By Whose Authority?

The song “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty” is ringing in my ears and in my heart – against the background of Monday morning and the feeling of being a little bit overwhelmed by all the opportunities God is giving me (3 preaching turns from next week added) and with that the responsibility of carrying them through in a manner which gives Him glory. So many gaps?

So He speaks: “Yes I am holy – totally other; completely ‘other’; completely pure – huge and awesome and pure – but the good news is that through the death of Jesus the gap has been bridged and you can now relate and speak to me and hear from Me. In Him (Jesus) you are made instantly and completely holy and yet you still have to grow into My holiness – this is a mystery to you, but very real.

“Now remember my invitation to you to come to me when you feel heavy laden and I will give you rest? You first have to release your striving and your agenda and turn to me and accept My agenda, My program, from that acceptance will come the power and the ability and the gifting to do – that is why I follow this invitation with the instruction to take my yoke upon you – it is only in the light of the above that my yoke is ‘easy’ – fits perfectly and you are not pulling alone, I am right there pulling with you. So come to Me continually for my rest and peace which will keep ‘recharging’ you to be responsive in the yoke I have given you – which is planned and perfect for you”.

My reading over the last two days is Luke 20:1-19. Two separate stories with lots of teaching, but I am going to focus on just one aspect which I think is the main point of the two stories. Why don’t you read through the two stories and see how they are connected and what you feel is the main point Luke wants the reader to assimilate. Actually the second is a commentary on the first.

In the first the religious establishment (20:1) come to challenge Jesus, in the light of what He had been doing in the temple. So their challenge was, “By what authority do you do these things?” This is not really a question, rather an open challenge to Jesus’ authority. Because they actually know what He is claiming and simply want to trap Him into saying it. Jesus then neatly sidesteps the question. However Luke shows in the next story what Jesus’ answer actually is. By telling the allegory/parable first then summarizing it in vs 17, Jesus is claiming to be none less than the Messiah Himself. The quote comes from Psalm 118, which is a messianic Psalm and we have already seen how Luke has used this Psalm to identify Jesus in the quote in 19:38 with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The allegory in vv 9 -16, has historical significance in describing the whole attitude of the religious establishment towards carrying out God’s intended wishes.

But the focus is vs 17. Don’t underestimate the importance of that quote. The capstone or rather cornerstone was going to be the key stone on which the whole of God’s future kingdom was going to be built. This was the Man, rejected as of now, (cf vs 19) due to die at the hands of the very people who were questioning Him, but in that death the full power of God released to break into the world with the life-giving, awesome kingdom, of which we are the blessed citizens.

But then I ask what are you saying to me today from this passage, dear Jesus? Firstly, He has all the authority in heaven and on earth and everything I do, I do under His authority. So I need to think this through. Am I consciously submitting to His authority in all the spheres of my life? If I am then I have His authority to act, in my speaking, in my heart’s thoughts which lead to action, in all my teaching. The second thing that arises from this passage is how diligently am I in tending God’s vineyard which is in my reach? How effectively am I tending each vine so that they may be able to produce the very fruit which God intends for him/her? And an oh so welcome and timely a reminder that Jesus is God and deserves all my worship.

What do you hear Him saying to you today? Lets hear that in the blog response.

Cleansing the Temple.

The background of today’s blog is that the neighbour who I have been witnessing to, appeared at the door while I was playing golf on Tuesday and spent some time berating my daughter Leslie, for all sorts of things which I am supposed to have done wrong. My first reaction, on hearing this was indignation, then I decided to lay it at the Lord’s feet.

Horizon – the word came to me and I saw in my mind’s eye the western horizon with the sun setting and multitudes of little lights twinkling on, in the darkening city below. “Look up at the horizon – see the bigger picture – there is a huge unseen war going on at the spiritual level – the disagreement and attack from Geraldine is a mere skirmish in the larger battle, look up and see the multitude of skirmishes happening all over the country (at this I was reminded of all the little lights which seemed to represent just that). These are all part of the bigger war – the mass weapons of the devil are: Covid, corruption, violence, murder, dishonesty, greed, lust etc – but these are all played out in different ways in the lives of individual people. Ian – put on the breastplate of righteousness – behave honestly, kindly and purely – so that Satan cannot accuse you to other people. Take up the shield of faith – trust in Me for everything on all levels, so that the devil cannot shoot his fiery darts of doubt into your mind, filling it with ‘what if’s’ and remind yourself continually that you are in Me (Jesus) – I am your shield – remain close to me and My power and face the battle in My strength – the victory is assured”.

My reading to-day is Luke 19:45-48, just those 3 verses. Now it would have been easy to glance at them and remember the familiar picture and move on to something with more meat, but I stopped and meditated on these vv and asked Jesus to speak to me from them.

So firstly to the original meaning and teaching principle: The temple was the center point of the Israeli culture because it represented the very presence of their covenant God Yahweh. It was there and only there that the covenant people could meet with their covenant God. It was there where sacrifices were made for the people’s sins to clear the way for them to approach Yahweh and this alone through the appointed High Priest and it was there that the people could bring their prayers to Yahweh, only mediated through a priest, however. It was also there that the people were to reach out to foreigners (read Isaiah 56:1-8 where the quote; “My house will be a house of prayer”, comes from, in I 56:7). It was the most important place in the whole of Israel, in fact in the whole world. Yet the people had desecrated it, lost their awe at its meaning and function, because they had lost their awe of God. This represented far more than just action, it represented the very attitude the people had developed towards God. Rejecting Him at the deepest level.

So what had happened over time, was that the people had adulterated the temple’s chief function, turning this holy structure into a commercial venture, as it were, where any sins were sort of OK. Luke presents that moment graphically. (You can allow yourself to picture it in your mind). Luke is showing us that Jesus’ immediate and long term program was that a large part of His mission was to judge the misuse of the temple and to replace it with Himself and His own body would be the ultimate sacrifice. This judgement represented the judgement of Israel for turning away from God and would be graphically completed in 70 AD when the temple was destroyed, physically, completely. It is also through that sacrifice of Jesus that the lines of communication with God would be opened and we, ordinary people like you and me, could henceforth meet with our Father through Jesus, our new High Priest’s mediation.

So what is Jesus saying through this to me? This passage opens up a huge array of joy and appreciation for what He has done and the fact that we don’t need to go to a temple to worship anymore today. It also means I should examine myself deeply, with His help, as to how pure my relationship with him is, as expressed in my thought-life and my activities in serving Him. Does He remain the center of my whole life, my reference point, as it were? How much am I being motivated by the wrong desires? Hmmm – plenty to think about. It is so easy to pat oneself on the back and like the Pharisee in the temple, to say thank God I am not like all these other sinners around me. Notice also the much underplayed task of the Israeli’s was to represent God to the foreigners, which they failed hopelessly to do. So how am I doing on that front?

So my friends, sometimes the artist paints with a big brush and sometimes a tiny detailed brush called a rigger. In all this Jesus can still speak to you from His word, if you just use the correct tools and especially if you ask Him to open your mind and heart so that you really “hear” Him.

Entry into the Kingdom.

Last week about an hour after my golf game on Tuesday, I developed a sudden acute upset tummy. It improved by Thursday morning but relapsed severely by the evening. By late evening I was facing the prospect of a weekend, without medication and the possibility of finding any or even any access to a doctor. Then it dawned on me: the Lord had led me to the edge of the Red Sea so that I would be “forced” to stop trying to find all sorts of ways out and turn to Him as the only real deliverer. It came to me that in Psalm 146:2 it says “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men who cannot save.” So I sank to my knees and asked forgiveness for my “self reliance” and desperately looking for a “prince or doctor” to save me and turned the whole problem over to Him. I wasn’t instantly cured but there was a change in how I felt and slowly over the weekend I have recovered, except for feeling a bit shaky. On reflection I had spoken to the Lord about the matter, but without real conviction that He should have been my first place to flee to. This is not the first time this has happened to me, to remind me of the need to trust Him first and then take the route He shows me.

So this morning in my worship time, I see in my mind’s eye a calm sea – “Calm”, the word comes to me – as I watch, the sea is lit by a light, reflecting beautiful colours – “I give you calmness – I give you peace. After the reminder of the world-changing events, remembered this weekend through the Easter celebrations and the storm that affected you these last days – I give you the sort of calm I gave the disciples after I calmed the storm they were in. The battle is over – the victory is won! But the ongoing expedition to conquer the world for the ‘kingdom’ still lies ahead – gird yourself for action, but the victory is assured”.

So to God’s Word: After the announcement in Luke 16:16 that the kingdom of God is breaking into the world and the question in 17:20 “when will this happen”? Luke puts together 6 stories from 18:9 to 19:10 which give us different facets of how entry into the kingdom would happen. Why don’t you read these stories, think them through, and determine what point Jesus was making in each, which would help the reader to know how to enter the kingdom. This may take a bit of time but will reward you when you have done it.

Here is what I found: “The Pharisee and the tax collector” contrast two attitudes that people have as they approach God and His kingdom. On the one hand self-assured, confident that by keeping all the religious laws and regulations he had already gained entry, while the other only aware of his total lostness, nothing to offer as merit for his acceptance. The comment in vs 14 explains how the latter attitude is the one acceptable to God. The story of the “little children” underlines this and explains and illustrates the same point. Little children have no merit to call on and are totally dependent. Then the rich ruler is presented as a lay copy of the religious Pharisee. He also thinks he has managed to “earn” his way into the kingdom. He is shocked by Jesus’ requirement of repentance and slinks away. Clearly Luke wants us to perceive the contrast in attitudes and what is necessary to approach God for salvation.

Jesus then makes the astounding statement about the camel and the needle, which has had people over the centuries trying to explain it, but the point is it is obviously impossible. The disciples are distraught “who then can be saved?” they call out V 26. This cry gives the central point of all these stories, with Jesus’ answer: “What is impossible with men is possible with God”. That’s the ultimate point isn’t it? Only God can save and it is always miraculous. Salvation is far more difficult and miraculous and impossible than just passing a camel through a needle!

But the vss 31-33 are key, it is necessary for Jesus to die and be raised again, for salvation to be won for mankind. There is no other way that you can be saved, but through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Is that not what we have just spent the whole weekend celebrating?

To underline the fact that it all comes from God, Luke adds the story of the blind man being given sight. For any man to be saved Jesus must miraculously open their eyes.

So what is our response to be in all this? How do we share in this miraculous, supernatural action? Well you guessed it – by faith of course. 18:42.

And how does one who has been saved look like? 18:43, He recognizes God and His part in this whole process and just wants to praise Him for what He has done for him. Just like Zacchaeus in the next story, his life totally transformed, from a mean, crooked official to: repentance for his past sins, recompense to those who he had stolen from and a joyful generosity to all, ending with a happy fellowship with Jesus Himself, 19:5 By their fruit you will know them!

Wow what a story! There are several subthemes and points to ponder, but this seems to me to be the main thrust of all these stories strung together like this.

And what did Jesus say to me? As the mists cleared and I could see this thread more clearly, like the blind man, I was filled with joy and just wanted to praise God and share the “good news of the kingdom of God” Luke 16:16.

May this fill you too with joy and awe and motivate you to share this wonderful news.

Do not Weep.

Thank you bloggers who use the blog site in Wattsapp for all your encouraging and worshipful input this morning as we launch into this most important day of remembrance on the Christian calendar. May I join in with my most sincere wishes that this will indeed be a time of refreshing and renewal for us all. By the way if you are not on the Wattsapp list that receives notifications of new blogs, please let me know, with your cell no. Wattsapp me on 0825794149.

Over the years there has been a tendency in some Christian Churches, notably in my experience, in the time of Ken Terhoven at St Paul’s, we are encouraged to have a rather solemn demeanour on Good Friday. The idea was to sort of prepare our hearts for this painful and “tragic” death of the Lord. This would be contrasted by the joy on Sunday.

This morning after worship with playing the song Majesty, which Elise shared on Wattsapp, I became quiet asking the Lord again to sweep my mind clear of all the conversations I have been having with myself. “Be still, and know, the God of Abraham and Isaac is here”. I looked up in my mind’s eye at the figure of Jesus on the cross. As I am looking there is a light behind Him and its getting brighter and brighter. “To-day does not stop at the cross – today is about the purpose of the cross and what was accomplished on it – on that day there was a light lit which grew to enlighten the whole of creation . Every groan, every shaft of pain was tinder for that light – so much was accomplished that day: forgiveness from sin, restoration, liberation from the control of Satan and sin – a new order was established and My very purpose for the new creation was put into motion – which will only be brought to conclusion when the Bride is complete. Every shaft of pain I felt has also made it possible to walk the path of pain and suffering each one of you may have in this world – but at the end of the path is the great Light”.

So I decided to interrupt my regular Luke readings and look at the description of the crucifixion in Luke 23. I was intrigued by the significance of this scripture from Luke 23:27 “A large number of people followed Him (on the way to the cross), including women who mourned and wailed for Him. Jesus turned and said to them “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, weep for yourselves and your children”. The context after that suggests that what Jesus was saying, (my paraphrase), ” Showing a lot of emotion does not mean that you have accepted and believe who I am. There is a time of judgement coming for all who resist My love”.

So this day is not a day for mourning. A strong emotional response when you realize how you are separated from Jesus by your sin and you come to repentance is totally in order, but today is really a day for celebration. This is what I read in Revelation 5:5 “Then one of the elders said to me “Do not weep! See the lion of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed……v 5 Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne.””

So lets celebrate as we remember this great, world turning moment in history, together and leave the sadness to those who are separated from God’s love.

Faith – How the Scriptures Present it.

Today I am going to digress from my usual format to share some thoughts which have been raised after my last post. What I want to say should not be regarded as a theological treatise but just some notes to help us to understand better how to read he bible, because after all, that is where we are looking to hear Jesus speak to us. Something which Ludwig said on Saturday synergised with thoughts I have been having for some time, which are relevant to what we are talking about.

Ludwig said “words on paper are one-dimensional, however we must realize that life and our relationship with God through Jesus is three-dimensional”. So what is he saying? Let us take “faith” as a word and as a concept as an example, because that is what I was asking you to chew over last week.

So if we look at the story about the ten lepers and what it says about faith, Luke 17:11-19 we can see immediately it doesn’t give a broad picture or definition of faith, does it? Rather one-dimensional. So what do we do if we want to learn what Jesus’ (Luke’s) point that is being made about faith in it? I think most of us would go into our storehouse of knowledge on faith and try and fit that over this story to understand it, instead of perhaps trying to see precisely what Luke does say about faith in it and what we can learn from that. You see this story was never intended to give us a complete picture or a comfortable definition of faith.

Lets take a step back. Luke is writing a biography of the most important figure in our faith, which he calls a “gospel” about Jesus. His whole book thus focuses on this figure Jesus. Building a picture of who He really is and what His mission was to earth. One important aspect of that story is the question; how should the reader relate to this figure Jesus? So Luke doesn’t sit down and neatly say this is Jesus and this is His character and mission and this is how the reader should relate to Him. He starts at the beginning, instead and tells us the story, well edited, of His life as it unfolded in order that we can meet the real flesh and blood three dimensional God/Person Jesus. He does this by telling a number of stories which each add to this picture of who this Man is and what He has come to do. No one story tells everything, nicely wrapped up, of what we need to know about Him. That would be impossible.

Its rather like looking at a beautiful diamond, describing the various facets and ways of reflecting and refracting the light into a myriad of dancing colours. It is three dimensional and changes in colour and appearance depending on which side you look at it from, the light and even your ability to perceive it. Trying to describe everything about Him in one story, even of several pages, would be like looking at a diamond and studying one facet in one source of light and expecting the picture to be complete.

So where does faith come into this discussion? Luke wants us to understand how we must relate to this central figure Jesus and he is showing that the correct way of responding to Jesus is by faith. But faith is also like a beautiful diamond so the whole picture cannot be fitted into one story, rather every now and then Luke shows us people reacting to Jesus “by faith”. The circumstances, sometimes similar, sometimes different put a different colour or facet onto the total three dimensional picture of what we should know and understand about faith. At least 12 times in his gospel he refers directly to someone’s faith in different stories and circumstances and in addition there are other nuances which contribute to our understanding of the concept.

So when we look at the story of the 10 lepers what can we learn from that about faith? Firstly, as I mentioned last time there was the recognition of their need. Now in this case the need is clear, but in today’s world the reason many people don’t come to Jesus is because they don’t perceive they have a need. Without realizing one has a need you won’t seek relief. Secondly Jesus responded by “cleansing” them. They had made contact with Him and received a touch from Him So we see not everyone who comes in contact with Jesus will respond in faith. There is only who one perceived something more in Jesus than a means to be healed. That one comes to Jesus the person and casts himself at His feet. He has recognized something special in the Person of Jesus. Now in the bigger context of Luke this is His Messiahship. But here the focus is on the importance of recognizing Jesus, however much you may understand about Him and coming to Him the “Person”. The focus is Jesus. Not the decision that the leper made, nor even the healing. The focus is on Jesus the Healer who also saves. That doesn’t mean the leper didn’t make a decision to go to Jesus, of course he made a decision, but the “salvation healing” was because his decision led him to Jesus that Luke wants us to see in this beautiful facet on faith. Alternatively the others did not respond correctly, despite Jesus touching them.

His decision is the response of faith that led him to Jesus and his healing depended on Jesus, not his decision. You see ultimately if our salvation depended on our ability to decide correctly then to-morrow we may find we are slipping and doubting again. So the lesson on faith here is a lesson showing us the correct response is to the Person Jesus.

Can you see he point I’m trying to make? Each story, each facet of a subject like this goes to making the whole, a three-dimensional picture rather than a one-dimensional definition.

There is obviously much more that one needs to understand about faith than this, but one step at a time builds a strong edifice, a three-dimensional picture, one that stands the tests of the storm. And when I ask myself what Jesus is saying to me after reading this story it should focus and draw from what has been said in it. Like Do I really see and understand how deep my need is for Jesus’ work in my life. Or, am I really responding in faith when I see my difficult situation and going to Jesus to get to know Him better so that my faith can grow?

Maybe next time I will say one or two things more. Happy reading and especially happy meeting the Author of these wonderful scriptures.