What Love Looks Like

Preached at Bodenham Chapel, Sunday February 17, 2019


1. BIBLE TEACHING

Followed by 2. APPLYING THE TEACHING

A journey from general to particular.
Takes us to a particular aspect of ‘What love looks like’ that we all struggle with.

It’s costly, but incredible value. It touches the sin we all labour under, yet don’t know what it is. It is very simple and very powerful, very releasing, very life changing.


Speaking about love


God’s love for us, Holy Spirit of love in us  2 Tim. 1:7 Romans 5:5 gives us capacity to love without response or condition.

•  Did God love us before we knew Him?
•  What found us, brought us to Him?

 His love, then our response.


Love is a kingdom value


Jesus’ foundational teaching about the kingdom

About 10 mentions in Matthew chapters 5,6,7 (core teaching also Luke 6:17-49)
This is how we live according to kingdom values:

The Sermon on the Mount teaches generosity of spirit

Read these as continuous piece of teaching. It’s in the same order as the Bible. What’s left out, gives clarity to what remains. And you can check the context for yourself!


Matt. 5:7  God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Matt. 5:14 You are the light of the world… let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.

Matt. 5:22 But I say, if you are even angry (remain angry, resentful) with someone, you are subject to judgment!

Matt. 5:23…If you suddenly remember that someone has something against you… leave your sacrifice… go and be reconciled to that person.

v.40 If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also.

Matt. 5:43-44    “You have heard…‘Love your neighbour’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!… If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that?

Matt. 6:1   “Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly… (talking about religiosity, ostentatious prayers…)

8 (Jesus says) Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Matt. 6:9 “This, then, is how you should pray:
“ ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
10     your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
11     Give us today our daily bread.
12     And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13     And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. ’

Matt. 6:14-15  For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

6:33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and He will give you everything you need.
Seek God’s rule, God’s order, God’s Father heart, and live by it.

What does that look like?

Matt. 7:2-3  Do not judge others, and you will not be judged…     and vice versa
…For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.

Matt. 7:3   “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own?

Matt. 7:12, 14   “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you…
That’s not easy, as Jesus said:
The gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.”

Matt. 7:21    “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter.
Enter?    And experience the kingdom of heaven, the rule of God in all His goodness, now.

Matt. 7:26, 24   …Anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand… Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock.



Luke 6:35-38 Sermon on the Plain

Reinforces how the Sermon on the Mount teaches generosity of spirit

But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.  “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”


And also…

1 Cor. 13:4-5
Love is patient and kind… not… proud…not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.

Colossians 3:12-14 NIV
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
“Be reconciled” — four times, one of which is “Be reconciled to God”

TOP


Forgive — how many times?

Matt. 18:21-22

18-21 Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”
“No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!
As many times as it takes, for as long as it takes

23-25   “Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him.  In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars.  He couldn’t pay, so his master ordered that he be sold — along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned — to pay the debt.

26-27   “But the man fell down before his master and begged him, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’ Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.

28   “But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment.

29-30 “His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it,’ he pleaded. But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and put in prison until the debt could be paid in full.

31-34    “When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him everything that had happened. Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt.

35   “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.”

2. APPLYING THE BIBLE TEACHING

Reflecting on the story

What is happening in this story? An enormously rich and powerful person decides to call in debts owed to him. One of the principal debtors, a business associate who owed millions, was unable to pay. So he is  arrested. He now  faces everything he owns being confiscated, and losing his freedom, to be put into slavery.


This debtor really doesn’t have a leg to stand on, but notwithstanding, he pleads for time – and for mercy.


Now, the presidential figure to whom this huge debt is owed does something completely unheard of – understanding the plight of the debtor and hearing the plea, he releases him – and cancels the debt!


Now this man is, amazingly, free from prison and from debt. So you’d think he would be counting his blessings. Biut no, he goes out rounds up everyone who owes HIM money and demands settlement. The first one begs for a little time to find £450 he owes, but the released one won’t grant him terms and exercises his right to have him put in prison until the debt is paid in full.


Not surprisingly, the word gets around and others in the community are pretty upset at this display of double standards. They go and tell the president, who promptly calls the first debtor in and confronts him. He points out the enormous debt that has just be written off. He demands to know why he couldn’t treat the tiddly little debts the same way? `of course, it’s not on.

So now the first debtor really does lose his freedom, and others can hear his cries of pain from inside the prison and the torturers work on him, until the original debt is settled.

What about us? This is played out in our ordinary lives day by day. Every time we do less for others, than God has done for us, we sin. Sin is bad. More to the point it gives the enemy of our souls, a legal right to catch us, so we lose our freedom and experience mental torture – demonic oppression, nagging thoughts, accusations, hopelessness and everything that goes with it.

TOP


Link to Introduction ‘What Love Looks Like’

Living in God’s kingdom is a huge benefit but also an undertaking to live by the values of the kingdom – God’s values.

What is God like, in a word?

Top of the list would be that He is  merciful, through and through.

What are we like? We know the enormity of what God has done for us through Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself — the ultimate generosity of spirit . So why we do less for others, than God does for us?

Choosing to be merciful, choosing to forgive

Freewill decision

  1. To  judge (they haven’t said sorry, they don’t deserve to be let off)
  2. To extend grace.

 
Grace — cancelling debt from hurt or hurts, offends our sense of justice.

Our justice isn’t as big as God’s justice.

In choosing to forgive someone (and speak it out) we choose not to exercise OUR judgment, but to TRUST GOD for His.

What happens?  Release for us!

If forgiving others is commanded… not forgiving (resentment) is not just a feeling. It is a sin.

Forgiving (choosing grace) breaks the hold of this sin and disarms the enemy.

In a way, this is the one selfish thing we are commanded to do. Perhaps it would be if we simply did it for ourselves, but the benefits are ours.

We are the ones who get released! We are the ones who step into a new freedom. No one is saying it is easy, but is really that uncomplicated.


Response – doing it

How? Speak it out and make the choice, against all your emotional push-back, to do what God has done for you. And leave the justice up to Him. His judgment really counts, for eternity — and maybe He will work in the other person to bring new life…

TOP
END
= = = = = = =    = = = = = = =

For ref: 2 Timothy 1:7 NLT, Romans 5:5
For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.
And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because He has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with His love.

ReMAP: Jesus said, “I AM the true Vine – John 15:1 (1)

(1 of 3)

Covenant connection: Yahweh Shalom, the Lord my peace

John 15:1-17 NLT

 1-3 “I am the true grapevine, and My Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and He prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you.

4 “Remain in Me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in Me.

5 “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in Me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from Me you can do nothing.

6 “Anyone who does not remain in Me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned.

7-8 “But if you remain in Me and My words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! When you produce much fruit, you are My true disciples. This brings great glory to My Father.

9-10 “I have loved you even as the Father has loved Me. Remain in My love. When you obey My commandments, you remain in My love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in His love.

11 “I have told you these things so that you will be filled with My joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!

12-13 “This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

14-16 “You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are My friends, since I have told you everything the Father told Me. You didn’t choose Me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using My name.

17 “This is My command: Love each other.”

Read and re-read

The vine is a familiar symbol of Israel in the OT, producing its fruit through its branches. The branches as part of the vine, represent the people of God as part of the covenant.

For further study, compare Psalm 80:8-16; Isaiah 5:1-7; Jeremiah 2:21, 12:10-11; Ezekiel 15:1-5; Hosea 10:1-2

However, the illustration is often used to show what is lacking and unfruitful. By contrast, Jesus is “the True Vine” whose branches, as long as they stay connected to Him, are fruitful in producing and multiplying for Him. Branches which break off or fall off the vine can only wither, and are useless. They are gathered to be burnt.

The NT picture of the connected branch which produces good fruit, is the person of godly character, see Galatians 5:22-23; Eph. 5:9; Phil. 1:11, whose godly life is also a good influence on others,  Matthew 3:8; 7:16-20.

Jesus, the true Vine, is the realisation of the name of the altar to the Lord that Gideon built, after he had an encounter with the Lord – a theophany – which he called the angel of the Lord, and feared for his life. No one could see God and live, Judges 6:11-24. But the Lord told him to receive shalom instead of fear. Shalom is translated a number of ways – peace, wholeness, completeness and we might add, connectedness. Jesus the True Vine who supplies the wellbeing of everyone who is connected in with Him – who abides in Him – is not only the Lord who has secured our peace, but the Lord who is our peace, and in whom we have peace, wholeness, completeness – and belonging.

• The useless branches that are burnt are a clear reference eternal damnation and hell fire. But why are such branches gathered and burnt? Is it because of their lack of good fruit, or good deeds, as conventional religion would have it? Why are they non-producers, and why are they thrown away, vv. 5-6?

“I AM the True Vine” (2)

Re-read again – John 15:1-17 NLT

1-3 “I am the true grapevine, and My Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and He prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you.

4 “Remain in Me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in Me.

5 “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in Me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from Me you can do nothing.

6 “Anyone who does not remain in Me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned.

7-8 “But if you remain in Me and My words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! When you produce much fruit, you are My true disciples. This brings great glory to My Father.

9-10 “I have loved you even as the Father has loved Me. Remain in My love. When you obey My commandments, you remain in My love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in His love.

11 “I have told you these things so that you will be filled with My joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!

12-13 “This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

14-16 “You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are My friends, since I have told you everything the Father told Me. You didn’t choose Me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using My name.

17 “This is My command: Love each other.”

Meditate

The key word for this passage is “remain” and the instances of “remain” and “do not remain” and “apart from Me” (opposite of remain) add up to double figures, with three mentions in one verse. That is a lot of emphasis.

• What is the key teaching of this passage, in terms of who Jesus is, and what we do with who Jesus is?

The word “meno” in Greek has the primary meaning of “remaining” in a given place, state or expectation. It is often translated by the stronger word “abide”, also “dwell”, “continue” and “endure”. It carries a subtle flavour of holding a steadfast attitude of unchanged mental and spiritual attitude against adversity.

Jesus knows the tests the disciples will face and used this discourse about being a remainer in Him, to prepare them — and us.

Jesus makes a distinction between those who call Him “Lord, Lord” without much action to support the words, Luke 6:46-48, and those who are true disciples. There are two tests: the test of “if you remain in Me and My words remain in you” and the test of being fruitful, including seeing answered prayer.

Another key word with a lot of occurrences, vv.10-17, is “command” and “commandment”. In our age of informality and self-determination, how does this sit with us? What are stated benefits of being willingly under command?

“I AM the True Vine” (3)

Re-read again – John 15:1-17 NLT

1-3 “I am the true grapevine, and My Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and He prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you.

4 “Remain in Me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in Me.

5 “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in Me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from Me you can do nothing.

6 “Anyone who does not remain in Me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned.

7-8 “But if you remain in Me and My words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! When you produce much fruit, you are My true disciples. This brings great glory to My Father.

9-10 “I have loved you even as the Father has loved Me. Remain in My love. When you obey My commandments, you remain in My love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in His love.

11 “I have told you these things so that you will be filled with My joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!

12-13 “This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

14-16 “You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are My friends, since I have told you everything the Father told Me. You didn’t choose Me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using My name.

17 “This is My command: Love each other.”

Apply

If we believers don’t make Jesus known and grow disciples of His, who will?

Those for whom Jesus and His words are consciously central and part of them, are also going to be those who have the sense of what He would pray in a situation i.e. praying in Jesus’ name. There will be the agreement in prayer, and agreement between the earthly realm and the heavenly realm, Matthew 18:18-19,which brings what we call ‘answered prayer’.

Rather than praying — or acting — from personal desire or ambition or preference, or as a reaction to a problem, the “remaining in Jesus” disciple will look for the kingdom dimension. What is the Lord doing here? Being fruitful is about being carriers of this question, and that is a dimension of remaining or abiding or being steadfast, in the Lord.

As believers rooted in Jesus and committed to His Way, we face constant attacks. Some are evident, but the enemy is subtle and works in less overt ways, like our thought life (we don’t always ask where a thought comes from) or the criticism that comes from family and friends who we think should be on side for us (and we forget to consider what is happening spiritually to stir them up). There are times when we face irrational hatred, and we want to throw in the towel because it is so irrational, or react out of character. Jesus says, “Remain in Me…”

• What happens to our joy, and our perception of God’s love for us, when we experience spiritual attacks coming through unspiritual people? What is the important promise of following the teaching in this passage (vv.9-11)?

Life and its setbacks will try to pull us apart from Jesus. The lie that assaults us is a version of “He didn’t come through for me”. Discouragement is one of the tried and tested strategies of the devil, working in our thoughts, and it is effective until we wake up to what is happening and say, ”No!”. We make a choice, not to be pulled off course and off a position of faith. We make a choice to remain in Jesus and be reliant on Him. We remain.

Every gardener knows the importance of pruning. This is even more vital with vines, which left to themselves will produce a lot of foliage rather than fruit; the leaves must be cut back to encourage the formation of grapes and to let the light and air in. Our Father allows setbacks which are to us like the pain of pruning, but He uses them to let light in – we ask questions and find truth! – and grow us as we find new directions.

• Is it assured that we, as believers, and as those appointed, will be fruitful for the Lord, v.16? Or is it a choice? Or is it a choice which embraces setbacks as reinforcing choice?

Pray

Lord God, I come to You as the Lord of my connectedness, my completeness, my peace — the Lord who says, “You do not need to fear”. I find remaining in my way of living, a lot easier than remaining in You. Show me what a “remaining in You” lifestyle looks like for me. Show me what is getting in the way of it. Show me what must change. Help me to recognise my independence, call it the sin that it is, and put it where it belongs, under Your command. In Christ Jesus I pray, Amen.

Jesus said, “I AM the first and the Last” – Revelation 1:9-18

First and Last (1 of 3)

Jesus said: “I AM the Living One, First and Last” – Revelation 1:18 (Part 1)

Covenant connection: Yahweh Nissi – The Lord my banner, my victory,
Exodus 17:15

Revelation 1:9-19 NLT

9 I [John] was exiled to the island of Patmos for preaching the word of God and for my testimony about Jesus.

10-11 It was the Lord’s Day, and I was worshipping in the Spirit. Suddenly, I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet blast. It said, “Write in a book everything you see, and send it to the seven churches in the cities of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.”

12 When I turned to see who was speaking to me, I saw seven gold lampstands.

13-15 And standing in the middle of the lampstands was someone like the Son of Man. He was wearing a long robe with a gold sash across his chest. His head and his hair were white like wool, as white as snow. And His eyes were like flames of fire. His feet were like polished bronze refined in a furnace, and His voice thundered like mighty ocean waves.

16 He held seven stars in His right hand, and a sharp two-edged sword came from His mouth. And His face was like the sun in all its brilliance.

17 When I saw him, I fell at His feet as if I were dead. But He laid His right hand on me and said, “Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last.

18 “I am the living one. I died, but look – I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave.

19 “Write down what you have seen — both the things that are now happening and the things that will happen.”

Read, and re-read

Patmos was a small rocky island 40 miles south-west of Ephesus with a Roman fortress and a penal colony where John had been exiled. The 3rd-4th century church historian Eusebius reported that he was eventually pardoned and released.

The Lord’s Day was the day of the week when Jesus rose from the dead. The earliest Christians worshipped on the last day of the week following the Jewish custom, but by this time they had been excluded from the synagogues and wanted to meet and take collections on the Lord’s Day.

John had been excluded from more than the synagogues – he had been excluded from normal life and exiled to a rather small volcanic island when, in a time of worship, the Lord appeared to Him, and spoke of what he must share with the churches on the mainland and things that were to come. This is the book of the Bible called the revelation of John which starts with the letters to the seven churches. But these are not John’s opinions – far from it. He had an encounter with the Lord Himself and it seems a greater and more profound encounter than even the Transfiguration experience on the mountain top with Jesus.

This final “I AM” saying of Jesus, that he is First and Last, before all things and at the finality of all things, is linked to a very early conflict that is a type of every attack on believers and the church. This is the battle against the Amalekites, ancient and evil enemy of the nation of Israel, where Moses took a position of praise at the top of the hill with the battle against the Amalekites going on below. You know the story… as long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites prevailed, but when he grew tired, the Amalekites gained ground. The commemoration of that place and event was called Yahweh Nissi, the Lord my Banner, or putting it more plainly, the Lord my Victory.

It’s all about how we pray, how we praise, how we trust God – not our defeat or victory, but His.

John was an exile rather than a prisoner, on the small, rocky Roman fortress island of Patmos, about 40 miles south-west of Ephesus – not too far to be visited, and for letters to be passed around on the circular route from and to Ephesus.

He was worshipping “in the Spirit”, meaning he was focusing on God’s majesty and fully submitted, when he became aware of an intensity of the presence of the Holy Spirit in which he saw the vision. It signals to the reader that this was not a dream, not his imagination, not even putting words to an impression, but a prophetic vision of the Holy Spirit.

The “loud voice, like a trumpet blast” draws attention to a solemn announcement from the Lord. The trumpet blast , sometimes with the loud voice, are seen on other ‘announcement’ occasions. See Isaiah 27:13; Joel 2:1; Matthew 24:30-31; 1 Cor. 15:52; 1 Thess 4:16; Hebrews 12:18-19.

As the vision develops, we see it is centred on Christ Himself and the postal directions become the seven lights, with Jesus standing in the middle of them. Seven particular congregations of His church. Whose church? The symbolism is clear – the churches are about showing Jesus as the Light of the World and are about Him, central to everything. He is holding those churches like seven shining stars in His hand, and He is speaking to them with the sharpness and penetration of a long Thracian sword.

His appearance, as John says, was as the Son of Man, a description Jesus often used of Himself. The disciples knew Him as a human being like them, who got hungry, cold, tired and on occasions showed his frustration and anger at people’s unbelief and lack of spiritual awareness. The Son of Man is also a reference to Daniel’s vision – see Dan. 7.13; Matt. 26:64; John 1:51. The long robe with the golden sash combines a king’s authority with a high priest’s purity, Isaiah 22:21; Exodus 28:4; 29:5-9.

John, who was better prepared than most for such a vision, was nonetheless overwhelmed and prostrate until Jesus held Him by His right hand and said: “Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One…” and told John to write down everything that he saw.

continued

= = = = = = =

Jesus said: “I AM the Living One, First and Last” – Revelation 1:18 (Part 2)

Read, and re-read again – Revelation 1:9-19 NLT

9 I [John] was exiled to the island of Patmos for preaching the word of God and for my testimony about Jesus.

10-11 It was the Lord’s Day, and I was worshipping in the Spirit. Suddenly, I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet blast. It said, “Write in a book everything you see, and send it to the seven churches in the cities of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.”

12 When I turned to see who was speaking to me, I saw seven gold lampstands.

13-15 And standing in the middle of the lampstands was someone like the Son of Man. He was wearing a long robe with a gold sash across his chest. His head and his hair were white like wool, as white as snow. And His eyes were like flames of fire. His feet were like polished bronze refined in a furnace, and His voice thundered like mighty ocean waves.

16 He held seven stars in His right hand, and a sharp two-edged sword came from His mouth. And His face was like the sun in all its brilliance.

17 When I saw him, I fell at His feet as if I were dead. But He laid His right hand on me and said, “Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last.

18 “I am the living one. I died, but look – I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave.

19 “Write down what you have seen — both the things that are now happening and the things that will happen.”

Meditate

Consider the sheer majesty of the Lord Jesus, Great High Priest, King of kings and Lord of lords, having the ‘white-haired’ perfect wisdom of the Ancient of Days with the ‘blazing eyes’ of penetrating insight. But His first words to John are tender and reassuring – “Don’t be afraid”. He goes on to say, in effect, “You know Me…”.

All authority and power is His, symbolised by the crushing feet of polished, hardened bronze, yet He appears to His trusted friend, John, revealing things of the moment (where the churches need to repent and re-set), the workings of the heavenly realm and their connection with us (receiving the prayers of the saints like incense) and the things that are associated with the end-times.

There is much in Scripture which helps us to be reminded of Jesus’ compassion, the way He went beyond the conventional boundaries and touched those ‘outside the faith’, His making a way to the Father for us – not to mention His love for us demonstrated in blood and torment, at the hands of the religious leaders and on the Cross. Without taking anything away from that perspective, we need to be reminded of His might, majesty, dominion and power. There is a particular dimension of this that comes from being outside time as we know it. Jesus is First – before anything else in the created universe. He is also the Last – presiding over the completion of all things. So we bring the situation or problem which to us is so big, intractable, and enduring, to a friend who is exercising dominion on a scale, space and chronology that is unimaginable to us. When we ask Him to be praying with us in our intercession for somebody or something, this is who we are asking. This is who is with us.

We may not have John’s experience, or the disciples on the mountain top, or Paul’s blinding light of glory and audible voice, but Jesus comes close to us as we come close to Him – Immanuel, God with us but also Yahweh Nissi, the Lord our victory, the Ancient of Days.

The life we live, we live in Him. Dare we become casual about His lordship of our lives? And our church – should we even use that phrase? The church of Jesus Christ cannot be man’s church, but as the messages to the churches given to John later show us, what started in the middle of God’s will and holy to Him can so easily swerve into the muddy verges.

continued

Jesus said: I AM the Living One, First and Last – Revelation 1:18 (Part 3)

Read, and re-read again – Revelation 1:9-19 NLT

9 I [John] was exiled to the island of Patmos for preaching the word of God and for my testimony about Jesus.

10-11 It was the Lord’s Day, and I was worshipping in the Spirit. Suddenly, I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet blast. It said, “Write in a book everything you see, and send it to the seven churches in the cities of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.”

12 When I turned to see who was speaking to me, I saw seven gold lampstands.

13-15 And standing in the middle of the lampstands was someone like the Son of Man. He was wearing a long robe with a gold sash across his chest. His head and his hair were white like wool, as white as snow. And His eyes were like flames of fire. His feet were like polished bronze refined in a furnace, and His voice thundered like mighty ocean waves.

16 He held seven stars in His right hand, and a sharp two-edged sword came from His mouth. And His face was like the sun in all its brilliance.

17 When I saw him, I fell at His feet as if I were dead. But He laid His right hand on me and said, “Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last.

18 “I am the living one. I died, but look – I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave.

19 “Write down what you have seen — both the things that are now happening and the things that will happen.”

Apply

John was “in the Spirit” and worshipping. And Jesus appeared and talked to Him. Do we want a word from the Lord? Do we need a word from the Lord? Would He trust us with a revelation to share with those around us? Not everyone would define being “in the Spirit” in exactly the same way, but we know what it is and what it isn’t. Patmos in the first century had few attractions and even fewer distractions. We can carve out our distraction-free time and space.

John was also in exile. Think about that – disconnected, not part of a fellowship, his apostolic call and opportunities closed down. And he was of an age now, not so agile, not so resilient physically. But spiritually? At the top of his game, and keeping in training. We go through bereavement experiences in life, the literal ones and other situations of loss that affect us in the same way. And sometimes we find ourselves ‘exiled’ for whatever reason, or for no reason. John wasn’t sitting on a rock saying ‘poor old me’ or wondering what the point of it was, to end in failure. He was honouring Jesus as Lord and praising Him for who He is. Surely any definition of being “in the Spirit” would point to this? And as he loved and worshipped and gave glory to His Lord, His Lord appeared and told him to take notes which have impacted many more than two billion people in this age alone. We may not be recollection-perfect on all of Revelation, but the appearance of Jesus and the letters to the churches are part of the conversation of every believer.

We can go further than the giant of faith and spirituality we know as the apostle John. He saw Jesus’ agony and witnessed his death. He saw Jesus after the Resurrection. Now one of the first things Jesus makes clear to him, in this private tutorial on a volcanic island, is that He has conquered death. “I AM the living One… I hold the keys of death and the grave.” John was already way over the normal life expectancy of that time, and he was not to see many more changes of season before he would go to be with the Lord. That didn’t change. But Jesus is lifegiving, in a way that reverses the decay of all things that we are used to. Everything in Christian life and church life decays, without Jesus (and too much carries on, slowly running down, without us letting Jesus have much to do with it). As the evangelist Laurence Singlehurst puts it, “Everything swerves to rot”. However, we now know there is an antidote to this inevitability of decline and calcification of every idea, system, plan and programme that we are trying to maintain. When we allow Jesus, the Living One, to be Lord He holds the keys to what dies to be reborn, or what is revived, perhaps to be re-ordered in His way, by His lifegiving presence. The best we can do is to manage decline. The ‘worst’ that Jesus can do, on our most casual and faith-light prayer, is to bring His life and His order to bear again. When He repeats the First and Last saying, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, He also declares “I AM making everything new”! Understanding this intention is a big step to being able to join Him in it.

Experiences intended to break us, can make us – so says John’s encounter with the Lord. He is always revealing and speaking and going before us – and for us to be in an attitude – or put ourselves in an attitude – of high trust and low distraction, makes room for Him to be heard and experienced in new life and new purpose.

Pray

Lord, we repent of our constant tendency to see You in terms of our size, situation and human limitations, rather than exercising faith to see You in the majesty of Your appearance to John. Surely You were before all that has been created, and will rule over the end of all things. Meanwhile, we humble ourselves, and our thoughts and opinions and aspirations, and ask You once again to show Yourself as Lord, in and around our lives, families, fellowship and mission – the great Lord of victory, Yahweh Nissi, seated in heavenly places with all things under Your feet. Amen.

ReMAP – The “I AM” statements of Jesus (‘Reading the Red’ series, part 1)

See also post added: “I AM the True Vine”

Exodus 3:13 – The origin of “I AM” as God speaks to Moses

The covenant connection: This is a fundamental promise, and the fundamental name and identity of God with many if not all of the characteristics of a covenant. In continuing to look at Jesus’ “I AM” statements, we will also explore how Jesus demonstrated the different aspects of who God is, which had been put into words in the form of covenant names (recently explored in School of Ministry)

Exodus 3:12-15 NLT

God answered, “I will be with you. And this is your sign that I am the one who has sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God at this very mountain.”

But Moses protested, “If I go to the people of Israel and tell them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ they will ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what should I tell them?”

God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: Yahweh, the God of your ancestors – the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob – has sent me to you. This is My eternal name, My name to remember for all generations.”

God replied to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. Say this to the people of Israel: I AM has sent me to you.”

Read, and re-read

This is Moses’ first encounter with God at Sinai, “The mountain of God” traditionally the 7,400ft Jebel Musa. Horeb, the other name used, meaning ‘desolation’, may be the same place or Ras es-Safsaf next to it. It is a picture of an empty, uninviting wilderness place where, surprisingly, “an angel of the Lord”, a phrase used interchangeably with “God” and “the LORD” in vv.4-5, appeared in a blazing fire and called to Moses and warns him to keep his distance, shoes off to stand on holy ground, Exodus 3:1-5.

The Lord identifies Himself, but by description rather than name: “I am… the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Moses now hears his call to go, sent by God, to bring God’s people out of Egypt and Pharaoh’s oppression — but He needs more than a description. Name, in Hebrew culture, was identity (as in Wales and ‘Jones the Bread’). Hence Moses’ persistence, v.13, “They will ask me, ‘What is [Your] name? ‘Then what should I tell them?” He is asking not just ‘who’, but ‘what’ can I say about the ‘who’? As we would say colloquially, “This is where He is coming from”.

Now God reveals His name – He has not done this in any previous encounter – to be the consonants YHWH. Scholars have added vowels to make the word pronounceable as Yahweh (or historically Jehovah) and often indicated in Bible texts as LORD in capitals. So what does Yahweh mean? It is related to the Hebrew word for “to be”, hence “I AM WHO I AM” or more simply, “I AM”.

Meditate

“I AM” – a personal statement of God’s eternity, pre-existing time and enduring beyond time, not dependent on anyone or anything. “I AM” exists, independent and sovereign. Dwell on who God is — then consider what Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I am”, John 8:58. More on this verse tomorrow.

Apply

This is one occasion not to step into someone else’s shoes — we are standing on holy ground here, a desolate place of the most sparse vegetation where, inexplicably, a fire is burning through a bush without consuming it. Out of this, God Himself speaks… and reveals who He is. And begins to unfold a call…

It could be you.

God is One who speaks, and who reveals Himself. Usually in quieter, less dramatic ways — pilgrimage to a remote mountain not always needed. But separation and quiet are two ways we hear the voice of I AM.

As followers of Jesus, who are in Jesus, with Jesus in us, we have a call to what the Father shows us He is doing, John 5:19-20, always to be light in the darkness but to be deployed to encourage others as God reveals them to us. That requires us to step out of our activity, take our shoes off – and listen.

Pray

“Father, I thank you for Jesus, who has given me a way to know You, to approach You and to treasure the hearing of your voice. Give me a growing resolve, in this New Year, to step out of my activity, ‘take my shoes off’ and listen for what You may reveal and instruct me in. May I be more truly part of Your purpose in a world that hardly knows You. In and through Jesus I pray. Amen.”

John 8:58 – “Before Abraham was, I AM”

Covenant connection: Genesis 1:1, John 1:1-3. “In the beginning… the Word already existed…was with God… was God… [and] gave life to everything that was created…”

John 8:52-59 NLT

“…You say, ‘Anyone who obeys My teaching will never die!’ Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think You are?”

Jesus answered, “If I want glory for Myself, it doesn’t count. But it is My Father who will glorify Me. You say, ‘He is our God,’ but you don’t even know Him. I know Him. If I said otherwise, I would be as great a liar as you! But I do know Him and obey Him. Your father Abraham rejoiced as he looked forward to My coming. He saw it and was glad.”

The people said, “You aren’t even fifty years old. How can you say You have seen Abraham?”

Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was even born, I AM!”

At that point they picked up stones to throw at Him. But Jesus was hidden from them and left the Temple.

Read, and re-read

This exchange occurred in Jerusalem in the Temple courts, John 8:20, during the Festival of Shelters and forms part of a conflicted debate, continuing from John 7:52, about who Jesus was and particularly about recognising the Messiah.

The scene is the area around the Temple treasury. Jesus’ opponents are getting more and more angry. They have heard Him use this phrase “I AM” again and again. Whatever language they were speaking, the connotations were becoming more and more obvious. Now he uses this phrase reserved for God, and Jews would routinely read YHWH as ‘Adonai’ out of religious reluctance to actually pronounce the name of God. Jesus was just coming out with it, to their shock and horror, and then claimed that He preceded the Father of the Nation, Abraham. This to the religious Jewish mind was nothing less than blasphemy. Could this be the Messiah, supported by all the signs that had been talked about? They didn’t even reach for the question, but reached for stones – and Jesus disappeared because it was not yet His time to be captured.

Meditate

The Jews seemed to work so hard to not even mention the name of God, yet Jesus prayed in familiar terms to ‘Abba’ and modelled to those around Him a very purposeful intimacy, keeping the Father’s priorities fresh.

• What is the difference of mind-set here and what can we learn from it?

• The Jews were asking, “Who do you think You are?”. What would have been a better question?

“Before Abraham was even born, I AM” was a hard saying for Jesus’ hearers – or was it? If Messiah was of God and sent by God, it follows that Messiah’s origins were before creation itself. Consider how we know that Jesus was co-creator with God, at the beginning of all things, John 1:1-3, Colossians 1:15-16, and how that makes a difference for us.

Apply

Do we lose sight of Jesus and what He is doing, as we find ourselves ‘majoring on the minors’ again? Unlike the Jews of His time, we know who He is. But do we allow Him to be who we know He is? What needs to change?

Pray

Ask the Lord in your own words to show you where He needs to be allowed to be who He is. Ask Him to show you how He is Lord of time and of eternity – difficult for us to grasp but essential if we are to grasp the extent of His Lordship.

John 6:35 – Jesus says “I am the Bread of Life” (1)

Covenant connection: Genesis 22:14, Yahweh Yireh — the LORD will provide

(Part 1 of 3)

John 6:25-36 NLT

25-29 They found Him on the other side of the lake and asked, “Rabbi, when did You get here?”

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, you want to be with Me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food.

“Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you. For God the Father has given Me the seal of his approval.”

They replied, “We want to perform God’s works, too. What should we do?”

Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the One He has sent.”

30-36 They answered, “Show us a miraculous sign if you want us to believe in You. What can you do? After all, our ancestors ate manna while they journeyed through the wilderness! The Scriptures say, ‘Moses gave them bread from heaven to eat.'”

Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, Moses didn’t give you bread from heaven. My Father did. And now He offers you the true bread from heaven. The true bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

“Sir,” they said, “give us that bread every day.”

Jesus replied, “I am the Bread of Life. Whoever comes to Me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in Me will never be thirsty.

“But you haven’t believed in Me even though you have seen Me.”

Read, and re-read

This episode occurred immediately after the miraculous Feeding of the Five Thousand, after which Jesus and the disciples took a boat across the Sea of Galilee and landed near Capernaum. Some of the crowd, guessing where Jesus would be found, found their way there around the shoreline – and in a cynical quirk of expectation, asked Him for a greater sign. There was a popular expectation that the Messiah would repeat the sending of manna. Jesus has fed a crowd once, multiplying ordinary bread; Moses fed a nation for 40 years with ‘bread from heaven’. Hence, “What can you do?” They were also wrongly concerned about “doing” as a means to experiencing God’s favour — or power: “What must we do?”

“I AM” the Bread of Life (2)

Re-read: John 6:25-36 NLT

25-29 They found Him on the other side of the lake and asked, “Rabbi, when did You get here?”

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, you want to be with Me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food.

“Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you. For God the Father has given Me the seal of his approval.”

They replied, “We want to perform God’s works, too. What should we do?”

Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the One He has sent.”

30-36 They answered, “Show us a miraculous sign if you want us to believe in You. What can you do? After all, our ancestors ate manna while they journeyed through the wilderness! The Scriptures say, ‘Moses gave them bread from heaven to eat.'”

Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, Moses didn’t give you bread from heaven. My Father did. And now He offers you the true bread from heaven. The true bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

“Sir,” they said, “give us that bread every day.”

Jesus replied, “I am the Bread of Life. Whoever comes to Me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in Me will never be thirsty.

“But you haven’t believed in Me even though you have seen Me.”

Meditate

It’s simple but also profound. Believing and receiving is not an intellectual stretch ~not complicated) but it is a faith stretch. In each of these I AM sayings, Jesus was making a statement that looked He like a son of Man, but He was also God incarnate, the Messiah. Each one represented a facet, a particular covenant name, of God. What was the need here? Jesus was saying that He was the living provision, not just bread but the Living Bread because Yahweh Jireh – the God who provides – had come to them. This is looks back to the story in Genesis 22 of Abraham’s desperate need of a sacrificial offering with His precious son Isaac the only candidate, and God’s miraculous provision, Genesis 22:14 – “Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means “the LORD will provide”). The ultimate provision was, of course, Jesus who was God’s precious and only Son and who became the sacrifice that provides salvation and new life for us all.

Truthfully, we would rather be given something to do, to work at and achieve. Coming to Jesus and simply receiving from Him the Bread of Life is not complicated; in a strange way, this makes it unfamiliar (‘no pain, no gain!’) and therefore, in our minds, difficult to achieve.

What was the crowd calling out about Moses and the manna (from the Scriptures?) and why did they think Jesus should “do” as Moses did? Where did their expectation go astray between the ‘being’ and the ‘doing’ of Jesus?

• For further study, read Psalm 78:23–24, Exodus 16:4, 15; Nehemiah 9:15; Psalm 105:40.

“I AM the Bread of Life (3)

Re-read again: John 6:25-36 NLT

25-29 They found Him on the other side of the lake and asked, “Rabbi, when did You get here?”

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, you want to be with Me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food.

“Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you. For God the Father has given Me the seal of his approval.”

They replied, “We want to perform God’s works, too. What should we do?”

Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the One He has sent.”

30-36 They answered, “Show us a miraculous sign if you want us to believe in You. What can you do? After all, our ancestors ate manna while they journeyed through the wilderness! The Scriptures say, ‘Moses gave them bread from heaven to eat.'”

Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, Moses didn’t give you bread from heaven. My Father did. And now He offers you the true bread from heaven. The true bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

“Sir,” they said, “give us that bread every day.”

Jesus replied, “I am the Bread of Life. Whoever comes to Me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in Me will never be thirsty.

“But you haven’t believed in Me even though you have seen Me.”

Apply

When we get caught up in what we think we must do, in all sorts of ‘good’ observances and disciplines, here is a reminder of the one ‘work’ that Is demanded of us: believing in the One God has sent. He is the Bread of Life, and rather than (human nature) finding more things to do, we are to reduce the list to coming to Jesus and believing in Jesus. The way we come to know God is also the way we come to ‘have’ God more, or let Him have us. It’s the difference between making the front garden perfect, and just opening the door.

There’s another lesson here to dwell on. It’s about whether we allow God to speak His way through His word, or create a man-centred version and man-centred beliefs. God may do the same again but looking different this time, if we allow Him!

Pray

“Jesus, give me this bread — give me more of You — this day and every day. And help me not to try to satisfy my need of You in ways I have constructed, but to stick with Your way, truth and life. Amen.”

John 8:12 – Jesus said: “I am the Light of the World, the Light that leads to life” (1)

(1 of 2)

Covenant connection: Yahweh Shammah – the Lord who is there, overflowing and filling everything, as light does.  Ezekiel 48:35.

Read – John 8:12-19 NLT

12 Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow Me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”

13 The Pharisees replied, “You are making those claims about yourself! Such testimony is not valid.”

14-16 Jesus told them, “These claims are valid even though I make them about Myself. For I know where I came from and where I am going, but you don’t know this about Me. You judge Me by human standards, but I do not judge anyone. And if I did, My judgment would be correct in every respect because I am not alone. The Father who sent Me is with Me.

17-18 “Your own law says that if two people agree about something, their witness is accepted as fact. I am one witness, and My Father who sent Me is the other.”

19 “Where is your father?” they asked.

Jesus answered, “Since you don’t know who I am, you don’t know who My Father is. If you knew Me, you would also know My Father.”

Read, and re-read

The City of Jerusalem was lit up in a more extravagant way during its festivals and the lighting ceremony was an important part of celebrating Tabernacles, or Shelters, a bit like our switching on of Christmas lights in town centres. In the inner courts of the temple were 16 gold bowls of oil, lit as lamps. Jesus stood under these lights, in the Temple, and said that He was now the source of the light, not just in the sense of salvation for Israel, but salvation for the world, v.12.

Meditate

in John 5:19-30 Jesus sets out His position clearly as doing the will of the Father who sent Him, not some scheme of His own. This argument continues and becomes more heated as Jesus teaches at the Festival of Shelters through chapter 7 and from 8:12. The story of the uncaring judgment of the woman caught in adultery at the beginning of chapter 8 is a graphic illustration of the need for God’s light to penetrate the darkness of religious attitudes. (continued)

“I AM the Light of the World ” (3)

Re-read – John 8:12-19 NLT

12 Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow Me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”

13 The Pharisees replied, “You are making those claims about yourself! Such testimony is not valid.”

14-16 Jesus told them, “These claims are valid even though I make them about Myself. For I know where I came from and where I am going, but you don’t know this about Me. You judge Me by human standards, but I do not judge anyone. And if I did, My judgment would be correct in every respect because I am not alone. The Father who sent Me is with Me.

17-18 “Your own law says that if two people agree about something, their witness is accepted as fact. I am one witness, and My Father who sent Me is the other.”

19 “Where is your father?” they asked.

Jesus answered, “Since you don’t know who I am, you don’t know who My Father is. If you knew Me, you would also know My Father.”

Meditate further

What does “Light of the world” and the “light that leads to life” mean? Also in John 1:4, “His life brought light to everyone”? “Light” and “life” are closely associated.

The coming of the “light” of God was long promised, which was to be light for Gentiles also. Read these Scriptures and see how the picture builds: Exodus 25:37; Leviticus 24:2; Ps. 27:1; Isa. 9:2; 42:6; 49:6; John 9:5; Acts 13:47; 26:18, 23; Eph. 5:8–14; 1 John 1:5–7

The ‘light’ that Jesus represents has a number of closely related facets:

Apply

Jesus is urging His first hearers to trust the light, and so become ‘children of light’, John 12:35-36.

Pray…

…in your own words, seeking God’s grace for further and deeper revelation of the light that brings ‘life’ and which impacts others by reflecting God’s light and life to them, as we learn to walk as “children of the light”.

John 10:7,9 — Jesus said: “I AM the gate for the sheep”

(1 of 3)

Covenant connection: Yahweh Tsidkenu, The Lord our Righteousness 

John 10:1-10 NLT

1 “I tell you the truth, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber!

2 “But the one who enters through the gate is the Shepherd of the sheep.

3-4 “The gatekeeper opens the gate for Him, and the sheep recognise His voice and come to Him. He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out. After He has gathered His own flock, He walks ahead of them, and they follow Him because they know His voice.

5 “They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice.”

6-7 Those who heard Jesus use this illustration didn’t understand what He meant, so He explained it to them: “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep.

“All who came before Me were thieves and robbers. But the true sheep did not listen to them.

9 “Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through Me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures.

10 “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.

Read, and re-read

It is also teaching that explains a healing miracle, John 9. Jesus often took opportunity to teach how the kingdom of God was working, in the broader significance of signs and wonders that people witnessed.

The previous chapter, John 9, details the healing of a man blind from birth, the memorable story of Jesus rubbing spit and mud into his blind eyes and telling him to wash out the blindness in the Pool of Siloam. The Pharisees who observed this said the healing was wrong and offered three contradictory reasons: Jesus, they said, was a sinner for doing His ‘work’ on the Sabbath; the man was obviously a sinner because he was born blind; or he was pretending, not blind, and had not received his sight at all, John 10:14-21.

What follows (chapter 10) is about spiritually blind, false shepherds resenting someone who had been given sight – and failing to discern the true shepherd and His call – using a picture of everyday Palestinian sheep husbandry practice. It is full of allusions to things familiar to Jesus’ hearers, but  unfamiliar to us, even in a sheep farming area.

We’ll take a closer look at the characters, especially the Gate character, in the next post.

“I AM the gate for the sheep” (2)

Re-read again – John 10:1-10 NLT

1 “I tell you the truth, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber!

2 “But the one who enters through the gate is the Shepherd of the sheep.

3-4 “The gatekeeper opens the gate for Him, and the sheep recognise His voice and come to Him. He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out. After He has gathered His own flock, He walks ahead of them, and they follow Him because they know His voice.

5 “They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice.”

6-7 Those who heard Jesus use this illustration didn’t understand what He meant, so He explained it to them: “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep.

“All who came before Me were thieves and robbers. But the true sheep did not listen to them.

9 “Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through Me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures.

10 “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.

More on the context

The characters in the illustration are, in order of appearance:

  • The thief, v.1 and v.10
  • The Shepherd of the sheep, v.2
  • The gatekeeper, v.3
  • The sheep, vv.2-7
  • The stranger, v.5
  • The gate (figure of speech for a person), v.7 and v.9

Several families’ flocks would be quartered together at night, especially in winter, in a stone enclosure, often next to a house. It was a place of safety from wolves and other predators, with one narrow entry point. A gatekeeper was a hired hand who looked after the enclosure for all the shepherds; they would come in the morning and call out their own sheep. The sheep responded to their voice and their call, and the shepherd would know the sheep that were his, from among the mass of similar animals.

It is the personification of the Gate as Jesus that we focus on here. There is a distinction between Jesus the Gate and Jesus the Shepherd which we will come to.

Meditate

Wilderness shepherds made enclosures to keep the sheep safe, bringing them in at night and leading them out to pasture at daybreak. The nation’s ‘shepherds’ should have looked after their flock — but didn’t. They should have pointed people to the way of salvation through living in the spirit of the law. Instead they turned it into a mass of regulations, to which the prophet Micah said:

No, O people, the LORD [Yahweh] has told you what is good, and this is what He requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8 NLT

Jesus is pointing out that corrupt leaders, including those in His time, were effectively barring the gate to people rather than pointing to the gate. On the other hand, He has come as the true Gate for the sheep to come into the kingdom, the Way to salvation. There is only one Way through, one Gate, and Jesus is it. He knows them and they know His  voice. They recognise that He is the Way.

“I AM the gate for the sheep” (3)

Re-read Scripture againJohn 10:1-10 NLT

1 “I tell you the truth, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber!

2 “But the one who enters through the gate is the Shepherd of the sheep.

3-4 “The gatekeeper opens the gate for Him, and the sheep recognise His voice and come to Him. He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out. After He has gathered His own flock, He walks ahead of them, and they follow Him because they know His voice.

5 “They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice.”

6-7 Those who heard Jesus use this illustration didn’t understand what He meant, so He explained it to them: “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep.

“All who came before Me were thieves and robbers. But the true sheep did not listen to them.

9 “Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through Me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures.

10 “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.

Apply

Jesus is fully God and fully man, so He is both the Good Shepherd and the Shepherd of Israel in being the incarnate Son of Yahweh. He is also the Gate for the sheep, the person who acts as the avenue of salvation for all who recognise who He is.

Where was Jesus coming from, in saying that he was the Gate for the sheep? He is telling us that he is the incarnation of Jeremiah’s prophetic designation of the Lord, the covenant name of Yahweh Tsidkenu, the Lord our Righteousness:

“In those days and at that time I will raise up a righteous descendant from King David’s line. He will do what is just and right throughout the land. In that day Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this will be its name: ‘The LORD [Yahweh] Is Our Righteousness.’ Jeremiah 33:15-16 NLT, also Jer. 23:5-6.

Judah and Jerusalem are places but here represent the totality of the people of God, which soon extended beyond Judaism and transitioned to become the Christian church, believing Jews and increasingly, believing non-Jews.

In our culture, exclusive claims do not sit well. One of the most argued-against truths in the Bible relates to there only being one way in and out of the enclosure:

There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12 NLT

This truth becomes more clear (and more reasonable!) in the context of the Old Covenant roots in Yahweh Tsidkenu.

Jesus is the Gate because only through Jesus can we be saved. Jesus is the Gate because only He represents the ‘how’ of our being saved. How we do it is by encountering Jesus, the reality of Yahweh Tsidkenu, the righteousness of God, and recognising that in Him is the righteousness that we could not earn or achieve. When we give up our independence and submit to His Lordship, we submit to His righteousness over us as well – and the Gate brings us through.

We are transformed by the LORD our righteousness, who we know as Jesus Christ. We are saved, spiritually and also emotionally and physically. It is an event, but as we encounter Jesus the Gate more and more, also a process of ongoing saving and healing. The revelation grows that we ARE the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus, in line with 2 Cor. 5:21.

Pray

Lord Jesus, we are so grateful to have been called by Your Holy Spirit and given the revelation of how You are our righteousness, the Gate out of darkness and the devil’s dominion and into to salvation and freedom and living in the light. We say again that You are our Lord, and You are the righteousness we could never achieve, the Gate allowing us to enter heaven’s courts and to  be able to know the love and acceptance of our Father. We praise you with words – and with our lives. Amen.

Jesus said: “I am the good shepherd” – John 10:11,14 (1)

(1 of 2)

John 10:1-5, 11-16 

1-2 “I tell you the truth, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber! But the one who enters through the gate is the Shepherd of the sheep.

3 “The gatekeeper opens the gate for Him, and the sheep recognise His voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.

4-5 “After He has gathered His own flock, He walks ahead of them, and they follow Him because they know His voice. They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice.”

11-13 “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd sacrifices His life for the sheep. A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep.

14-15 “I am the Good Shepherd; I know My own sheep, and they know Me, just as My Father knows Me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice My life for the sheep.

16 “I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to My voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.”

Read, and re-read 

Jesus is talking about something very familiar to His first-century Palestine hearers. At the end of the day, sheep were kept safe from predators and thieves in a walled enclosure, often near a house, with one gate for access. Several families’ flocks would be corralled together and at daybreak, each shepherd would come and call out his own flock, who would know his voice. They were used to following their shepherd to grazing and water.

‘Shepherd’ is used widely in the OT as a synonym for ‘leader’. The Bible talks about shepherds, shepherds of the nation and the Shepherd of Israel.

People left without leadership to look to were described in both OT and NT as ‘sheep without a shepherd’, a graphic picture of being vulnerable. The prophets draw contrasts between true and caring shepherds, who keep God’s covenant values, and abusive leaders who have diverged to be independent from God’s way, and who are profiting at the expense of those they should be protecting. Some leaders were seen as shepherds of the nation, with a role to lead the nation in and out e.g. Joshua who was appointed by Moses with God’s call to lead Israel into the promised land, Numbers 27:15-18. The Shepherd of Israel is a title of the Lord (Yahweh) used in Psalm 80:1.

• For further study, read Psalm 80:1, and 23:1, Isaiah 40:10-11, Ezekiel 34:11-16, Zechariah 10:2, Mark 6:34

“I AM the Good Shepherd” (2)

Re-read Scripture again – John 10:1-5, 11-16 

1-2 “I tell you the truth, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber! But the one who enters through the gate is the Shepherd of the sheep.

3 “The gatekeeper opens the gate for Him, and the sheep recognise His voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.

4-5 “After He has gathered His own flock, He walks ahead of them, and they follow Him because they know His voice. They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice.”

11-13 “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd sacrifices His life for the sheep. A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep.

14-15 “I am the Good Shepherd; I know My own sheep, and they know Me, just as My Father knows Me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice My life for the sheep.

16 “I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to My voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.”

Meditate

In and around John 10:11-15 Jesus is talking about coming to the ‘pen’ with its mixture of sheep as the Shepherd of His flock, and calling for those who will follow Him. That is a different kind call, a call to come to Jesus out of religious legalistic Judaism. We see some who are recognising it and some, especially the religious institution, opposing it. The healed man in John 9 is one of the ‘sheep’ who hear the Lord’s voice. By contrast, those who expelled him from the synagogue are “strangers”, v.5, who Jesus likens to conventional thieves and robbers, and to the ‘false shepherds’ of Ezekiel 34:2-4.

The discourse in chapter 10 is about the failure of the nation’s spiritual leaders who did not lead people in the way of salvation. “Those who came before” were like robbers who exploited the sheep, John 10:10, who didn’t see God’s kingdom, let alone lead others into it — because they were blind. The blind were the most critical of Jesus opening blind eyes– both literally and in the spiritual sense.

Apply

Jesus’ pen contains sheep, not goats. They are people with some sense of belonging to God, people of some faith. The challenge is whether they will recognise who He is, a key person whose coming was taught by their faith, and whether they will break with tradition to follow Him.

Our society is very different. It is mostly goats and some sheep, and only God can truly tell the difference because, like Palestinian sheep and goats, they look the same, Matt. 25:22-23. What we can say objectively is that 94% do not attend (Christian) church with any regularity (British Social Attitudes, 2017). Of the 6%, a proportion are listening for the voice of the Shepherd of the Sheep, and some are not – and can be as harsh as those who turned on the man who had received His sight from Jesus. The ones who know the voice of the shepherd, can tell the difference between Him and other voices that call. There are plenty of ‘other voices’ and ‘strangers’ in what society calls the Church.

How do we work with this? Jesus wants to love goats into becoming sheep, and wants everyone to love hearing His voice and finding His provision of (spiritual and material) food and water. So we who love Him, and love hearing His voice, need to be out and about, conversing about this. The church of Word and Spirit is quite practised at creating an environment for people who know the Shepherd’s voice, to hear His voice some more. We are not so good at loving goats (who look just like us) and pointing them to the Good Shepherd. However, with the Holy Spirit active in us, we are positioned to speak with something of the Shepherd’s voice and tone, and to help Him call people to Him.

Pray

Pray in your own words, thanking God that He chose you to hear the Shepherd’s voice and the Holy Spirit helped you to respond. Pray a prayer of commitment to the task of helping others, in a noisy world of many confusing voices, to hear and know the Good Shepherd of the Sheep.

Jesus said: “I AM the resurrection and the Life” – John 11:25 (1)

(1 of 2)

Covenant connection: Yahweh Rophe – The Lord your healer, Exodus 15:26

John 11:17-27 NLT

17-20 When Jesus arrived at Bethany, He was told that Lazarus had already been in his grave for four days. Bethany was only a few miles down the road from Jerusalem, and many of the people had come to console Martha and Mary in their loss. When Martha got word that Jesus was coming, she went to meet Him. But Mary stayed in the house. 

21-22 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give You whatever You ask.”

23 Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.”

24 “Yes,” Martha said, “he will rise when everyone else rises, at the last day.”

25-26 Jesus told her, “I AM the Resurrection and the Life. Anyone who believes in Me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in Me and believes in Me will never ever die. Do you believe this…?”

27 “Yes, Lord,” she told him. “I have always believed You are the Messiah, the Son of God, the One who has come into the world from God.”

Read, and re-read

This “I AM” saying Jesus is part of the story of Lazarus’ death and being raised again to life by Jesus, and it takes place in Bethany, a village with the Arabic name El-Azariyeh  – that recalls Lazarus – a couple of miles outside Jerusalem on the eastern slopes of the Mount of Olives.

Lazarus, Martha and Mary were one of the more prominent families in Bethany, an almshouse village whose name, from Beth ăniyyâ, means house of the poor, or house of the afflicted. This is important context for the last and greatest of Jesus’ miraculous signs where Lazarus was called back into life.

Bethany was associated with Jesus in a number of ways. 

He was one of many Galileans who stayed there on their way to Jerusalem – it was on their preferred route that skirted Samaria and approached the city from the east.

Simon the Leper lived there – he might have been re-settled there – and it was at his house that Jesus was anointed with the ointment worth a year’s wages, before His trial and death. This ‘almshouse village’ was the context of His saying “You will always have the poor among you…”, John 12:8 (Deut. 15:11).

Meditate

Miracles that Jesus performed, and His sayings that went with the miracles, all worked towards one end – proving who He was, vv.15, 42. He was on a mission primarily to Jews, to call them out of religious Judaism and into new life in Him by recognising Him as their Immanuel. So He had to be seen as more than the rabbi with a northern accent, more than a prophet, more than someone associated with wonders, more than a teacher of authority – they had to ‘get’ that He was their Messiah. Martha had to ‘get’ this – v.27.

Jesus said: “I AM the resurrection and the Life” (2)

Re-read Scripture again – John 11:17-27 NLT

17-20 When Jesus arrived at Bethany, He was told that Lazarus had already been in his grave for four days. Bethany was only a few miles down the road from Jerusalem, and many of the people had come to console Martha and Mary in their loss. When Martha got word that Jesus was coming, she went to meet Him. But Mary stayed in the house. 

21-22 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give You whatever You ask.”

23 Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.”

24 “Yes,” Martha said, “he will rise when everyone else rises, at the last day.”

25-26 Jesus told her, “I AM the Resurrection and the Life. Anyone who believes in Me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in Me and believes in Me will never ever die. Do you believe this…?”

27 “Yes, Lord,” she told him. “I have always believed You are the Messiah, the Son of God, the One who has come into the world from God.”

Meditate further

Miracles that Jesus performed, and His sayings that went with the miracles, all worked towards one end – proving who He was, vv.15, 42. He was on a mission primarily to Jews, to call them out of religious Judaism and into new life in Him by recognising Him as their Immanuel. So He had to be seen as more than the rabbi with a northern accent, more than a prophet, more than someone associated with wonders, more than a teacher of authority – they had to ‘get’ that He was their Messiah. Martha had to ‘get’ this – v.27.

Lazarus had been dead for four days when Jesus, who had been sent for earlier, but had delayed two days, finally arrived, having received a word of knowledge from God and a word of wisdom about what He was to do, John 11:4-7.

Jews had a cultural belief (long before the Resurrection of Jesus!) that the soul stayed in the body for three days; the delay until the fourth day made it definite, in the minds of observers, that all hope was gone. Lazarus was well and truly dead.

And then Jesus commanded Lazarus to come out of the grave while instructed his family and others around him: 

“Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?… Father, thank you for hearing Me. You always hear Me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent Me…Lazarus, come out!”

“Unwrap him and let him go!”

And Bethany, the house of the afflicted, received a new identity – the place of the resurrected.

Later, according to Luke, who is careful with details, it was near Bethany, the disciples’ home from home, that Jesus called the disciples to witness his ascension to heaven, Luke 24:50-51.

Apply

This is about believing in Jesus and taking Him at His word. Just as He received a specific word and sense of the Father’s direction for Lazarus’ situation and the grief of his family, so it helps to ask for, and receive a word about whatever present challenging situation we face.

But will we believe? Will we trust Jesus to be the resurrection, and the life?

This is about more than human life and death, important though that is. But we face many more bereavements of a more common kind. The Christian life and gospel is, uniquely, about dying well as much as it is about living well. Things have to die. Things in us have to die. Only then can the next resurrection take place.

Things that we hold dear in life and church, things we have invested in or gained a sense of identity from, have to be submitted to God. That’s basic. But sometimes He will determine that they have to die. That confronts us with the real question, “Whose glory is in view here?” Asking God to share His glory is not on, and so sometimes we are reminded of that. But it is out of things that die, that new things are raised up. Jesus is Lord over death because He has conquered death and He is also Lord of life – in fact He is the Way, the Life and the Reality. To what will you apply the lesson of Lazarus, today?

Pray

– Lord show me what in me has to die, so that You can bring Your new life out of that dying. Lord, show me what around me is dying, so that I can join my prayer with others to see the new thing you are doing. Lord, as a word of revelation guided Your response to difficult events in the lives of Your close friends, so help me to ask for and receive revelation of what You are doing in difficult circumstances I face – so I can agree with Your plan and Your timing. Amen.

Jesus said: “I AM the Way, the Truth and the Life” (1)

(1 of 2)

Covenant connection: Yahweh M’keddesh – The Lord our holiness, Leviticus 20:8

John 14:1-7 NLT

1-2 “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in Me. There is more than enough room in My Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?

3-4 When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with Me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going.”

5 “No, we don’t know, Lord,” Thomas said. “We have no idea where You are going, so how can we know the way?”

6 Jesus told him, “I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one can come to the Father except through Me.

7 If you had really known Me, you would know who My Father is. From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him!”

Read and re-read

Jesus said elsewhere that His followers would be received into “eternal habitations” or “an eternal home” — the sense of a place prepared for them, Luke 16:9; 1 Cor. 2:9. The most immediate way Jesus would “come and get” the disciples was in His post-resurrection appearances, but clearly Jesus was looking far ahead to His final return, the Day of the Lord. Whatever the timing, He told the disciples that they knew the way to where He was going. It was the kind of argument often used by Greek orators and rabbis: You know the way, because I am the Way, and you know Me!

The Old Testament teachings, and the symbolism around the tabernacle and temple, emphasised exclusivity of relationship with God. They were to have no other gods, no idols, no objects of worship except Yahweh. They were to be mindful that He was jealous in seeking their undivided affection, Exodus 20:3-5. The curtain was a physical reminder that God’s presence was out of bounds to all except the high priest.

Now this exclusivity has turned into something else — the exclusive role of Jesus in being the way of salvation and the way to the Father. He has the exclusive right, to be the inclusive way, for all who choose to make Him the way. Only through Jesus can we gain access to God. He is Yahweh M’keddesh, the Lord our holiness. There is no other name, no other way to God, Acts 4:12.

In the early church, followers of Jesus were first known as followers of the Way, Acts 9:2, before the somewhat mocking label ‘Christians’, or ‘little Christs’ became widespread.

Meditate

Jesus’ statement means two things. Firstly, it means that He is the way of God, the truth of God and the life of God, incarnate. It is a clear claim to deity. Secondly, it expresses that He, standing as our holiness, stands to usher us in to God’s presence, whereas the heavy temple curtain hung as a barrier to prevent us from entering.

Jesus as the Truth is the fulfilment of the teaching of the OT. John emphasises this in his gospel.

Similarly, Jesus is the only one who fulfils the OT promise of life given by God, having life in Himself and being uniquely equipped to confer life on others.

Jesus said: “I AM the Way, the Truth and the Life” (2)

Re-read the Scripture again – John 14:1-7 NLT

1-2 “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in Me. There is more than enough room in My Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?

3-4 When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with Me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going.”

5 “No, we don’t know, Lord,” Thomas said. “We have no idea where You are going, so how can we know the way?”

6 Jesus told him, “I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one can come to the Father except through Me.

7 If you had really known Me, you would know who My Father is. From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him!”

Meditate (continued)

Jesus as the Truth is the fulfilment of the teaching of the OT. John emphasises this in his gospel.

Similarly, Jesus is the only one who fulfils the OT promise of life given by God, having life in Himself and being uniquely equipped to confer life on others.

• For further study on Jesus as Truth (or reality) see John 1:14, 17; 5:33; 18:37; also John 8:40, 45-46; 14:9.

• For further study in Jesus as Life in Himself, and life for others, see John 1:4; 5:26; 11:25-26 and 3:16.

Apply

Simply receiving Jesus as the Saviour who has done it all for us, is so disarmingly simple, it is also alarmingly simplistic to the religious mindset we all carry to a greater or lesser extent. Because we so want to be found worthy of this grace, it ceases to be grace any more until we recognise our error. This mindset will always try to creep in; life has programmed us for this thinking. But the challenge of “I AM the Way… Truth… and Life” is to discern what, in our thinking, is “earthly and unspiritual” because its leading is fundamentally selfish and ambitious. The challenge is to remember the Way and choose better.

What is this passage about, in a sentence? There are seven occurrences in seven verses of the words ‘know’ and ‘see’ — building towards the climax of knowing and seeing the Father. This passage is about knowing God, and it tells us that the only way to do this, is through knowing — really knowing — Jesus. Knowing Jesus is knowing his holiness, and so we become people who others can see have Yahweh M’keddesh in us.

Pray

Lord God, I confess that too often I forget what Jesus has done for me, and lapse into the world’s thinking that I am the Way for me. Help me, Lord Jesus, to know You In a way that grows ever deeper and more trusting, and to submit all I do to seeking Your way, truth and life. Amen.

Post added to this series: “I AM the True Vine”

REMAP: Kingdom of God, Kingdom of Heaven sayings

Matt. 3:2 “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”

Matt. 4:17       From then on Jesus began to preach, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”

Matt. 4:23       Jesus travelled throughout the region of Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness.

Matt. 5:3         “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,

                        for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

Matt. 5:10       God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right,

                        for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

Matt. 5:19 So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Matt. 5:20       “But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!

Matt. 6:33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

Matt. 7:21       “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter.

Matt. 8:11 And I tell you this, that many Gentiles will come from all over the world—from east and west—and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the feast in the Kingdom of Heaven. 12 But many Israelites—those for whom the Kingdom was prepared—will be thrown into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Matt. 9:35       Jesus travelled through all the towns and villages of that area, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness.

Matt. 10:7 Go and announce to them that the Kingdom of Heaven is near.

Matt. 11:11    “I tell you the truth, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John the Baptist. Yet even the least person in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he is! 12 And from the time John the Baptist began preaching until now, the Kingdom of Heaven has been forcefully advancing, and violent people are attacking it.

Matt. 12:28 But if I am casting out demons by the Spirit of God, then the Kingdom of God has arrived among you.

Matt. 13:11    He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven, but others are not.

Matt. 13:19 The seed that fell on the footpath represents those who hear the message about the Kingdom and don’t understand it. Then the evil one comes and snatches away the seed that was planted in their hearts.

Matt. 13:24    Here is another story Jesus told: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field.

Matt. 13:31    Here is another illustration Jesus used: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed planted in a field.

Matt. 13:33    Jesus also used this illustration: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough.”

Matt. 13:38 The field is the world, and the good seed represents the people of the Kingdom. The weeds are the people who belong to the evil one.

Matt. 13:44    “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field.

Matt. 13:45    “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls.

Matt. 13:47    “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a fishing net that was thrown into the water and caught fish of every kind.

Matt. 13:52    Then he added, “Every teacher of religious law who becomes a disciple in the Kingdom of Heaven is like a homeowner who brings from his storeroom new gems of truth as well as old.”

Matt. 16:19 And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.”

Matt. 18:1    About that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?”

Matt. 18:3 Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. 4 So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Matt. 18:23    “Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him.

Matt. 19:12 Some are born as eunuchs, some have been made eunuchs by others, and some choose not to marry for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.”

Matt. 19:14    But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.”

Matt. 19:23    Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. 24 I’ll say it again—it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”

Matt. 20:1    “For the Kingdom of Heaven is like the landowner who went out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard.

Matt. 21:31    “Which of the two obeyed his father?”

They replied, “The first.”

Then Jesus explained his meaning: “I tell you the truth, corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom of God before you do.

Matt. 21:43    I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce the proper fruit.

Matt. 22:2The Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a king who prepared a great wedding feast for his son.

Matt. 23:13    “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either.

Matt. 24:14 And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come.

Matt. 25:1    “Then the Kingdom of Heaven will be like ten bridesmaids who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.

Matt. 25:14    “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a man going on a long trip. He called together his servants and entrusted his money to them while he was gone.

Matt. 25:34    “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world.

Mark 1:15 “The time promised by God has come at last!” he announced. “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!”

Mark 4:11       He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secret of the Kingdom of God. But I use parables for everything I say to outsiders,

Mark 4:26       Jesus also said, “The Kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the ground.

Mark 4:30       Jesus said, “How can I describe the Kingdom of God? What story should I use to illustrate it?

Mark 9:1          Jesus went on to say, “I tell you the truth, some standing here right now will not die before they see the Kingdom of God arrive in great power!”

Mark 9:47 And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out. It’s better to enter the Kingdom of God with only one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell,

Mark 10:14    When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. 15 I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.”

Mark 10:23    Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God!” 24 This amazed them. But Jesus said again, “Dear children, it is very hard to enter the Kingdom of God. 25 In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”

Mark 12:34    Realizing how much the man understood, Jesus said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” And after that, no one dared to ask him any more questions.

Mark 14:25 I tell you the truth, I will not drink wine again until the day I drink it new in the Kingdom of God.”

Mark 15:43 Joseph of Arimathea took a risk and went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. (Joseph was an honored member of the high council, and he was waiting for the Kingdom of God to come.)

Luke 4:43 But he replied, “I must preach the Good News of the Kingdom of God in other towns, too, because that is why I was sent.”

Luke 6:20    Then Jesus turned to his disciples and said,

 “God blesses you who are poor,

for the Kingdom of God is yours.

Luke 7:28    I tell you, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John. Yet even the least person in the Kingdom of God is greater than he is!”

Luke 8:1    Soon afterward Jesus began a tour of the nearby towns and villages, preaching and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom of God. He took his twelve disciples with him,

Luke 8:10  He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of God. But I use parables to teach the others so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled:

 ‘When they look, they won’t really see.

When they hear, they won’t understand.’

Luke 9:2 Then he sent them out to tell everyone about the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick.

Luke 9:11 But the crowds found out where he was going, and they followed him. He welcomed them and taught them about the Kingdom of God, and he healed those who were sick.

Luke 9:27 I tell you the truth, some standing here right now will not die before they see the Kingdom of God.”

Luke 9:60         But Jesus told him, “Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead! Your duty is to go and preach about the Kingdom of God.”

Luke 9:62         But Jesus told him, “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.”

Luke 10:9 Heal the sick, and tell them, ‘The Kingdom of God is near you now.’

Luke 10:11 ‘We wipe even the dust of your town from our feet to show that we have abandoned you to your fate. And know this—the Kingdom of God is near!’

Luke 11:20 But if I am casting out demons by the power of God, then the Kingdom of God has arrived among you.

Luke 11:52      “What sorrow awaits you experts in religious law! For you remove the key to knowledge from the people. You don’t enter the Kingdom yourselves, and you prevent others from entering.”

Luke 12:31 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need.

Luke 12:32      “So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.

Luke 13:18      Then Jesus said, “What is the Kingdom of God like? How can I illustrate it?

Luke 13:20      He also asked, “What else is the Kingdom of God like?

Luke 13:28      “There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, for you will see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets in the Kingdom of God, but you will be thrown out. 29 And people will come from all over the world—from east and west, north and south—to take their places in the Kingdom of God.

Luke 14:15      Hearing this, a man sitting at the table with Jesus exclaimed, “What a blessing it will be to attend a banquet in the Kingdom of God!”

Luke 16:16      “Until John the Baptist, the law of Moses and the messages of the prophets were your guides. But now the Good News of the Kingdom of God is preached, and everyone is eager to get in.

Luke 17:20      One day the Pharisees asked Jesus, “When will the Kingdom of God come?”

Jesus replied, “The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs.

21 You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you.”

Luke 18:16      Then Jesus called for the children and said to the disciples, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. 17 I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.”

Luke 18:24      When Jesus saw this, he said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God! 25 In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”

Luke 18:29      “Yes,” Jesus replied, “and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the Kingdom of God,

Luke 19:11      The crowd was listening to everything Jesus said. And because he was nearing Jerusalem, he told them a story to correct the impression that the Kingdom of God would begin right away.

Luke 21:31 In the same way, when you see all these things taking place, you can know that the Kingdom of God is near.

Luke 22:16 For I tell you now that I won’t eat this meal again until its meaning is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.”

Luke 22:18 For I will not drink wine again until the Kingdom of God has come.”

Luke 23:51 but he had not agreed with the decision and actions of the other religious leaders. He was from the town of Arimathea in Judea, and he was waiting for the Kingdom of God to come.

John 3:3           Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”

John 3:5           Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.

Advent and Christmas Bible reflections: ANTICIPATION

Meme image stating: Advent – anticipating our coming King

DAY 1   Isaiah 7:14 and Isaiah 9:6 — Immanuel announced

Fundamental to the season that many Christians call Advent is the expectation of Almighty God presencing Himself in His created world in a new way. He was going to reveal Himself to those who would receive Him, in a new and much more approachable way. Of course, this has happened – near enough 2,000 years ago. But in preparing to celebrate His first coming, we are keenly reminded (and Scripture shows us repeatedly) that He will come again. We don’t know when. We do know that we are to be prepared, at readiness. This is the point.

Isaiah 7:14 and Isaiah 9:6

Therefore the Lord Himself will give [all of] you a sign: the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Matthew, narrating the event which came to pass in his time, records in Matthew 1:22-23:

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

SOAP – Scripture, Observe, Apply, Pray

S – Scripture – This promise was received about 700 years before the birth of Christ. Generally in Scripture ‘a sign’ is fulfilled in a few years, not hundreds or thousands of years. The Early Church eagerly anticipated Jesus’ final return – soon. As we now know, the timeframe is longer.

O – Observe – The four titles of Isaiah 9:6 (read it again: Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace) headline four aspects of Immanuel: – a ‘counsellor’ is someone who carries out a plan or action… – …with divine power… – …bringing the Father’s compassion and protection… and – …exercising a style of rulership which brings wholeness and wellbeing to the whole of society.

A – Apply – This speaks to us of a much greater plan than we can readily comprehend. It’s too big for us, and we find it hard to grasp an eternal timescale because we’re used to time we can measure. So we are forced to ‘think big’!

P – Pray – for spiritual eyes to be able to see the bigger picture of what God is doing. How do we align with this? Pray for the wisdom to prepare for it.

DAY 2   Psalm 80:1-7 — Restore us, O God

Setting the scene – this psalm speaks of our need and our longing for God to presence Himself again

1-2 Hear us, Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock.You who sit enthroned between the cherubim, shine forth before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh. Awaken your might;come and save us.

3 Restore us, O God; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.4 How long, Lord God Almighty, will your anger smoulder against the prayers of your people?

5 You have fed them with the bread of tears; you have made them drink tears by the bowlful.

6 You have made us an object of derision to our neighbours, and our enemies mock us.

7 Restore us, God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.

SOAP – re-read and reflect: Scripture, Observe, Apply, Pray

S – Scripture A psalm of lament probably written around 722 BC when the northern kingdom (Ephraim, Benjamin, Manasseh etc) was overrun. ‘Joseph’ is an allusion to all tribes. Like all Scripture, these words reach into our time and beyond, and bring God’s voice to speak into a Christian witness that appears marginalised and challenging.

O – Observe
– It speaks of us being restored that we may be saved, v.3, v.7.
– Not all prayers please God, evidently, v.4.
– There is the sense that derision and being mocked, v.6, has been allowed by God.
– There is a prayer – and an expectation – of God coming to save us, vv.2-3.

A – Apply What kind of prayers might make God angry? To carry on with our familiar routine in worship, without giving heed to what God is saying might be a cause – didn’t the prophets say a lot about this at times when there was urgency to change? What is our sense of need, for God to come near and save? Was the “Come and save us’ plea fulfilled with Jesus, the Son of God, coming in human form, as we remember especially at this time of year – or is this still a prayer and urgency for us today?

P – Pray “Lord, we come to You in our world of wars, conflicts, injustice, sickness and pain and ask that You will restore us with new direction, and presence Yourself with us. In Jesus, we pray. Amen.”

DAY 3   Psalm 25:1-10 — Show me Your ways

The anticipation of looking forward to God’s kingdom coming in full, through David’s prophetic appeal.

1 In you, Lord my God, I put my trust.
I trust in you;

2 do not let me be put to shame,
nor let my enemies triumph over me.

3 No one who hopes in You will ever be put to shame,
but shame will come on those who are treacherous without cause.

4 Show me Your ways, Lord, teach me Your paths.

5 Guide me in Your truth and teach me,
for You are God my Saviour, and my hope is in You all day long.

6 Remember, Lord, Your great mercy and love, for they are from of old.

7 Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways;
according to Your love remember me, for You, Lord, are good.

8 Good and upright is the Lord; therefore He instructs sinners in His ways.

9 He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them His way.

10 All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful
toward those who keep the demands of His covenant.

SOAP

S – Scripture  Read and soak (re-read). This is, at first sight, a supplication prayer for guidance, particularly clarity about the difference between His ways and man’s independent ways. Just beneath the surface is a texture of praise which draws out who God is, in character:
– One who is faithful and able to be trusted, v.1,  because of the covenant relationship, v.10, which is what gives Biblical hope its surety, v3 and v.5;
 – One who is true, merciful, and loving;
– One who understands man’s tendency to independence, v.7, and reaches out to those who transgress, v.8, seeking those who are humble enough to be teachable, vv.8-9.

O – Observe There is a contrast drawn between “Your ways” and “my ways”:

  • “Your ways, Your paths” (vv.4, 7, 8, 9, 10) “Your truth” (v.5) “Your mercy and love” (vv.6, 7)
  • “My trust” (vv.1-2), “my hope” (v.5), “my rebellious ways” (v.7)

A – Apply There is a sense of expecting the Lord to again seek out those who relate to Him in a right attitude of dependence, vv. 1, 9-10. In examining my dependence on God, does that need to change?
Does my chosen path, and my ways of achieving it, run parallel with God’s ways, or are they tending to diverge?

P – Pray Lord, You are good and upright, loving and faithful, and utterly trustworthy. Show me Your ways and Your paths once again in this season. Amen.

DAY 4   Jeremiah 23:1-6 — The announcement of the Lord our Righteousness

The promise of the raising up of ‘a righteous branch’ called Yahweh Tsidqenu, the Lord Our Righteousness. Read with Jer. 33:14-16.

1 “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of My pasture!” declares the Lord.

2 Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend My people: “Because you have scattered My flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,” declares the Lord.

3 “I myself will gather the remnant of My flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number.

4 I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the Lord. 5 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. 6 In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which He will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Saviour [Yahweh Tsidqenu].

SOAP

S – Scripture – read and re-read The shepherds are the people’s rulers. The original hearers were in siege and facing deportation after a lengthy period of leadership that was rebellious towards God, vv.1-2. Following Josiah’s good and godly reforms, there was a succession of short and damaging reigns (Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim and Johoiachin) which were not God-fearing, ending with the last king of Judah whose name, Zedekiah, means ‘The Lord is Righteous’ – but he did not live up to his name. Hence the irony of “I will raise up for David a righteous branch”, v.5.

O – Observe “For David”, v.5, means recognition of the covenant made earlier with David, regarding a special descendant of his. The passage also speaks of a future restoration of people and their leaders, vv.3-4, and of God being with them in a new kind of redeeming relationship, vv.5-6.

A – Apply What does “Judah” and “Israel” stand for (v.6) in our expectation of “the days…coming” of “The Lord Our Righteous Saviour”? What might this mean for us? Are there believers scattered by the actions of ungodly leaders (v.2) who are being brought back and fed again, to become fruitful? What does this say about our understanding and relationships with the wider and non-traditional part of the church?

P – Pray Lord Jesus, we welcome You as the Righteous Branch and invite You to be Lord of Your church – in every aspect. Amen.

DAY 5   Jeremiah 33:14-16 — The fulfilment of the promise

The righteous branch growing out of the historic rootstock of King David appears, at first, to be a just and fair king to rule over the Jewish nation – who is then described as the Lord Himself.

Read with Jer. 23:1-6  “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will fulfil the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.

“In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line;
He will do what is just and right in the land
.In those days Judah will be saved
and Jerusalem will live in safety.

This is the name by which it [He] will be called:

The Lord Our Righteous Saviour [The Lord Our Righteousness].”

S – Scripture to read and re-read. This is a repetition of the prophetic promise in Jer. 23:1-6. Here it is not only the Saviour who is called by the covenant name, but Jerusalem and Judah, representing the people of the Saviour.

O – Observe The promise of the ‘righteous branch”, the Saviour of David’s line, bringing what is just and right, is repeated. What does the repetition emphasise for us?

A – Apply How does our knowing “the Lord my righteousness” change us? How does it release? How might it also constrain our attitudes and actions? When The Lord Our Righteousness comes again, what does He expect of those who belong to Him?

P – Pray “Come, Lord Jesus” – but help me prepare my heart for Your coming.

DAY 6   Isaiah 11:1-5 — The new shoot

A prophecy from Isaiah, 300 years earlier than Jeremiah’s, about a righteous branch, growing and bearing fruit

1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from His roots a Branch will bear fruit.

2 The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him — the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord —

3 and He will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what He sees with his eyes, or decide by what He hears with His ears;

4 but with righteousness He will judge the needy, with justice He will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth; with the breath of His lips he will slay the wicked.

5 Righteousness will be His belt and faithfulness the sash around His waist.

SOAP

S – Scripture  Read, and re-read in the awareness that chapter 10 ends with a picture of the destruction of of a majestic and proud forest, brought low by the Lord. But there will be regrowth of a different kind.

O – Observe  Why did the “lofty” and “tall” “forest thickets” have to come down – be “brought low”? What attitudes can grow up to block what the Lord wants to do?How many different expressions of righteousness, faithfulness, etc?The picture is that of a shoot, or new life, that is growing. Where is it growing? Certainly in the One the Spirit of the Lord rests upon, whose uniform is righteousness and faithfulness – who we now know to be the Messiah and our Lord Jesus.

A – Apply  This is also about us. There’s a new life we have in Jesus (and only in Jesus) and a new kind of fruitfulness He wants for us as His body on earth. He models this in knowing God’s will and following it carefully, not just relying on natural senses. He needs us to partner with Him in this spiritual way. The new shoot we now recognise as Jesus is new life that grows in us, and bears fruit for Him. As we allow Him to!
As we know, these Scriptures point to the coming of the Messiah, but also to His coming again. We don’t know how that partnership will go, but it will be an even closer one than the partnership we have now. We have a partial experience of His kingdom order – one day it will come in full.

P – Pray  Lord, we are so grateful for the new life we have in You, and for You choosing us to partner with you. Help us to be prepared to be available to You as ‘new shoots’ of Your kingdom, growing up wherever You deploy us. Amen.

DAY 7   Romans 3:21-22, 2 Corinthians 5:21 — Our new identity in Christ Jesus

This is the New Covenant revelation of who we are in Christ Jesus, that the Old Covenant prophecy anticipates. That is Christian living in the fullness of the Spirit now – with implications for the time will Jesus will come again to rule and reign, with the gathering of those that are His.

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.

God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.

SOAP

S – Scripture  Read and re-read, especially this short passage which is one of the most empowering in the Bible. The revelation that comes through Scripture is progressive. Jeremiah’s prophetic words are set in the context of the Old Covenant, but resonate both with Jesus’ own words, and with post-resurrection teaching when the Holy Spirit was given.

O – Observe  In His “I am” sayings, Jesus states a series of righteous roles that He performs. Each one imparts a dimension of His righteousness to us.
– The bread of life, John 6:35 and 51
– The light of the world, John 8:12
– The gate for the sheep, John 10:7 and 9
– The good shepherd, John 10:11 and 14
– The resurrection and the life, John 11:25
– The way, the truth and the life, John 14:6
– The vine, John 15:1 and 5.
In this progressive revelation, this point is the bridge between the end of the Old Covenant (pre-Resurrection), and the New Covenant (post-Resurrection) instituted by Jesus on the Cross but revealed by the Holy Spirit as an entirely new kind of relationship. 

The “righteousness given by faith” that in Christ Jesus “we might become the righteousness of God” is an immense, arresting truth. We need the Holy Spirit to coach us, as we try to grasp this! This is what we now see, which Jeremiah saw less clearly in giving his 400-years-before-Christ prophecies.

A – Apply  If we are seen by heaven as righteous before God because of our relationship with Jesus, what does that say about our prayer and worship influence in a dark world? What does that say about the confidence with which we not only pray supplication (asking) but also declare truth to the heavenlies?Do we believe it? Do we act on it? Do we live it out? Plenty to reflect on in this preparation season.

P – Pray  Thank you, gracious Father, for the revelation of this great truth of who I am in Jesus that I already hold. “More, Lord” – help me to get it more fully, and live it more fruitfully. Thank You, Jesus, Amen.

Alpha talk 15: What About The Church?

Alpha talk by Nicky Gumbel (HTB)

Nicky Gumbel giving an Alpha talk at Holy Trinity Church, Brompton (HTB)

Introduction

The veteran rock-star Mick Jagger, I think, spoke for many when he said this: ‘Jesus Christ was fantastic, but I do not like the church. The church does more harm than good.’ So is it possible to be a Christian, to be a follower of Jesus, and not go to church?’ And anyway, what does ‘going to church’ mean? What is church?

Before I was a Christian, I didn’t like the church. When I heard the word ‘church’, my heart sank. The first thing that I thought of when I heard the word ‘church’ was church services. And I always found church services so dull, boring. I had sympathy with something that Abraham Lincoln once said. He said this: ‘If all the people who fell asleep in church on Sunday morning were laid out end to end, they would be a great deal more comfortable.’ The other thing I thought of when I heard the word ‘church’ is I thought of kind of people who went into the church — that was their job. I thought of people like priests and vicars and ministers.

There was an advert in the church press recently which said this: ‘Are you aged 45 and getting nowhere? Why not consider the Christian ministry?’ And then the other thing I thought of, I suppose, when I heard the word `church’ was kind of something that you were born into, it was a kind of denomination that you were born into. So if you were born in England, then that makes you Church of England.

My mother, before she became a Christian, I remember her filling out a form which said: Religion: and she put None — brackets — (Church of England). And then the other association I had with it, I suppose, was church buildings. Now, all these things are the trappings, if you like, but they’re not the essence of what the church is about. It’s a bit like if you say, ‘Well, what is marriage?’ and you said, ‘Well, marriage is a ring. It’s a marriage certificate. It’s a wedding service. It’s the marriage laws.’ Now, marriage may involve all of those things, but that’s not the essence. At the heart of marriage is something far more profound. And at the heart of the church is something amazing, something wonderful, something beautiful. And over the years since I’ve been a Christian, I’ve come not just to like the church; I love the church! And in the New Testament there are hundreds of images and metaphors which describe the church, and I want to pick tonight on five which explain why I love the church so much.

top

Talk Point 1 THE PEOPLE OF GOD

The first reason is because the church is people. It’s the people of God.

1 Peter 2:9

Peter writes this: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God …”

The Christian faith involves, of course, first of all a vertical relationship — our relationship with God. But it also involves a horizontal relationship — with other people. And we’re part of a community which began with God’s call to Abraham. And the people of Israel prefigured the church. So the universal church consists of all those, right the way across the world, all the way back in time, who profess or have professed the name of Christ.

And we become a member of the church not by birth, but by new birth. Jesus spoke about being born of water and the Spirit. Jesus baptised and he commanded his disciples to baptise. And becoming a Christian involves three things.

  • First of all, something we do: repentance and faith.
  • Secondly, something God does: He gives us the Holy Spirit.-
  • And thirdly, something the church does: baptism.

Baptism is a visible mark of what it means to be a member of the church. It’s a visible sign of what it means to be a Christian. It signifies — the water signifies washing, cleansing from sin. Water also in the New Testament signifies the Holy Spirit — Jesus talked about ‘rivers of living water’ coming out from us. ‘By this’, John tells us, ‘he meant the Holy Spirit’. And it’s a picture of all the blessings God brings through his Spirit. But thirdly it signifies dying and rising with Christ. So, St. Paul puts it like this:

Romans 6:3

He said,”All of you have been baptised into Christ Jesus.”

So, imagine this piece of paper is you and this Bible is Jesus. What Paul is saying in Romans 6, he says: ‘All of you were baptised into Christ Jesus.’ When you became a Christian, in a kind of mystical way you became part of Christ. You are now ‘in Christ’. And therefore whatever happened to Jesus happened, in this kind of mystical way, to you. So, Paul says, ‘all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death …’ That means that when Jesus died on the cross, you died in him. We were buried with him through baptism.

He says this symbol of going down into the water in baptism is a symbol of the fact that you were buried — when Jesus was buried, because you’re in him, you were buried with Christ:

“… in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead, we too may live a new life.”

So when Jesus rose from the dead, you rose in him. And coming up out of the water of baptism symbolises the resurrection, starting a completely new life.

top

Dave (armed robbery) who did Alpha in prison

One time I was walking across Clapham Common, and I heard somebody shout, ‘Nick!’ And I looked up, and there was this guy on the balcony, and he said, ‘Are you Nicky Gumbel?’ So I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘Alpha?’ So I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘Wait there!’ So I stood there and he came down and he said, ‘Hello, my name’s Dave.’ He said, ‘I did Alpha in prison.’ He said, ‘I was serving 15 years for armed robbery. Do you want to come inside?’ So I said, ‘I’d love to, but let’s just chat out here, shall we!’ And we talked and I got to know him, and I got to know him reasonably well, and one time I bumped into him, and I said, ‘Dave, what are you up to?’ He said, ‘I’m just off to be baptised.’ And I said to him, ‘Think of this, Dave. As you go down into the water of baptism, all your old life is gone — that’s what the picture is. Your life has gone. And as you come up out of the water, that pictures the fact that a completely new life has begun.’

Universal church of 2 billion

The universal church is vast. Do you know, there are two billion Christians in the world today, 2,000 million — about a third of the world’s population. And tens of thousands of people become Christians every single day. Now, we live in Western Europe, and in Western Europe the church has been in decline for fifty, eighty years. And so it’s easy to think — I used to think — I remember before I was a Christian, I thought: ‘Look, the number of Christians, the number of churchgoers declining all the time — surely in a few years’ time it will have died out completely.’ But I had a totally blinkered, narrow view of the world: because when you look globally it’s a totally different picture. The church is growing faster than ever. The church in Africa just over 100 years ago, 1900, there were 10 million Christians in Africa. 100 years later there were 360 million Christians in Africa. Look at what’s happening in South America, in China, in the East — all over the world. America, you know, the church is still very strong: about 6 per cent of our population in the UK goes to church on Sunday; in America it’s about 50 per cent of the population. It’s Western Europe where the church is in decline, but in many parts of the world the church is growing rapidly.

Persecuted church

In some parts of the church there is persecution. In fact, in more than 60 countries in the world, I read, Christians are harassed, abused, arrested, tortured or executed specifically because of their faith. 200 million Christians throughout the world live in daily fear of secret police, vigilantes or state repression and discrimination. Yet the church in those parts of the world, according to all accounts, seems to be, again, very strong. The universal church has local expressions. This would be one local expression of the universal church. And Paul, wherever he went, he planted churches: churches we read about in the New Testament in Asia, churches in Galatia. And these local churches themselves break down into smaller gatherings. And for practical purposes you could say that there are three different sizes.

First size – small group

The first size is a small group, like the small groups you’ve been on at Alpha. Usually that’s a group of about twelve. Jesus had a group of about twelve people He met with. And one of the things that I find so amazing about the small groups and I love being in a small group is that in the small group it’s amazing how quickly people begin to drop their barriers and people start to talk openly about things that are real. There’s this kind of authenticity — what’s really going on in their lives. People talk about their issues, their doubts, their fears, their failures. And often in the world relationships can be quite superficial, but in a small group, even though we’ve only known each other for quite a short time, there’s a depth of friendship that develops. And we can ask one another to pray for each other, we can encourage each other, support each other in difficult times. There’s this confidentiality, there’s respect for one another; where we listen and learn, we eat together, we learn together, pray together. And I would encourage you to keep on meeting in a small group. This is not the end; this is the beginning.

top

Second size: pastorate or congregation

But what we found is we need more than just a small group. We need a slightly larger group, which some would call a’ congregation’. We call it in this church a ‘pastorate’: because it’s quite a large church, we break down into smaller congregations, which we call ‘pastorates’, which is about 25 or 30 people. There you can get to know a wider group of people. There you can develop gifts. I love being involved in a pastorate because it’s so amazing to see people develop — worship leaders, people who’ve never before led worship. They’ve developed that gift in a pastorate. People who’ve never given a talk before — they give a talk for the first time in the pastorate. And the friendships that developed were amazing. And again, just as in, if I look back at the small groups that we’ve been involved in on Alpha, many of those people are such close friends still, from maybe fifteen years ago. And the same with the pastorate, this level of friendship.

Third size: celebration

And then there’s the bigger gathering: Sundays. For this church that’s a large gathering. For other churches it’s occasions when they get together as a whole group of churches. And that’s amazing. It’s different. There you get a sense of worship, awe — hundreds of people worshipping God together. Sometimes we may be the only Christian in our office, in our factory, in our family. We come to a gathering and we think, ‘Ah, I’m not the only one.’ There’s a sense of confidence, excitement, joy, to be with the people of God. That’s why I love the church: it’s people. You know, Bill Hybels, the American pastor, he says that ‘the local church is the hope for the world’. There’s nothing like the local church when it’s working well.

top

Talk Point 2 THE FAMILY OF GOD

The second reason I love the church is because it’s a family — it’s the family of God.

1 John 5:1

St John writes this:

‘Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well.’

So what St John says is when you come into a relationship with God, you come into a family. Because there are other people who are in that same relationship with God — they’re sons and daughters of God: that means they’re your brothers and sisters. So, you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family. So take a look around you — I don’t see much movement at all! You’re very British — you’re all sort of sitting there like this! Take a look around you, because this is your family! Have a look. Have a look at your brothers and your sisters — or, if you’re not a Christian yet, your potential brothers and sisters! I don’t know whether that encourages you to become a Christian or puts you off forever! Brothers and sisters can squabble, they can fall out, they can not see each other, but they remain brothers and sisters. Nothing can end that relationship.

History of disunity

And as you know, the history of the church has been a sad one because it’s been a story of disunity. As you look back in the history of the church there have been four major sort of breaks. In the fourth and fifth century the lesser Eastern churches separated. In the eleventh century you had the break between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. At the time of the Reformation you had the split between Catholics and Protestants. In the nineteenth century you had the start of denominations — there were no denominations until the nineteenth century. But by 1900 there were 2,000 denominations; by 1980 there were 20,000 denominations; and by the year 2000 there were 34,000 denominations. And the church has divided on just about every conceivable issue — in fact, on every inconceivable issue as well.

top

Heretic on Golden Gate Bridge story

I once was … We were in San Francisco and we went to the Golden Gate Bridge — an amazing sight and amazing views from there. And I heard about a man who was standing in the middle of the Golden Gate Bridge, admiring the view, when another tourist walked up alongside him to do the same. And he said: ‘I heard him say quietly as he took in the beauty of the view: “What an awesome God!” I turned to him and I said, “Oh, are you a Christian?” He said, “Yes, I am a Christian.” I said, “So am I,” and we shook hands. ‘I said, “Are you a liberal or a fundamental Christian?” He said, “I’m a fundamental Christian.” I said, “So am I,” and we smiled and nodded to each other. I said, “Are you a covenant or dispensational fundamental Christian?” He said, “I’m a dispensational fundamental Christian.” I said, “So am I,” and we slapped one another on the back. I said, “Are you an early Acts, mid Acts, or late Acts dispensational fundamental Christian?” He said, “I’m a mid Acts dispensational fundamental Christian.” I said, “So am I,” and we agreed to exchange Christmas cards each year. I said, “Are you an Acts 9 or 13 mid Acts dispensational fundamental Christian?” He said, “I’m an Acts 9 mid Acts dispensational fundamental Christian.” I said, “So am I,” and we hugged one another right there on the bridge. I said, “Are you a pre-Trib or post-Trib Acts 9 mid Acts dispensational fundamental Christian?” He said, “I’m a pre-Trib Acts 9 mid Acts dispensational fundamental Christian.” I said, “So am I,” and we agreed to exchange our kids for the summer. I said, “Are you a twelve-in or twelve-out pre-Trib Acts 9 mid Acts dispensational fundamental Christian?” He said, “I’m a twelve-in pre-Trib Acts 9 mid Acts dispensational fundamental Christian.” I said, “You heretic!” and I pushed him off the bridge.’

From disunity to keeping unity

So that’s been the history of the church. But we live in a very exciting time, actually, when these kind of denominational barriers are coming down. And disunity is a scandal. Of course, outside the church, people look in and they say, `Look, if you guys can’t even agree amongst yourselves what you believe in, why should I be interested?’ But Jesus prayed — just before he died, Jesus prayed that we should ‘be one so that the world would believe’.

And Paul says: ‘Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit’ — of course, not at the expense of truth. St Augustine prayed that in the really essential things of the faith, the things that are at the core of our belief, there would be unity. In the things that are more peripheral, the non-essentials, there be freedom — people can believe different things — that’s fine; and in everything, love. Father Raniero Cantalamessa, who is the preacher to the Papal Household, amazing man, I heard him talk once — it was back in 1991 and I never forgot his talk, and he’s become a friend since. But what he said was: “What unites us as Christians right across the denominations is infinitely greater than what divides us.”

Alpha used by different parts of the church

And to me it’s been one of the most astonishing things in the last years as we’ve watched Alpha grow around the world and being run by all the different parts — being run by Roman Catholics and Orthodox churches and Pentecostal and every variety of Protestant churches; Baptist, Salvation Army. It’s been so amazing to meet with people from all those different parts of the church and to be so enriched by learning from them. And what the New Testament talks about is a word, a Greek word: koinōnia [κοινωνια], which means fellowship’. It’s a kind of intimate relationship that we’re meant to have with God and also with one another. And it cuts across race, colour, education, background — every other cultural barrier. And it leads to a level of friendship which I had never experienced outside the context of the church.

top

Christians need to belong

And we need each other. John Wesley said ‘the New Testament knows nothing of solitary religion’. There are two things you can’t do alone: you can’t get married alone, and you can’t be a Christian alone! So the writer of Hebrews said: ‘Let’s not give up the habit of meeting together, as some have done.’ Because if we don’t meet together — this is my experience of watching people who have professed faith in Jesus Christ: unless they meet with other Christians, they find it almost impossible to survive as a Christian.

The red hot coal that cooled

I heard about one young man who was really struggling. He had come to faith in Christ, but he just found himself drifting away, drifting in doubts and difficulties and losing his faith. And he went to see a wise older man, who lived in a cottage, and there was a fire, a coal fire. And as they were discussing — this young man told this older man about what was going on in his life — the older man didn’t say anything. But he just went to the fire and he took a red-hot coal, with tongs, out of the fire, and he put it on the hearth. And as the young man talked, he just allowed that coal to go from red-hot to black, dark. And then he got the tongs again and he put the coal back in the fire, and within a few minutes the coal was red-hot again. He didn’t need to say anything. The young man left knowing exactly why his faith had gone dull. That’s the second reason I love the church: it’s a family, it’s the family of God.

top

Talk Point 3 THE BODY OF CHRIST

The third reason I love the church is the church is the way in which people see Jesus today. It’s the body of Christ.

1 Corinthians 12:27

St Paul says this:

‘Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.’

As John Calvin, the great reformer, sixteenth century reformer, put it: ‘He calls the church “Christ”.’ Bishop Lesslie Newbigin said this: he said, ‘Jesus Christ never wrote a book; what he did was leave behind a community: the church.’ And what St Paul is saying here is: ‘You are the church, and you are Christ to the world.’ So each of you represents Jesus wherever you go — in your family, in your place of work, in your neighbourhood, in your leisure activities. You’re Christ.

You’re the church

The American pastor John Wimber told us many years ago — John Wimber’s no longer alive, but he told us this story and I’ve never forgotten it. He told us this story about how he was standing in church one time and a man came up to him and told him how he’d been contacted by somebody in great need. And he talked about his frustration in trying to get help for this needy person. He said, ‘The man needed a place to stay, food, support, till he gets on his feet and looks for a job.’ He said, ‘I’m really frustrated. I tried calling the church office, but no one could see me, and they couldn’t help me. I finally ended up having to let him stay with me for the week. Don’t you think the church should take care of people like this?’ John Wimber said, ‘I thought for a moment and said: “It looks like the church did.”‘

Because you’re the church. Every time you feed the hungry, that’s the church doing it. Every time you visit the sick or visit someone in prison, that’s the church. And Paul develops this analogy of the unity of the body of Christ, but also that unity does not involve uniformity. Look at this room — there’s huge diversity within this room. Each person here is unique and beautifully made. And you have a unique contribution to make to the body of Christ. So my encouragement to you would be to get involved. Don’t just be a kind of consumer; be a contributor. Don’t just be an attender at church; be a member! And then there’s a kind of mutual dependence. He says: The eye can’t say to the hand, “Oh well, I don’t need you!’ So what he’s saying is the church needs you. And you need everybody else — you need the church. And together, if everybody’s playing their part, then there’s something really beautiful, like an orchestra where everybody is performing. And I think this is true globally as well. Rather than saying about other parts of the church, Oh, well, they’re not us! We’re Anglicans and they’re whatever’, so what’s wrong with them; we can say, ‘Ah, they’re a different part of this body around the world. I wonder what we could learn from them? I wonder how we could be enriched by their tradition?’ That’s the third reason I love the church: it’s the body of Christ.

top

Talk Point 4 A HOLY TEMPLE

The fourth reason I love the church: it’s where we experience the presence of God in a special way. The church is a holy temple.

I heard about a little boy called Tommy, who was a very naughty little boy. And his mother despaired of him, and she tried everything and eventually thought, ‘I know what I’ll do. I’ll take him down to see the vicar — that will sort him out!’ So she took young Tommy down to see the vicar. The vicar was quite an austere man. He had a great big leather desk, and he sat down Tommy opposite, and he thought, Well, I’ll find out how much this little boy knows about God.’ So he said, ‘Tommy, where is God?’ And the little boy began to look nervous, and so he said again:Tommy, where is God?’He looked even more nervous. So he said, ‘Tommy, where is God?’ By this time the boy was so terrified he got up and he ran, and he ran out of the vicar’s study, out of his house, and he ran all … The mother thought this was amazing. She thought, ‘This has done it! This has really sorted him out!’ The little boy ran in through his front door, and he saw his father sitting there. He said, ‘Dad, Dad, they’ve lost God down at the church! And now they’re trying to blame me for that!’ Where is God? What was the right answer?

Ephesians 2:19 – Presence of God

‘Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow-citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone. In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.’

The New Testament answer is: God lives in you. That’s where He is. The only building that the New Testament knows about or speaks about is a building made up of people. The only church building mentioned in the New Testament is one made of ‘living stones’. And that’s where God is, God’s presence is. There’s a longing for God in every human heart; whether people admit it or acknowledge or recognise it or not, there’s a longing for God. St Augustine said this, speaking to God: he says,’You have made us for yourself, and our hearts find no peace until they rest in you.’ So the presence of God.

Professor Gordon Fee, says that “the word ‘presence’ is a delicious word. If you love someone, what you want more than anything else is that person’s presence. Photos, great. Telephone call, fantastic. Letters, great. But what you really long for is their presence. And that’s what Adam and Eve lost in the Garden of Eden when they sinned: they lost that sense of the presence of God. And as you look at the people of Israel, what distinguished the people of Israel in the Old Testament was not the law so much as the presence of God with them. And that’s why the Temple meant so much to them. They didn’t associate the Temple so much with sacrifices; they associated it with the presence of God.

God’s presence poured out: the new temple

And when the people of God were in exile, what they missed more than anything was the presence of God, the Temple. And what happened on the day of Pentecost was God’s Spirit, God’s presence, was poured out on all people. The New Testament speaks of you individually: ‘You are the temple of the Holy Spirit.’ The Holy Spirit comes to live in you. But more often it speaks corporately, of a gathering of Christians: ‘You are the temple of the Holy Spirit.’ There’s something amazing when we come together. And sometimes people walk into a gathering of Christians and they say, ‘Wow, there’s an amazing atmosphere here!’ They can’t quite put their finger on what it is, but they’re experiencing the presence of God.

Jesus said: ‘Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am also.’

That’s another reason I love the church.

top

Talk Point 5 THE BRIDE OF CHRIST

The fifth reason I love the church is because Jesus loves the church! It’s His bride — the church is the bride of Christ! Would you like to turn just over the page:

Ephesians 5:25.

St Paul says this:

‘Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.’

And then he goes on to talk about the marriage relationship. But then in verse 32 he says this: ‘This is a profound mystery’ — but — he says, ‘It looked like I was talking about marriage’; actually, he says — ‘but I’m talking about Christ and the church’. ‘This is a profound mystery — but I am talking about Christ and the church.’

It’s all about love – the closest possible relationship

And this really sums up everything we’ve been looking at on Alpha: because at the heart of Christianity is love. The New Testament tries to use analogies of the closest possible relationship: parent/child. Here it says actually that perhaps the best analogy for this is the love between a husband and a wife: that intimate love. And that is the love that Jesus has for you. St Augustine said that ‘God loves each one of us as if there was only one of us to love.’ And if you had been the only person in the world, Jesus would have died for you. That’s how much he loves you. He laid down his life for the church. I don’t know about you, but I look at myself and I think I’m not as I really long to be. I long to be different. And Jesus died so that we could become the person that deep down we long to be. And the picture here is of being the bride of Christ.

Bride coming down the aisle

I love my job! I love being a vicar! It’s an amazing job. But one of the things I love most is taking weddings. Those doors at the back are closed, and the bride arrives at 2:32 — she wants to be late, but not too late! And the doors there are closed. And then I come and stand out here. And the bride is at the back; the pages, bridesmaids are all around her. The bridegroom’s sitting here at the front. The bride has spent all day making herself look absolutely beautiful! The bridegroom’s probably spent all day, but it doesn’t look so obvious! And we train the bridegrooms beforehand. We say: ‘There are three options that you can have. You can either, as the doors open, you can turn round’ — he’s standing there and he can just turn round and welcome the bride as she comes down the aisle. ‘Or you can stand to attention and wait until she’s level. What you mustn’t do is just kind of look over your shoulder, because that looks very untidy, just kind of looking like that!’ Nearly always they choose to turn round rather than stand to attention until she’s level with them — I only had one army officer who decided he’d stand to attention! But the moment happens, and the music starts, the doors open, and the bride walks down the aisle. And at that moment I usually start crying, actually — even if I’m taking the wedding, sometimes I start crying! But it’s such an amazing moment, because she walks down, ‘a bride beautifully dressed for her husband’. Revelation 21, verse 2: ‘I saw the Holy City’ — this is a picture of the church — ‘the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband’.

top

When Alfreda became a Christian and got married (story)

So is it possible to be a Christian and not go to church? The answer is: we don’t go to church — you are the church. I think I’ve mentioned before: Jackie Pullinger runs a place in Hong Kong — she works particularly with heroin addicts and with prostitutes. And she told us once about a 72-year old woman called Alfreda. And Alfreda had been a heroin addict for 60 years, and she’d been a prostitute for 60 years, or involved in the prostitution business for 60 years. But she was too old, obviously, to work, and she used to sit outside a brothel and just poke the sewers in this very run-down area with a stick to keep them moving freely. And she’d inject her back three times a day with heroin, because her legs and her arms, they’d been overused. She had no identity card, and as far as the Hong Kong government was concerned she didn’t even exist. But a few years ago she gave her life to Christ, and she received forgiveness, and she began to change. And she went to live in one of Jackie’s houses. And to begin with she was quite difficult, but then God started to heal her, and she saw that there were people who were worse off than her, and she began to try and help them. And she changed. And then, Jackie told us, she met a man called Little Wa, who was aged 75, and they got married. And Jackie described her wedding as ‘the wedding of the decade’: because this former prostitute, heroin addict, walked down the aisle, in white, cleansed, forgiven, transformed by the love of Jesus Christ.

And that to me is a picture of the church. There’s only one way into the church, and that’s to say: ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’ And the moment we say that, God in his love says: ‘You are part of my people. You’re my family. You’re my representative. You’re my body on earth. You’re a holy temple. My Spirit lives within you. You’re my bride.’

Final prayer

Lord, we thank you for this amazing privilege of being part of the church of Jesus Christ. Thank you so much that you make us part of the people of God, that you accept us as your family, sons and daughters of God; that you allow us to be your body on earth so that people see Jesus through us. Thank you that you make your presence known, as we gather together, particularly. And thank you that you love us so much that you call us your bride. Thank you, Lord Jesus, Amen.

top