The Sermon on the Mount; The Poor and those who mourn (In this blog I will use ‘SM’ for Sermon on the Mount)

February 13, 2022

These three chapters take us to the heart of Jesus teachings, and it is so much more than just ethics and living a good life.   Before we start, I want to look at the structure of these chapters.  The late Graham Stanton in his class notes to us (1993-1994 King’s College London) showed us that Matthew writes 111 verses on the SM (SM = Sermon on the Mount) whereas Luke writes a measly 30 verses. 

Below when looking at the various themes of the SM one can see straight away that Matthews order of the teachings and that of Luke do not follow a chronological order.  You can see this by looking at the verse orders from the notes.  From my my notes on the Harmony of the Gospels I also learned that the Didache (The Teachings of the Apostles) has a very early date (scholarly consensus ad 50 -70!) and this writing seems to know Matthew!

Didache 3. 7 But be meek, since {the meek shall inherit the earth.}

Ancient Christian Writers; volume 6; Translated by

James A Kleist; page 17;   The Didache can also be found at: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/didache-lightfoot.html

However here the reference is 3 12. 

IS THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT RELEVANT FOR THE 1990’s?

1 THE ORIGIN, STRUCTURE AND PURPOSE OF MATTHEW’S SERMON

(i) The SM as the first of 5 impressive discourses:

5-7; 10; 13; 18; (23) 24-25 (NB 26.1)

(ii) Matthew’s SM has 111 verses. Luke has a shorter Sermon in chapter 6

with (30) verses most of which are found in Matthew’s SM.

Luke 6                                    Matthew 5-7

beatitudes                                        20b-23                                  5.3-12

love of enemy                                 27-36                                     5.38-42

golden rule                                       31                                           7.12

not judging                                       37-38                                     7.1-2

splinter and beam                          41-42                                     7.3-5

tree & its fruit                                 43-45                                     7.16-20

Lord, Lord                                         46                                           7.21

house & the storm                         47-49                                     7.24-27

(centurion’s servant)                     7.1-10                                    8.5-13

Matthew has expanded considerably the Sermon from Q – a collection of

sayings of Jesus shared with Luke.

(iii) The structure of Matthew’s SM:

Narrative opening 5.1-2

I Prologue 5.3-16

II Central Sections: 5.17 – 7.12 (law & prophets)

1. Preface 5.17-20

2. 6 antitheses 21-43

3. 3 religious practises and your father’s will 6.1-18 (During prayer and fasting)

4. New attitudes to God (6.19-34) and neighbour (7.1-12)

III Epilogue 7.13-27

Narrative conclusion 7.28-29

NB 7.12 as the climax and the Lord’s prayer 6.9-13 as the centrepiece.

Matthews Purpose:

Is the SM for crowds or disciples?  for Christian believers or for

all?  ethics without Christ? – Son of God

For Matthew the nations are to be ‘discipled’ and taught to observe

the commands of Jesus (28.18-20)

The words of Jesus in the SM are to be heard and obeyed: 7.24-29!

(These notes above were giver by Graham N Stanton in class)

We have touched on some very interesting themes.  The consensus of scholars is that Mark was the earliest (Ad 66-74).  However, we find a reference in the Didache dated at ad 50 -70 quoting Matthews Gospel.  These scholars who honestly have argued for Matthew to be later use the internal logic to come to a mysterious other source that all the Gospels used, namely Q.   This throws a spanner in the works for the Q theory.  I’m not a Q expert but perhaps Stanton was correct to hold to Matthew being the earliest Gospel.  If it is the earliest or not the earliest doesn’t really matter because it is Scripture (God’s word in written form)

Lets move on:

From the above image you can already see that there are stylistic differences to how the beatitudes were presented in both Matthew and Luke.  Luke builds a picture of what the scene was like before Jesus started to teach his disciples (The writing in white).  Whereas Matthew was more interested in the content of the teachings (colourful writing).

When we look at the pronouns in the two Gospels you can also see stylistic differences.  They both put the pronouns in the plural, but Matthew preferred the third person plural pronouns and Luke preferred the second person plural pronouns.  

It seems to be that Luke focused on the nuts and bolts of the teachings of the beatitudes and wanted to make these teachings more personal.  Matthew however is giving us the nuts, bolts, roof and side paneling of the Gospel.

GOING DEEPER

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven Matthew 5:3

“…Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Luke 6:20b

Here we see a difference in style, but they are saying the same thing.  Here in Matthew Jesus’ teachings are more formal and emphasises the psychological (in spirit).  A new attitude has to start from within a person’s mind and soul.  God has to bring the realization of the kingdom of God to the mind and heart of the person.

Luke is saying the same way but in a more informal way for perhaps those who do not have any rabbinic background (the commoner, the poor.). Luke write,” you who are poor”. 

We are all different in our temperaments.  There are those who are book worms but there are also those who are more feeling full and emotional. In God’s Kingdom the Gospel is open to every type of person no matter who or what they are.  We need to come to a realization that before God we are sinners and that we cannot help ourselves.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Matthew 5:4

Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Luke 6:21

The order between Matthew and Luke have now changed.   In Matthew the ‘hungering comes after the mourning’.  So here we are focusing on:

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Matthew 5:4

“…Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh”. Luke 6:21b

These notes didn’t really tell me a lot, but Vine said Matthew uses the more general word for mourning whereas Luke uses a stronger word weeping (for the dead). From expository Dictionary of Bible Words; W E Vine; page 87

Then we also have the other two words, comforted and laughing.

I kind of agree with Judith Lieu that Luke’s Gospel is more interested in the socio impact of Luke’s teachings.   We have only looked at these two verses, but we can already see differences in style.  From the Gospel of Luke; Judith Lieu; pages 51-52; Epworth press

Reflection

As disciples of Jesus, we need to pray and meditate on his words.  The beautiful thing that we have seen is that Matthew is giving us a deeper incite into the new attitudes that are found in the Gospel.  Luke is saying the same thing, but he is interested in the nitty gritty of the everyday life of the follower of Christ.

When we think about poverty, the reality of poverty is that it brings the person in it to a point of helplessness.  Poverty means there isn’t enough food on the table.  It means that one cannot go on holiday and have the ‘best things life has to offer’.  Poverty in that sense is a type of prison that stops people from reaching their dreams.  An effect of poverty is to indeed crush the spirit.  Both Matthew and Luke are correct on how they look at the poor.

Luke is also correct because God has commanded his church to care for the poor and the orphan, the needy whoever they are. Compassion and mercy are an integral part of Jesus teachings. As James reminds us the outflow of our faith ought to some how show in the real world (fruit of the Spirit).  When I was reading Herman Bavinck in his reformed Ethics, he said that the root is faith, and the fruit are works. 

We have all sinned before God and we all need to find forgiveness for our sins.  We cannot save ourselves but, in these verses, we see Jesus giving us a blue print for some core new beautiful attitudes through the act of repentance that can bring us into a true and liberating life through obedience, by the Holy Spirit into the Kingdom of God.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • Notes KCL lessons from Graham N Stanton
  • Didache 3. 7 But be meek, since {the meek shall inherit the earth.}
  • Expository Dictionary of Bible Words; W E Vine; page 87
  • Gospel of Luke; Judith Lieu; pages 51-52; Epworth press

Notes

Notes on mourning and weeping from Olive Tree

Matthew Gospel

g3996. πενθέω pentheō; from 3997; to grieve (the feeling or the act): — mourn, (be-)wail.

AV (10) – mourn 7, wail 2, bewail 1;

to mourn to mourn for, lament one

Lukes Gospel

g2799. κλαίω klaiō; of uncertain affinity; to sob, i.e. wail aloud (whereas 1145 is rather to cry silently): — bewail, weep.

AV (40) – weep 39, bewail 1;

to mourn, weep, lament weeping as the sign of pain and grief for the thing signified (i.e. for the pain and grief) of those who mourn for the dead

to weep for, mourn for, bewail, oneNotes

Matthews Gospel

g3870. παρακαλέω parakaleō; from 3844 and 2564; to call near, i.e. invite, invoke (by imploration, hortation or consolation): — beseech, call for, (be of good) comfort, desire, (give) exhort(-ation), intreat, pray.

Luke’s Gospel

g1070. γελάω gelaō; of uncertain affinity; to laugh (as a sign of joy or satisfaction): — laugh.

AV (2) – laugh 2;

to laugh

The prelude to the Sermon on the Mount. 

January 29, 2022

Why did the Sermon on the Mount take place?

What led to the Sermon on the Mount for it to take place?

What was the feeling within the Jewish communities in Galilee?

These are important questions before we move into the greatest sermon ever preached. It is the greatest sermon because in it are the words of life from Christ himself. Remember that the Apostles only gave witness to Christ, the One who can take away the sins of the world; The true Lamb of God that takes away our sins. This is the One who spoke these words of life or death.

In the middle of a foreign powers occupation of Galilee something big was going to take place something much bigger than anything in world history.  This event had started, and a part of this event would mean great Rome would crumble and fall as Daniel had prophesied.  In the Holy Scriptures of the Old Testament indeed there had been many deliverers such as Moses, the Judges even the Maccabees but these deliverances did not last.  In the past deliverances a lot of the time had been at the edge of the sword.  How would this time of God’s visitation be any different?

You may have watched in the past some Jesus films and perhaps they try to show the Galileans craving and cramming to see Jesus.  This is partly true.  Even today one sees rock stars getting lots of adoration, but I have to say it is not the same!

  • First of all, a rock star cannot save you!
  • Secondly Jesus preaching brought about a spiritual awakening to the truths of Holy Scripture. 

Here before the Jewish nation and Gentile nations was the Messiah and the expectations of salvation would be turned upside down and inside out.  There was a time in world history that Jewish and Gentile Christians were brothers and sisters but by the time of Justin Martyr there was hostility between the Church and the Jewish community.  We know this because St Paul raised money in Corinth and the local churches and sent the money to Jerusalem to help the Jewish Believers there. 

These are important questions.  It is wrong and a great sin to hate Jews which culminated in the Holocaust.  The root of hate towards the Jews can be traced all the way back to Martin Luther and it ended with Adolf Hitler:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther_and_antisemitism

As Christians we must remember that Jesus in his humanity was Jewish.  We must remember that Jesus taught us to love our neighbour no matter who they are (enemies or friends!).

From Olive Tree Bible software.

Let’s begin by looking at Marks Gospel:

35 In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there. 36 Simon and his companions searched for Him; 37 they found Him, and *said to Him, “Everyone is looking for You.” 38 He *said to them, “Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.” 39 And He went into their synagogues throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out the demons. Mark 1:35-39

Mark

35 In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there.

Here we see that Jesus had a mission from God.  When he got up early in the morning it was still dark.  While everyone was still sleeping, He was praying and communing with God the Father.  Luke says ‘when day came’ but he didn’t go into any details.

36 Simon and his companions searched for Him;

Peter and his companions couldn’t find Jesus straight away!  Obviously, he disappeared while they were still asleep. 

37 they found Him, and *said to Him, “Everyone is looking for You.”

What an anti-climax!  ‘Everyone is searching for you’.  ‘Everyone’ means the crowds.  They were hungry for God’s word.  Jesus’ preaching was different because it touched the core of the human being, their person-hood, their soul.

38 He *said to them, “Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.”

Here it says may preach. The word ‘may’, isn’t found but the use of ‘hina = ‘in order that’ and the ‘I may preach’ is in the subjunctive form. 

Luke’s version has a stronger intention.  He uses ‘δέω= bound’.  It is much stronger. 

https://www.billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/deo

Stylistically there is a difference, but the meaning is the same.  Jesus has a purpose from the mandate of heaven ‘for that is what I came for.’ 

The mandate from heaven was for Jesus to preach that the kingdom of heaven was here now, live on earth, die on a cross, be resurrected and open the doors of salvation to the whole world through and in him.  This mandate started from a backwater of the Roman Empire and the world would never be the same again. 

39 And He went into their synagogues throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out the demons. Mark 1:35-39

Galilee was actually according to Josephus a very productive area.  It has a large lake that has a record of being a freshwater lake below sea level (the lowest in the world!).  There were cities and towns on both side of the lake and I can imagine Jesus jumping in boats and crisscrossing the lake on a regular basis preaching the Gospel. 

While doing this ministry of preaching his Apostles were learning how to preach.   The rest of the New Testament is an explication of these teachings that have now changed the world.

REFLECTION

Let us walk in love towards everyone.  Every human being including those who lost their life through abortion were created in the image of God.  Love can take on various forms, but it ought to show respect towards the other person no matter who they are.  This can be difficult at times as some people pull away from society and do atrocious acts.  We can still show love and follow Jesus’ example by praying for them that God’s will, God’s kingdom could also break into them and change them inside out by the Holy Spirit. 

Jesus was a man who was driven by the mandate of heaven.  He was preaching in those cities because out of these cities many people would repent and become children of God.  2000 years later and here we are still preaching the same Gospel Jesus taught.  Jesus was special because while he walked this earth, he was like a mirror that showed people exactly what they were.  They came face to face with their sins.  It is by grace that we are saved.  We cannot save ourselves.  We are helpless.  How helpless is the human race?  The human race is completely helpless before a holy God and God started this plan from the time of the Fall of the earliest human beings found in Genesis. 

Next time as we go through the Sermon on the Mount you will face a mirror that shows you your true self.  My friends we have all turned away from God.  As we look at the sermon on the mount we will be faced by the true ugliness of sin.  We will also be faced with the opportunity to follow Christ into the celestial city. 

Jesus Calls Peter, Andrew, James and John to follow him

January 22, 2022

In today’s world, what is it like to be a student or an apprentice? 

First of all, in many parts of the world, as soon as one can speak children are sent to kindergarten and the learning starts.  By the end of the course students are spat out to become the future workforce.  It is a conveyor belt that keeps the taxes coming in.  Along the way a sorting happens and the less able end up being the janitors or no job and those who pass their exams the future leaders. It is very formal and a lot of the time the wrong type of people get the best jobs.  It is a very impersonal system and a student to be a student has to be registered and have a number in the register.

The disciples who Jesus called became the Apostles and through them the work of the Gospel has gone out to all the world.  There was nothing special about these Apostles.  They were hard working fishermen.  The Gospels of Matthew and Mark use the word ‘immediately’ quite a lot.   In Matthew Jesus says to Peter and Andrew, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”. Matthew 4. 19 In Marks Gospel Jesus says, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” Mark 4. 17

Jesus also called James and John but in these two Gospels we see our Lords agenda for these students.  Jesus used language that they understood.  However, did they really grasp what ‘fishers of men’ was actually about?  They were our Lords students, and they probably didn’t understand it completely, but they trusted our Lord.   They didn’t have any paperwork from the local college and no formal training, but Jesus was taking them under his wing. 

These are the very basics, and we can see what the agenda was for their future.  They were to reach out to people with the message of the Gospel.  However, in Luke’s Gospel we are given more detail about the Apostles callings.  We will see that when they had been in Jesus’ presence, they could feel their sinfulness more acutely in the presence of our Lord’s pure holiness. 

Anyhow let us now read Luke’s version:

“Now it happened that while the crowd was pressing around Him and listening to the word of God, He was standing by the lake of Gennesaret; 2 and He saw two boats lying at the edge of the lake; but the fishermen had gotten out of them and were washing their nets. 3 And He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little way from the land. And He sat down and began teaching the people from the boat. 4 When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered and said, “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but I will do as You say and let down the nets.” 6 When they had done this, they enclosed a great quantity of fish, and their nets began to break; 7 so they signalled to their partners in the other boat for them to come and help them. And they came and filled both of the boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” 9 For amazement had seized him and all his companions because of the catch of fish which they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men.” 11 When they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him.” Luke 5:1-11

In Matthew and Mark, the focus is on our Lord and the disciples.  We are given the very important bare facts.  Our Lord wasn’t just walking alone along the edge of the Lake.  No, Jesus was a popular preacher, and he had a connection with the crowds.  The crowds and the disciples could here God’s words being spoken.  If for example, we were in Jesus’ shoes; in this situation we certainly would have felt intimidated and claustrophobic!  Our Lord found a quick fix in this situation and with the help of Peter (Simon) he jumped into his boat.  He could teach them God’s word and also have room to breathe from a boat.

We don’t know why but perhaps our Lord has a relationship with these disciples.  Our Lord was possibly a carpenter (a supposed son of a carpenter, Joseph (a god-fearing man)).  Perhaps in the family business he was asked to fix the boats. These are hypothetical questions, but in this story, there was a bond of trust between our Lord and the disciples.  Peter said in verse 5 ‘Master we have worked hard all night…’  Peter and the other fishermen were tired.  When your tired you are less likely to listen to someone giving you advice or commanding you.   This is what the Lord did.  He gave a command to the disciples to go fishing again and see what happens! These future disciples were listening to the holy words falling from the mouth of the Logos (‘The word’ John 11). 

On the other hand, it might have happened that as they listened to the word of Christ they were moved in spirit and felt the shock and awe of heaven and realized that they were in the presence of the greatest teacher who ever walked this earth.  Either way or both ways they threw the net into the water and the catch was a big one!  Peter and the other disciples felt and tasted their sinfulness in a serious acute manner.  Nothing was going to stop God’s plan of salvation for the world.  Even in the garden of Eden when Adam and Eve got kicked out because of their sin. Although they were judged for their sins God still clothed them.; “NASB 1977

And the LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.”  Genesis 321   Perhaps this was the first sacrifice, and the sacrifice was made by God to clothe Adam and Eve.  Perhaps this was a picture of what was going to happen three years later at the cross. 

Reflection

What can we learn about our own spiritual state before the Lord Jesus?

As a follower of Jesus, you are not on any conveyor belt to please the whims and fancy of any government.  God loves you individually.  The Trinitarian God created you and he cares about the state of your soul.  In the texts Peter sometimes does what the others are only thinking.  What did Peter say to our Lord?

“But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” 9 For amazement had seized him and all his companions because of the catch of fish which they had taken” Luke 59 Peter and the other disciples realized that they were in God’s presence.  The moment of the spiritual walks begins when we realize that we are ‘poor in spirit’.  We realize that before God’s presence we are completely helpless only then can God start to mould us into the conformity of the Son.  After this confession, it is only then that Jesus says to the disciples:

 “Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men.”  Luke 510 

It is so easy sometimes to be over awed by a teacher and become fearful.  At the time of Christ teachers probably beat their students if they didn’t learn something.  A good teacher takes care of his/her students, and he/she is able to build a rapport with the students that is positive, friendly and respectful.  These disciples were in the presence of the greatest teacher to have ever walked the earth.  He understood everything about how things worked, biology, physics and chemistry as the Logos he was responsible for the very creation of the world.  What an amazing teacher they had and what amazing feats they ended up doing by the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

The image used was taken from:

Jesus farewell to Nazareth and Mission Impossible to Jerusalem

January 16, 2022

Jesus moving away from his hometown and into Galilee part 1

Like Moses our Lord had to go through a Wilderness experience only to come out of it in the power of the Holy Spirit.  The world would never be the same again and the gates of salvation would be opened up to the whole world.  This world-shaking event would not happen through the use of swords, siege engines, political intrigues et al.  No my friends it was going to happen through the prince of peace.  In other words, this world changing event would happen through God’s love for his creation.  This world changing event would happen through humility, even to the point of our Master dying on a cross.  Let us read about the beginnings of this ministry even before the first disciples were called.

Matthew:  Now when Jesus heard that John had been taken into custody, He withdrew into Galilee; Matthew 4:12

Mark: Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1:14-15

Luke: And Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about Him spread through all the surrounding districts. 15 And He began teaching in their synagogues and was praised by all. Luke 4:14-15

John:   After the two days He went forth from there into Galilee. 44 For Jesus Himself testified that a prophet has no honour in his own country. 45 So when He came to Galilee, the Galileans received Him, having seen all the things that He did in Jerusalem at the feast; for they themselves also went to the feast. John 4:43-45

After the tests that our Lord went through it is recorded that Jesus went into Galilee.  We have the same story in all four Gospels, but they used different verbs for the movement of Jesus.  This is very interesting because by following these various emphases we get a better picture of the intention of Christ:

  • In Matthew Jesus ‘withdrew’ into Galilee   This emphasizes is on sadness of Jesus (John’s arrest)
  • In Mark Jesus ‘came’ into Galilee   This emphasizes Jesus coming into Galilee, and we have a perfect tense in ‘fulfilled’.
  • In Luke Jesus ‘returned’ to Galilee in the Power of the Spirit.  This seems to emphasis that Jesus has been in Galilee before but this time it was different.  Having been through baptism and the tests Jesus was in Galilee to do God’s work, and nothing was going to get in the way of this divine plan.
  • In John Jesus ‘went forth’ into Galilee: Seeing himself as having a prophetic role even as John had. He was received in this region as a full-fledged Prophet. 

This is a very important event as it is recorded by all for Gospel Writers.    Although Jesus being human like the rest of us.  He felt sad that John had been arrested.  John knew that when Jesus came his ministry was going to take a back seat.  Jesus this time came to Galilee in fulfillment of what God had said to previous prophets of the Old Testament.  This time was different Jesus came in the power of the Holy Spirit and this meant that God’s kingdom was now ushered in through the work, life, death, and resurrection of the promised Messiah.    Jesus was on fire for God’s will to be done and he preached everywhere. 

In our spiritual walk with God perhaps we too have very large decisions to make.  We need to follow the example of Christ.  We ought to seek out more time to pray in quiet places listening to the voice of God and to find out what his will is for our lives.  However, God has given us guiding principles we ought to stay in:

  • Love God
  • Love our neighbour
  • Live by faith by God’s grace and trust him in everything.  For some people they are looking for the ‘Mission Impossible’. 

It may be that you are a person searching out God’s will.  You may have been called to do mission impossible, but you may have also been called to be faithful in your local church and do boring things like putting chairs out.   We all have a place in God’s will.  If you have confessed Jesus as your Lord and you are faithful, it means you are already in Gods will.  In God’s will through Christ, we can ask the Holy Spirit to guide us in the direction he wants us to go.  Some of us have faced martyrdom for the faith others of us will be called to put chairs out on a Sunday.  In the household of God, we are both in the will of God.   Don’t fret too much about the future as Jesus said you are better dressed than the lilies of the field!

Reflection

In this story we see that Jesus made ‘the big decision’.  He would never live in Nazareth again.  By the Lake of Galilee and from the surrounding area Jesus would call his seventy disciples and his 12 Apostles.  The next three years these chosen boys would become men of God and by the Holy Spirit the world would never be the same again.  Some would live a long life such as John, but others would have a quick execution under the corrupt despots around that area.  Jesus knew the heart of the Father.  Jesus’ face would be set like flint to Jerusalem and death on a cross. We know this to be the case for the heart of the Gospel points to death on a cross and the resurrection. 

The Temptation of Jesus and our walk with God

January 9, 2022

Here we find the true identity of Jesus as he passes all the trials that prove Jesus to be the Son of God, the True Messiah and the Kings of all kings:

5 Then the devil *took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 and *said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written,

‘HE WILL COMMAND HIS ANGELS CONCERNING YOU’;

and

‘ON their HANDS THEY WILL BEAR YOU UP,

SO THAT YOU WILL NOT STRIKE YOUR FOOT AGAINST A STONE.’”

7 Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.’”

8 Again, the devil *took Him to a very high mountain and *showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; 9 and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus *said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.’” 11 Then the devil *left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him. Matthew 4:1-11

Last time we looked at the baptism of Jesus and his identity was made public that indeed he was the Son of God.  One also needs to remember that John was seen as a Prophet, the forerunner to the Messiah coming.  It is John the Prophet who validated Jesus’ identity.  It was time now for our Lord to go into the barren wilderness to be with the rocks and the snakes.  It is unfortunate that Jesus’ testing times are seen as temptations.  In English ‘temptation’ has negative connotations.  The Greek certainly favours ‘test’.  The meaning certainly does carry ‘Temptation’ as “to make someone want to have or do something, especially something that is unnecessary or wrong:” (From https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/tempt)

Satan was indeed trying to knock Jesus off the narrow track of God’s will.  In that sense it is a temptation.  Temptation as ‘a feeling to be naughty’ is not there.   However, it is also a test.  Our Lord and Saviour was keeping in step with the Father at every twist and turn.  These were real tests.  Notice that Satan only came to our Lord Jesus when he was at his weakest point physically.   

We need to remember that Satan wants to destroy God’s work as he is an accuser.  Satan was jealous of God and that is why he got kicked out of heaven in the first place.  In the Fall, he led Adam and Eve up the garden path thinking that they too could be like God.  This is spiritual warfare my friends.  We need to take note of Job too when he lost his family, and everything was taken from him.  In any warfare there are casualties, and it was time for John the Baptist to go to the other side and sleep with the beloved saints.  A holy and righteous man who prepared the way for the true king of Israel, the Messiah, our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.  Having done his work at the baptism we find straight after this story he would be arrested by those evil leaders under the control of Satan.  Nothing can get in the way of God’s will.  There would be other times that Satan would come to lure Jesus away from his path.  The road was set God’s will would unfold no matter what happens, and the flood gates of salvation would break into this world through the death and resurrection of Christ. 

We now turn our attention to the three tests that our Lord overcame.  Jesus Passed the litmus test of devotion to his Father, Our Father who is in heaven…

In the book of Hebrews in our last series, we saw that as believers we ought to live by faith and trust.  In this story we see a prime example of how faith works through the most difficult of situations from the life of Christ our Lord.  In each of the tests Satan says, ‘If you are the Son of God’.  Satan was attempting to feed a seed of unbelief into Jesus that he was not the Messiah, he was not the Son of God.  He was attacking the human side of Jesus, looking for a crack.  Notice that throughout this testing Jesus did no miracles and proved that he was the man of God, the Messiah. 

TEST 1

“If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” 4 But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.’”

Jesus was hungry, he had not eaten for forty days or nights and then his first attack is to do with food!  William Barclay said that in that hot desert there are rocks that look like small loves of bread.  This was an attack on Jesus’ hunger pangs, but Jesus proved that faith is a lot stronger.  Jesus always prayed, he always found quiet places to pray.  This was Jesus’ The desert was a Temple of Prayer for the King of Kings.   Jesus was being tested on his humanity and Satan was picking on the lowest points just like he did with Job.  By asking Jesus to turn stones into bread, Satan was asking Jesus to do a divine act but if this happened it would be an act of disobedience to his heavenly Father.  An act of disobedience from the Son of God would be a sin. 

TEST 2

5 Then the devil *took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 and *said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written,

‘HE WILL COMMAND HIS ANGELS CONCERNING YOU’;

and

‘ON their HANDS THEY WILL BEAR YOU UP,

SO THAT YOU WILL NOT STRIKE YOUR FOOT AGAINST A STONE.’”

7 Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.’”

In this attack Satan was attacking Jesus’ personal security and the Trinity itself.  Here we see Satan attempting to Force God the Fathers hand to do something against the Divine Will by saving Jesus’ life.  Jesus’ answer makes this very clear.  In the story as a whole Satan is referred to as the tempter πειράζω, He was goading not only Jesus the Son of God but also his heavenly Father.  When Jesus said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.’”  The word here is ‘ἐκπειράζω’ (put to the test).

TEST 3

8 Again, the devil *took Him to a very high mountain and *showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; 9 and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus *said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.’”

Here we see the true nature of Satan, the jealous Satan.  Satan had influence over the whole world, and he was wallowing in the delusion of his controllability to the extent that if Jesus would bow down to Satan and worship him.  This is a cheap barter.  God had commanded that every human is to keep the first command ‘Obeying and worshiping only God’.  We need to remember that the Trinity was involved in the creation of the world and before sin entered everything was ‘good’.  In a twisted way he was attacking the heart of God ‘the Love of God’ for his creatures.  God became a man to save us.  This is real love. 

Satan offered a warped short cut to free people from their bondage to sin, in actuality, I don’t know what would have happened if Jesus caved into this request.   Jesus again did not sin but stayed faithful to his Father.

The Aftermath (Satan leaves, angels look after Jesus and John the Prophet is imprisoned)

11 Then the devil *left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him. Matthew 4:1-11

11 Then the devil *left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him.

At the end in this text Satan is referred to as διάβολος the ‘devil’ the slanderer.  Angels came to look after Jesus because he was too physically weak after this test.  Perhaps these tests were preparing him for the cross.  Let us not think too much about Satan but rather let us focus our life of faith on prayer and getting closer to our Heavenly Father. 

Postscript

12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been taken into custody, He withdrew into Galilee; 13 and leaving Nazareth, He came and settled in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali.

In the book of Kings, we have the story of Elijah.  In the story Elijah defeated by God’s hand the prophets of Baal.  The ordeal brought him to a place in which he asked God that he would die.  Elijah ‘was spent’:

Then Elijah said, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.” 1 Kings 19:14

John the Baptist was taken prisoner, Jesus’ cousin, and Jesus too ‘was spent’.  A place of loneliness, feelings of abandonment… In English we may sometimes say ‘we had a desert like experience’ in which we cannot find or feel God close.  Jesus experienced all these feelings of abandonment too.  Our Lord did not give in, he found his sustenance through his prayer and devotional life. 

Questions

Explain to yourself what the three tests were.

What aspects of Jesus’ humanity did Satan attack?

Looking at the example of Jesus; Why should we pray regularly?

Reflection

As believers and for that matter as human beings we will all face desert like experiences.  We need to remember that if we truly trust in Christ, we are not alone.  In prayer we get closer to God and by the Holy Spirit and through his Word Jesus our Lord we can find a place of refreshment and divine community.  We are not alone, and the Holy Spirit is our Comforter. 

This test proves beyond a shadow a doubt that Jesus is indeed the Messiah.  He was revealed at the baptism, and he went though the litmus trials being proven to be the Son of God.  Jesus defeated Satan’s taunting through Jesus’ human life, Although Jesus is also fully divine, he did not rely on his divinity but his humanity to defeat Satan the accuser.  When God became a human being, he was obedient even to the cross and death on a cross.  Yet three days later he came back to life.   This story is a precursor to what Jesus would do in the future.  So much pain and suffering but our Lord walked the walk of faith, and he did the talk of faith to the very end.  As believers in Christ, we too will go through trials.   Let us stay faithful to the end even as our Lord stayed faithful to the end.

Note: the image was taken from wikipeadia:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temptation_of_Christ#/media/File:Brooklyn_Museum_-Jesus_Tempted_in_the_Wilderness(J%C3%A9sus_tent%C3%A9_dans_le_d%C3%A9sert)-_James_Tissot-_overall.jpg

Jesus Baptism and His Fully Divine and Human Identity

December 27, 2021

We are now on the verge of the new year, and I have decided not to move on from Hebrews to other parts of Scripture. Over Christmas time, we were reminded that in Jesus we see God taking on human form. In other words, Jesus was not a pretend man but a real man. Yet in another sense he is fully God and Fully man. We accept this by faith. Not much is said about Jesus apart from when he was 12 years old until he turned 30! John was sent in the tradition of the Prophets, and he prepared the peoples hearts for the coming of the Messiah. Jesus was baptized by John the Prophet in order to fulfil all righteousness. We know the story; Jesus was baptized and at this public ceremony The Holy Spirit took on the form of a dove that landed on Jesus while God the Father spoke of Jesus being his beloved Son. Here we have a picture of the Triune God:

Matthew 13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. 14 And John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?” 15 But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him. 16 When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. 17 And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:13-17


Mark 9 It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove. 11 Then a voice came from heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Mark 1:9-11Luke 21 When all the people were baptized, it came to pass that Jesus also was baptized; and while He prayed, the heaven was opened. 22 And the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven which said, “You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.” Luke 3:21-22

As you can see this story is found in all the three of the synoptic Gospels. All three Gospels talk about the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus. This is true also in John:

32 John testified saying, “I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him. 33 I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” John 1:32-34”

There is a fourfold public agreement on the offices Jesus was called to do. As we saw in the Book of Hebrews Jesus is Prophet, Priest, King and the ultimate sacrifice for our sins as well as being the 2nd Person of the Trinity, so that we can have eternal life.

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. 14 And John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?” 15 But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him. 16 When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. 17 And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:13-17

The Greek text here is moving very fast and the verbs are either in the present or the aorist. The aorist does not exist in the English language, but it is an event that is punctiliar. It happened and that is it.

Verse 13

Jesus coming from Galilee (present tense). He is already there by the river Jordan. This event is happening and being recorded on the spot.

Verse 14

John the Baptist felt so unworthy that he tried to prevent Jesus’ baptism because he felt it should be the other way around. This event was a lot bigger than John because it was a sign to the world that Jesus indeed was sent from God. Jesus is God’s message to the world.

Verse 15

The rationale for the baptism is that God had planned this from eternity. This moment has historical significance for God’s justice and righteousness.

Verse 16

As soon as Jesus came up from the water ‘immediately’ God spoke. God’s authority rested on Jesus. The Holy Spirit descending on Jesus as a dove has a fourfold lock on it. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John have all verified that this took place. In any law court of any time and place this evidence would be taken as fact that it actually happened. Obviously the character of the witnesses ought also to be looked at. In any case they were willing to die for Jesus. This would validate the facts even more.

What about the character references of these Apostles:

  • Matthew (Levi): Martyred about 60 AD by being staked and speared to the ground. Preached the Gospel in Ethiopia (Africa) and was killed for questioning the morals of the king.
  • Mark (John Mark): Was dictated to writing the Book of Mark. Martyred – dragged to death.
  • Luke: The Physician. Wrote Luke and The Acts. Was hanged on an olive tree.
  • John (The Beloved) (son of Zebedee / brother of James) : Natural Death The only apostle who did not meet a martyrs death. Banished by Roman Emperor Domitian to Isle of Patmos where penned Revelation, the last book in the Bible. Was later freed & went to preach in Turkey and died at 100.

(I got this information from “…csmedia1.com/thexenaproject.org/week-01-how-the-disciples-died.pdf”)

Jesus has his vindication that indeed he is the Son of God. He is then sent to be tried and tested in the desert like Moses and Elijah were.

THEOLOGICAL INTERPRETATION

Historically something was happening at the time of Christ in the area of Israel and the surrounding districts. The time was ripe for the Messiah to come. I think one of the main questions would be:

What would the Messiah be like?

We do know that the dead see scrolls looked for a powerful leader. We know there was a cultus that was an alternative to the Temple of Jerusalem with serious washing facilities discovered by archaeologists!

https://www.britannica.com/place/Qumran#ref259042

This does not surprise me because the Romans chose corrupt leaders to do their dirty work for them. Herod is a case in point and then his children took his place. Part of this Judaic community opted out of this decadence for simple obedience for the God of Israel. They knew that the Messiah the true king of Israel would come into the world to save them. From a Christian perspective they looked in the wrong place. They looked for a powerful king who would trample their enemies into the ground.

Jesus did not come into the world as this powerful king who would trample their enemies into the ground. No! He was the ‘prince of peace’ born outside of any comforts and shared an area with the farm animals in a shed sleeping inside the feeding trough for the animals. How humbling how different to human logic. God’s logic is always greater than human logic as Paul explained in 1 Corinthians.

Jesus was indeed the Messiah:

7 “I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD:

He said to Me, ‘You are My Son,

Today I have begotten You. Psalms 2:7

And then again in Isaiah

1 “Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold:

My chosen one in whom My soul delights.

I have put My Spirit upon Him:

He will bring forth justice to the nations. Isaiah 42:1

How do we know this?

Only look at the story of King Saul and king David. Saul was the people’s choice. He was tall, good looking and he could fight.

Look at David! He was but a youth but had a heart to obey God. When he made mistakes, he would repent and be sorry for his sins.

Moses as well is recorded somewhere that he was the humblest man in all the world even though he was a leader.

REFLECTION

From what I have said Jesus is indeed the king of Israel and the world. Jesus was there at the creation of the world with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Yet Jesus did not come into the world with all of the regalia but rather the opposite. He humbled himself to sharing space with farm animals and died on a cross like a common criminal. This is seriously humbling. Yet death could not hold him and he was resurrected from the dead which gives us hope in the face of death that we too can be resurrected like him and live forever in God’s presence.

Regeneration and the New Birth in Christ and the doctrine of Election part 2

December 12, 2021

Some birds in my garden feeding.  

Bavinck earlier looked at preparations to the new Birth (born again).    Last time we looked at man’s problem that he is ‘spiritually dead’.  Today though we are focusing on the ‘struggle to rebirth’.  This is how Bavinck starts this section on page 258:

(“However, after one receives these preparations, the process can go in two directions. After all, with such a preparation there will be a struggle between the convicting Spirit in one’s conscience and the flesh. The Spirit knocks on the door of one’s heart and calls to conversion, to distance oneself from the world and its allurements. Even imperfect desires to be converted arise within the person. They would want to be converted, but the flesh and the world are opposed; they would have to surrender so much pleasure, so much sweetness, and sacrifice advantage. The flesh advises keeping the door of the heart closed. In this way, a struggle ensues, anxiety, doubt.”page 260)

Before we got to this point somewhere Bavinck said that the Christian has two natures. 

  1. ·        The natural man who by nature was created
  2. ·        The spiritual man who yearns for God

The natural man is interested in the things and pleasure of the world.  The spiritual part of us yearns to go home from whom we owe our existence.  So for Bavinck then there is a ‘tug of war’ for who will be our master.  The effects of this is that; if the natural man was to submit to the Holy Spirit then he would have to give up the pleasures of the world and ‘sacrifice advantage’ (page 260).

He goes on to say that some people who profess conversion turn back to the pleasures of the world and Bavinck quotes the words of Peter:

22 It has happened to them according to the true proverb, “A DOG RETURNS TO ITS OWN VOMIT,” and, “A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.” 2 Peter 2:22

The love of the sinful things of the world is opposed to God’s nature as he is holy.  So having tasted God’s goodness somehow it is equivalent to this. As he continues in Timothy by saying:

“for Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica… 2 Timothy 4:10”

Bavinck goes on and says that some people don’t go completely back into the world because they like some of the trappings of the Church.  They are not born again and the Scriptures puts them in a particular category (Hebrews 6  1-8, Psalm 582-5).  They use ‘preparatory standards’ towards being born again and remain ‘half baked’ (Hosea 7 8). 

In contrast the elect (those who are truly born again, anew) may stay in a state of preparation for a long time before being born again but when it happens it is not half baked.  It is genuine and it is not full of hypocrisy.  This rebirth, regeneration, whatever you like to call it is a complete mystery to us, but it happens (John 38); “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:8” (page 262)

In Christ by the Holy Spirit, we are kept from falling away from God.   The elect are a ‘new creation’.  The spiritually dead to the things of God are made alive to the things of God.  It is God who makes this possible.

As Bavinck says:

Without any cooperation on our part, God begins this regeneration in us by his irresistible grace, penetrating our conscience through to our heart and pouring into us a new life-principle. This enlightens our understanding, judgment, conscience, and memory so that the darkness disappears, and we evaluate ourselves, God, and Christ differently.” (Page 261)

 

The effect of this for Paul was that the scales fell from his eyes:

And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he got up and was baptized; Acts 9:18

The effect for Lydia was that the Lord opened her heart:

 A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. Acts 16:14

The new situation then being in Christ is that we are indeed a new creation, ‘a new person’:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 2 Corinthians 5:17

A dead twig cannot bring itself to life therefore the initial work of rebirth is done by the Holy Spirit.  The spiritual act and gift of faith flows from this beginning:

Mystical union arises (logically) after regeneration, simultaneously with and through faith. Becoming one with Christ, we therefore already have the organizing principle of life. But this life-principle now draws, as it grows, all its power, strength, and nourishment from Christ. And in order to be grafted into him who is the olive tree, we must already be living twigs. One does not ingraft dead branches.(Pages 262-263).

Reflection

As we have seen we were spiritually dead towards God, and we were alienated from the promises of God.  The big ‘I’ was the controlling factor in our lives.  Even though creation itself was perfect the Fall marred this creation and sin entered into the world.  God had to make a completely new creation in us.  Christ came into the world and did what he had to do in order that it would be possible for us to be brought into the life of God.  This is only possible in Christ. 

Election and reprobation are in the hands of God.  I don’t think we should focus on that and look at this problem logically because then we can come to some conclusions that don’t make sense.  Rather, this only makes sense when we realise that as well as God being Judge, he is also the lover of our souls and He in Christ by the Holy Spirit wants us to come into fellowship with him. 

Christians have various views on election, and some want to give us the decision and not God.  Of course, there is reciprocation but at all times I think it is important to allow God to keep His Sovereignty. 

Even when we talk about a natural birth there are many factors.  It is a miracle.  How much more of a miracle is it when we are ‘spiritually dead’. Calvin came to the conclusion of double election:

  • ·        The elect elected to eternal life
  • ·        The reprobate elected to eternal damnation.

This sounds very harsh and on the face of it a lot of theologians cannot accept this either.

Karl Bart tried to find a way around this by saying in the ‘Judge Judged in our place’ that Christ also paid the complete price for the reprobate.  Some have accused Barth of universalism.

I don’t think that theologians have arrived yet at a proper formulation of the doctrine of election.  Every viewpoint has its fault.  I think the reason for this is because our knowledge is limited whereas God’s knowledge is infinite.  God loves his creation because he told us in Genesis, and it is no accident that the Logos as God working in the creation is found in Johns Gospel.  We need to remember that it was the sin of Adam that led to this problem.  God is not to blame.  In fact, God became a man in order to sort this Fall problem out.

For these reasons and others, I speak of election as ‘mystery’ and because of this it is very apt that Jesus said:

Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:7-8”

Having said that we need to respect God’s holiness, justice, mercy and love.  Bavinck holds all these elements in place.  It is the Lord Jesus Christ who did the work so that we could be saved.  The Holy Spirit as he who breathes new life into humans. He ought to be seen as the one Who turns the salvific key in us so that new birth can take place. 

Dictionary

Salvific = saving, salvation

Regeneration = born again, new birth

Bibliography

Reformed Ethics; by Herman Bavinck; edited By John Bolt; pages 258-263

Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord

December 10, 2021

God-pleasing Sacrifices

15 Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. 16 And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. 17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.

18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a good conscience, desiring to conduct ourselves honourably in all things. 19 And I urge you all the more to do this, so that I may be restored to you the sooner.

Benediction

20 Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, 21 equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

22 But I urge you, brethren, bear with this word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly. 23 Take notice that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom, if he comes soon, I will see you. 24 Greet all of your leaders and all the saints. Those from Italy greet you.

25 Grace be with you all. Hebrews 13:15-25

As well as loving God we also ought to love one another as Christ commanded.  Let us also stay appreciative to the fact that while we were still in our sin Christ died for us and in his resurrection, we have the certain hope of eternal life by the Holy Spirit.

Verses 15 and 16

15 Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. 16 And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

We ought to praise and worship God in season and out of season.  This is not only dependent on our feelings but it also dependent on the objective historical truths that Christ died and rose again from the dead.  This gives us certain hope for our salvation.  A correlate of this is to share our love in practical ways as well by sharing with others from what we have.  As Bavinck would say, the fruit of faith is works. (See his Reformed Ethics volume 1).

Verses 17, 18 and 19

17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.

18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a good conscience, desiring to conduct ourselves honourably in all things. 19 And I urge you all the more to do this, so that I may be restored to you the sooner.  19 And I urge you all the more to do this, so that I may be restored to you the sooner.

Again, Apollos commands the believers to obey their parents. Don’t go against the grain by being negative towards their leadership when there is no reason.  We also have the correlate of the importance of the leaders who are expected to conduct themselves ‘honourably’ in the office that they were chosen to be in.  Even Apollos talks about being restored to the Church!  We can see lots of prison sentences going on in the background.  Perhaps Apollos at times was also taken away from the Church by force (By the authorities).

Verses 20-21

20 Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, 21 equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Near the end Apollos gives a blessing to these believers in Jesus Christ.  He finishes with an Amen.  But I am asking, why it has come now near the end of the letter but not the end.  Perhaps Apollos finished his writings and he forgot to mention Timothy.  I don’t need to know the reason because this is such a fantastic and beautiful benediction.  

‘Now the God of Peace’

This is an interesting phrase.  As you know the style of the book is not Pauline, but the theology certainly is.  The term ‘God of peace’ comes up in other Scriptures:

Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen. Romans 15:33

Finally, brethren, rejoice, be made complete, be comforted, be like-minded, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 2 Corinthians 13:11

The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:9

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Thessalonians 5:23

Then the idea of ‘Shepherd’, Peter uses this:

25 For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls. 1 Peter 2:25

It is also found in Isaiah:

11 Then His people remembered the days of old, of Moses.

Where is He who brought them up out of the sea with the shepherds of His flock?

Where is He who put His Holy Spirit in the midst of them, Isaiah 63:11

The Eternal Covenant

3 “Incline your ear and come to Me.

Listen, that you may live;

And I will make an everlasting covenant with you,

According to the faithful mercies shown to David. Isaiah 55:3

In verse 20 then we see a picture of the Trinity directly or indirectly.  We have God the Father of love and peace sending his Son the great Shepherd of the Sheep into the world to reconcile His church to the eternal covenant by the blood of Christ.  In one of the references in the Old Testament we see the Holy Spirit in the Midst of His people. 

Because of verse 20 then when we reach verse 21 the Church is equipped to do God’s will because of Christ:

equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. Hebrews 13:21

Notice the ‘Amen’ (so be it! / Let it be!).

Apollos however wanted to add some extra stuff to his letter.  Like we sometimes do by saying PS.

Verse 22

In this verse Apollos reminds his readers that he wrote this magnificent treatise as a ‘brief letter’:

But I urge you, brethren, bear with this word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly. Hebrews 13:22

As we have gone through this letter, you would have noticed that these believers were going through various trials and prison sentences.  To hear that Timothy is out of prison would have been a great encouragement for these believers.  Not all the leaders were dead.  The batten of the Gospel of Hope and life was being passed down from generation to generation:

Perhaps Paul was dead at this time by beheading, (Roman form of execution for Roman citizens) but Timothy and Apollos as faithful witnesses continued to spread the Gospel:

Take notice that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom, if he comes soon, I will see you. Hebrews 13:23

Those in Italy greet the Church to whom Apollos was writing (Perhaps Jerusalem (my view)):

Greet all of your leaders and all the saints. Those from Italy greet you. Hebrews 13:24

Verse 25 ends with the blessing of grace.  This is also found in the Pauline letters:

Grace be with you all. Hebrews 13:25

For example:

18 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my imprisonment. Grace be with you. Colossians 4:18

Reflection

We have now completed reading and studying the book of Hebrews.  It is an incredible piece of literature in the New Testament that is artistically and theologically a masterpiece.   From my point of view there is only one Gospel, but it can take on different forms.  Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are four Gospels written by four different people but influenced by one Holy Spirit.  For me Revelations is not just an Apocalypse following the Ezekiel tradition, but it is also explaining to us the authority of Jesus and what he did for us at the cross and it’s working out in human history.  The book of Hebrews is also about the Gospel message, but it takes a form of high Alexandrian Greek.  The message is the same and spells out who this Jesus is and those who reject the message reject God’s offer of salvation (although for humans it is a mystery because our understanding is finite). 

Here you have some Jewish Christians being persecuted for their faith.  Apollos writes into this situation, and he starts by placing the God-Man Jesus Christ at the heart of the Trinity:

“In these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. 3 And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.” Hebrews 1:2-4

  • Not anyone can sit at the right hand of the Father except the Son. 
  • He is also ‘greater than the angels’
  • ‘He is greater than Moses’
  • Although he is God, he took on human form as a real human being and humbled himself on the cross
  • Jesus is the High Priest in the heavens the earthly one is only a shadow
  • Jesus is the Perfect High priest the earthly ones only stay in place for a short period.
  • Jesus’ priesthood is like Melchizedek’s that lasts forever.
  • One sacrifice of Christ is all that is needed.  In the Temple animals needed to be sacrificed all the time.
  • We have a choice to choose Christ or judgement.

Thanks for taking the time to follow this blog.  I have enjoyed writing it and I get pleasure when I see people taking God’s word seriously.  Before moving onto a new Biblical project, the book of Hebrews gives us a question to ponder.

Who is Jesus?

But also, who is Jesus to you personally as a human being?

The Nature of Jesus

At this time of year with Christmas just around the corner John’s Gospel explains to us the nature of the Christmas story:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. 5 The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. John 1:1-5”

John starts from the ‘beginning’ (creation). Jesus was actively involved in the creation of the world with the Father and the Holy Spirit.  Before the Fall the creation is described as ‘good’.  God loves his creation so much that in Christ there is a renewal through faith.  We have a choice with the help of the Holy Spirit, light or darkness.  People cannot comprehend the message because they are spiritually dead.  Christ came to save this lost humanity. 

who is Jesus to you personally as a human being?

We are sometimes blinded by our own self centredness.  Christ’s message goes out to the whole world.  In the book of Hebrews, we are all confronted by the message of Jesus.  Do we continue walking along our own path and end up nowhere or do we in Christ return to the lover of our souls.  Every religion and every person will be confronted by this message and they and us will have to make a decision about the Gospel message.  As Christians we are supposed to be ambassadors for Christ.  When an ambassador goes to a foreign country that particular country will look at the way the ambassador lives.  As ambassadors for Christ let us be ‘living letters’ to those who meet us.  Unfortunately, a lot of the time we are anything but ambassadors!  We are not perfect but we are being made perfect in Christ Amen.

We have confidence in Christ because he is the same Yesterday, Today and Forever! Hebrews 13.7-14

December 5, 2021

Confidence is a very important word.  We use the word in our daily lives.  When we set the alarm at night-time, we are confident that we will hear it the next day.  In order to go to work we confidently put the key into the ignition.  When we switch the power on our phones, we confidently expect it to run.  However sometimes it doesn’t work out the way we had planned.  I was confident that my Windows 10 home edition would work but unfortunately, I spend a few days trying to make it work. 

Spiritually this raises important questions, and it leads to an ultimate question; Do I put confidence in myself or in a higher power? (Namely God) The book of Hebrews has a lot to teach us about where we put our confidence.  Here are some snippets:

  • Hebrew 36  If we hold fast our confidence
  • Hebrew 416 with confidence to the Throne of Grace
  • Hebrew 1019 We have confidence to enter the Holy Place
  • Hebrew 1035  Do not throw away you confidence
  • Hebrew 136 So we speak confidently

Let us now look at this week’s text:

Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  9 Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited. 10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat.  11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp. 12 Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate.  13 So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach.  14 For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come. Hebrews 13:7-14

At first glance one might think there are various topics here and they don’t seem to jell together.  Commentators may ask what has leaders to do with Jesus being the same in time sequences in the following verse?

Verse 7

“Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.”

The ‘remembering’ here is in the imperative second person plural (Greek).  Apollos isn’t asking the believers to look at the conduct of their leaders.  No, my friends it is a command.  A lot of these leaders probably did not make it to old age.  Later on, we find out that Timothy is going to be released from prison.  What about Paul?  Tradition has it that he was executed.   James the Lord’s brother was according to Josephus also executed even though he was completely innocent.   How do your leaders stand out in the Church from the 21st century?  How can a person follow a leader that isn’t following the example of Christ in their everyday life?  No one is perfect but Scripture does give us a standard for leadership in the Church.   The New Testament stands on the authority of Christ and his Apostles.  The Apostles have been asleep for many centuries now, but we do have their writings as a guide by the Holy Spirit.  It is the Holy Spirit that gives us this continuation with the early church and the Apostolic standards.

Verses 8 and 9

8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  9 Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited.

Verse 8 is one of the most beautiful verses in the New Testament and because of its beauty we may miss the hay from the trees.  Taking the verse on face value it is an encouragement that Jesus is always the same.  He is in heaven interceding for us and we can take encouragement that his teachings do not change over time, but they are the same.  

Verse 9 is completely opposite, and we can spot the teachings of these capricious teachers a mile away.  The ancient Greek gods could change their minds on a whim so too these false teachers can teach false doctrine and change their meanings on a whim. 

However, we are certain and 200% sure that the teachings of the Bible have not changed for over 2000 years. 

Before we move on, I can simply say that this whole section touches on false teachings about food.  Perhaps somehow these false teachers were linking food to salvation somehow.   We need to remember that James in the book of Acts wrote a letter to all the churches stating that the only food Christians ‘jew’ or gentile was not to eat was food with the blood still in it. 

Verse 10

10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat.

Apollos reminds us that the tabernacle we eat from gives no right to these earthly officials.  The earthly tabernacle is only a shadow of the real one.

Verses 11 – 14

.  11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp. 12 Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate.  13 So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach.  14 For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come. Hebrews 13:7-14

These animals pointed only to the real sacrifice of the True Lamb of God.  These animals were sacrificed outside of the camp.    In that way the great sacrifice of Christ happened outside the city gates of Jerusalem.   Anyone hung on a tree was seen as cursed.  Jesus took our curse on himself so that we could be found holy and blameless before a righteous God.  As Jesus took on our curse which was a reproach against him, we too as his followers may we take on some of this curse, by living holy and blameless with this hope burning in our souls that one day we too will be before the celestial city gates. 

Reflection

Faith is a gift as we cannot save ourselves.  God is for us because Jesus is for us.  Jesus became a curse so that we in Him can be found righteous.  The road we walk is a walk of faith, full of appreciation in our hearts for what Jesus did for us.  Apollos teaches us to live this life confidently in Christ by the Holy Spirit.  If any of your leaders tell you anything different to take you away from Christ, then they are wolves in sheep’s clothing.  

Personal note on the blogs

I would have finished this blog earlier, but my computer died.   In this digital age we need to stay faithful to Christ with computers and without computers.  If Apollos was around today, I wonder how this beautiful letter may have been written. 😊

A theological reflection on the steps to being born again (from above) Part 1.

November 30, 2021

 

Part one is all about thinking about the issues of salvation and eternal life and where we stand.  In the second part we are going to look at how Herman Bavinck explains the steps towards being born again.  Nowadays the term ‘born again’ gets thrown all over the place and it has lost its meaning in modern culture.  We forget about sin and the broken relationship with God.  For some people being born again is a lifestyle choice and there is no conviction of what sin actually is.  In some churches sin is probably not even mentioned because it causes offence. This is the whole point.  A patient has every right to know what the cause of the ailment is.  It is the same with spiritual truths.  Let us bite the bullet and look deeper into the social ills of our soul in the direction to finding the perfect cure.

I took this one evening when I went for a local walk.

 

“16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” John 3:16-21”

For some people to be born again is a lifestyle choice.  Presidents have claimed to be born again and it has been a very large winning vote in some parts of the world.  Only God really knows if these politicians were sincere in their belief in Christ or whether it was because they wanted power. Ultimate power resides in heaven and not on earth. 

God works in mysterious ways that we will never understand but we can have some understanding of his nature as revealed through Holy Scripture. By the Holy Spirit we can have some glimpses into God’s motives.  So from a very basic level what are some of the characteristics of God.  Off the top of my head thinking about Scripture here is a short list:

·        God is Love

·        God is Holy

·        God is righteous

·        God is Judge

·        God is Creator

·        God is omnipotent

·        God is omnipresent

·        God is omniscient

·        God became a Man

·        God sent His Son and he died on a cross

·        God the son rose from the dead

·        God in Christ by the Holy Spirit loves his Church

I’m sure one could make this list even longer.  What about Man (humans)

·        Man has Broken his relationship with God because he wanted to be God

·        Man is a Sinner

·        Man is Self-centred

·        Man is marred by the Fall

·        Man is capricious can love one moment and hate the next

·        Man can be judgmental based on false motives

·        Man can create new ways to sin

·        Man is powerless although some fool themselves to thinking they have power

·        Man can only be in one place at one time even through the internet knowledge is finite

·        Man is completely lost, and he cannot save himself.

·        Man’s knowledge is limited.

When we look at these two lists, we can see that there are very big differences between the God of the Bible and the nature of humans.  As humans we are perishing and there is no sight of salvation on the horizon.  We are like a ship without a rudder in a stormy sea.  Is there any hope for us?  O look over there I see a light house.  It is God who switched the light on, it is God who has thrown us a line to come to him!   I want to now look at some verses from John’s Gospel and try to start to understand what the issues are about being born again:

“16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” John 3:16-21”

“For God so loved the world”

When God created the world before the sin of Adam the world was perfect, and it was good.  The first chapter in Genesis tells us it was good.   Humans marred this beautiful creation yet even though this was the case God gave us a way through the work of the Son and the Holy Spirit through the gift of faith.  God’s motive is love because his nature is love so it does not surprise me that the text continues to say,

” That He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

The story of Noah points to this truth that we are all drowning, and we cannot save ourselves.  It is a salvage job by God to save a remnant.  From the two basic lists I made about God and Man at the beginning we could see that there was no way that Man can fix this broken relationship with God.  God have to take the first step.  God did a lot more than take the first step.  He sent His Son into the world and died for our sins.  This was a high cost.  Judgement is already on our heads because of the wrongs we have done.  Self-centredness is the biggest crime because it refuses God-centredness:

“For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” 

 

What about Nicodemus in the passage when Jesus says to him “you must be born again”?   The literal translation is born from above (ἄνωθεν John 3:3) the root being ‘ana’ = above.  Looking at the context of the whole passage we can see that Jesus is talking about how to enter God’s Kingdom, but Nicodemus interpreted it as entering into the womb a second time. The usual word for again is actually παλιν (again). Jesus did not use this word but this is how Nicodemus understood it.

As well as the adverb from above in the Nicodemus story, John uses it in other place too:

·        “He who comes from above is above all, he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all. John 3:31

·        And He was saying to them, “You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world. John 8:23

·        Jesus answered, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason, he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.” John 19:11

 

I also found it interesting that James the Lord’s brother also uses ‘above’ with the same meaning as Christ:

·        Every good thing given, and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. James 1:17

·        This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. James 3:15

·        But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. James 3:17

So then why did Nicodemus ask the question; “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” John 3:4

Nicodemus was half correct but missed the main meaning.  Nicodemus had to have a new birth, but he interpreted it in an earthly physical way.  

Reflection

When Jesus made the statement in his answer to Nicodemus:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3

Or

 , “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born a new he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3

Or

, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born from above he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3

God by the Holy Spirit has to make the first move in order that we can even see God’s Kingdom.  Nicodemus was a pharisee and represented the Law.  He could not see the kingdom of God and it had to be explained to him from Jesus our Lord.  This tells us that the law although it is good because God sent it, it cannot save us from our sins.   In part 2 I will be going through Bavincks ethics as he explains to us the steps to becoming a follower of Christ.