thing in verse 30-31 blessed are those who do not see but believe
The blessedness it is speaking if here isn’t mere happiness, that is depending on happenstance or circumstance but rather it is about being accepted by God.
You can be right with God – and that is by right belief – based on believing the truth about Jesus as Lord and God – a belief that has left doubts about that behind and affirmed that Jesus is Lord and God, convicted by the Holy Spirit who uses the sufficient evidence of Scripture.
And today, that passage in John speaking of Thomas along with his doubts,
 concern the sign,
the ultimate sign of the resurrection of the crucified Jesus.
And the point is that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, 
            - it isn’t a matter of merely believing that as verse 31 tells us,
                        after all, Satan and demons know Jesus is the Christ, the son of God,
            but the point John reminds us that “by believing you may have life in his name”!
The fact it is all about life in its fullness, life in Jesus’ name not merely existing should motivate us to take all this very seriously.
{{ So we are encouraged here by the encounter of Jesus with Thomas, it’s not wrong or bad to have doubts, but when presented with the evidence a decision has to be made.
And with unbelievers, if their questions and doubts are sincere and not just excuses, then it is right we present the evidence, but never feel embarrassed about Scripture it is sufficient for God to use to convict them of the truth and to present life to them. }}
Finally let me end with a quote from Os Guiness: he tells us
‘Oswald Chambers, a Scottish minister in the late 19th and early 20th century, once said, "Doubt is not always a sign that a person is wrong. It may be a sign that they are thinking." But doubt isn’t a good place to settle down. You can’t always be doubting. Eventually you have to come to a decision whether something is true, or not. That’s what happened with Thomas.’
We do well to remind our friends, Christians and unbelievers alike of that. And understand that when it comes to the Christian faith, the Scriptures are Sufficient.

Let’s pray

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Obedience to Christ and law

I recently listened to a talk by J D Hall over at Worldview Weekend. He was speaking about how some object to the call to obedience to the commands of Christ with the rejoinder "but that's law", to which J D replies - no that's worship.
He then makes the telling point "law is doing those things in order to obtain merit or favour with God"
Yet Jesus said "If you love me you will follow my commands".
something worth pondering

In Christ

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

What the rolling debate about homsexuality teaches us

It has shown us that again hermeneutics is central. Indeed it seems clear that people are out to sever God from His Word. And this just reflects Eve in the garden of Eden "Has God said?".

Have a read of Alastair Roberts blog 'Alastair Adversaria' on the course the homosexual debate has run as Chris Seitz laid it out.

God Bless

Monday, February 3, 2014

Blessed and the beatitudes of Matthew 5

Blessed are the merciful 5:7,
Blessed are the poor in Spirit 5:3

The Beatitudes to some are quite confusing for we often take blessed to have the sort of connotation as in "that golfer is surely blessed with sporting abilities", that is there is something innate in them that they are able to perform wondrous feats.

I recently heard a friend mention that the blessedness of the beatitudes are often hard to grapple with when we don't feel blessed, when in fact the circumstances of our lives are anything but enhancing the feeling of being blessed.

Here I think he was on the perimeter of equating blessed with being happy. But happiness depends on happenstance, on the circumstances one finds themselves in. Yet the blessed status of Matthew 5 has nothing to do with outward circumstances. No matter what our circumstances, the inner peace of being right with God is a reality that God declares and affirms.

The tough thing is that in this passage it seems like often blessed is juxtaposed with those things that normally rattle us, that make us uncomfortable, unsettled.

Just look at "blessed are the merciful because they will receive mercy", yet often this is not our daily experience with others is it? or "blessed are the peace makers for they shall be called sons of God" - but who calls them that? often their actions go unnoticed, unappreciated. 

First of all take careful note that in the beatitudes, it isn't that one person is blessed with mercy, another with mourning and another with being peacemakers. No, all these are traits of a person belonging to the Kingdom of God.

These verses tell us that blessed is something quite different to reliance on sweet circumstances. It is the inward contentedness that has nothing to do with external circumstances. That is what God desires for His children and is the possession of the Child of the Kingdom of God. All Christians.

in Christ

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Old Testament Hebrew Poetry, passion and meaning

I recently had a discussion with a friend after church about the meaning of Isaiah 65:17-25 and asked why he took this passage symbolically, and one of his statements was "all of the Old Testament is poetry". Now I can forgive a friend in the midst of a free flowing discussion to use generalities in the heat of the moment, after all, I have at times done this myself. Perhaps he was doing so to draw my attention to something he considered extremely important to deal with. Indeed it has been discussed in the commentaries that about half of the Old Testament is poetry, however to state that fact as many are prone to do doesn't address the point that the text has meaning and it is to some extent understood by the Jews. For the reader of the Old Testament and for the exegete, hermeneutics in relation to Hebrew poetry needs to be carefully addressed.

In this regard the book Biblical Hermeneutics by Milton Terry is extremely helpful as is the thesis by G Buchannan Gray 'Forms of Hebrew Poetry'. Hodder and Stroughton - London MCMXV.

Let me draw attention to what I consider extremely significant in the discussion about Biblical poetry.

Hebrew Poetry is not of the form of Western poetry.
What must first be stated about Hebrew poetry is that is is not of the same character as we find in the West, It does not have the distinguishing mark of word rhyme. Sadly much of Church history has lacked any in depth analysis of Hebrew Poetry. Gray is not wide of the mark when he declares there has been little agreement and little in the way of decisive conclusions regarding this subject. At least the two above authors remedy this to a large extent.
Early on, Origen pointed out that Hebrew meter was measured by the number of accented syllables. Philo likewise stated that Moses was taught rhyme, harmony and meter and yet clarification of these in regard to the Old Testament itself, was lacking. Nowhere did he refer to actual poems attributed to Moses in the Penteteuch as being metrical.
Josephus in speaking of meter at least referred to Biblical passages such as Exodus 15:2, Deut 32.
Speaking of Josephus, Gray points to how one's cultural predisposition effects how you approach a matter pointing out that Josephus was drawn to highlight meter because it was prevalent in Greek poetry, and yet he doesn't think of commenting on parallelism because that "feature" wasn't present in Greek poetry! (Gray pg 17).
This focus on meter at the expense of ignoring parallelism results in a severe crippling of the early discussions on Hebrew poetry.

Later discussions, particularly by Lowth began to rectify this. What Gray and Milton do is help us to better grasp the nature of Hebrew poetry pointing out that parallelism is the significant mark to consider. Others have acknowledged that Hebrew poetry lacks the formal rules of Greek, Arabic and English poetry so we in the West need to carefully take this into account when determining verses to be poetry and determining its corresponding meaning.

Even today Gray says
I have no new theory of Hebrew metre to set forth; and I cannot accept in all its details any theory that others have elaborated. In my judgment some understanding of the laws of Hebrew rhythm has been gained; but much still remains uncertain. and both of these facts need to be constantly borne in mind in determining the text or interpreting the contents of Hebrew poetry.
( intro pg vi )
Yet there is one other mark of Hebrew poetry that is also ignored and many preachers are yet to see the significance of it.
Milton Terry alludes to it when he says
untrammeled by metrical limitations, the Hebrew poet enjoyed a peculiar freedom, and could utter the moving sentiments of passion in a great variety of forms" Terry pg 92.

Another author makes the same point,
Authors wrote as they felt and because they felt, and their strong emotions dictated the forms their words took"
and it's this that adds to the distinction of Hebrew poetry compared to that of the West and Greek and English forms. One must understand the nature of the Hebrew to feel the impact of his form of poetry.

So reflect on this, the Hebrew author at times showed forth a passion that is reflected in the form of his writing.

Our question is does such passion make the text uninspired? No!
Does the form of Hebrew poetry that reflects the authors passion deter the meaning of the text? No
Does it mean that the authors at that point are not inspired? No! Since our Scriptures tell us that the authors of the Scriptures wrote as God moved them with the inference they wrote exactly what God wanted.

Just some reflections
In Christ