Posts for January 2011
5 Posts found

1 John 5.18-19 and John 4.21 – The need for humility
Posted: 8 January 2011 in 1 John, John

Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.

Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father.

Although I have taken them slightly out of context, the verses from 1 John struck me because of a debate I have been having with somebody on another forum. On the basis of some verses taken from the Bible, such as the one quoted from John’s Gospel, this person has decided that he alone has now discovered the true way to worship God, and, needless to say, people down the ages have been blinded by tradition, and by an inability of the churches to discern the true meaning of scripture. I cannot recall all of his argument, which didn’t seem very coherent anyhow, but apparently we are to be guided only by what the Holy Spirit has written on our hearts.

We should, admittedly, be very suspicious of any organisation which, in the name of humility, demands our unquestioning obedience. But I would nevertheless say that humility is a very important virtue in religion. There is an ever present danger of somebody going off to found a sect, which only just stays on this side of sanity, and losing touch with reality. For Christians reality is mediated to us, first and foremost, by God’s self revelation in scripture, but it is also mediated to us through the collective wisdom of saints and theologians, writing down the ages, and from both the Catholic and Protestant traditions. We can build on what they have written, but we can’t tear it down and start again without an extreme act of egoism.

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Salvation is of the Jews
Posted: 7 January 2011 in John, Mark, Romans

Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. (John 4.22)

And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in….. Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. (Romans 11.17-18)

But Jesus said unto her, Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it unto the dogs. (Mark 7.27)

All of these passages seem to be saying more or less the same thing. Salvation first of all comes to the Jews, and only afterwards does anybody else get a look in. To us Gentiles that might seem a bit naff – why should we be second in the queue? But, as always, we are being reminded that God’s ways are not our ways.

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Exodus 7.1-3, Matthew 26.24
The God who exists, and the god we would like to exist.
Posted: 6 January 2011 in Exodus, Matthew

And the LORD said unto Moses, See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh: and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet. Thou shalt speak all that I command thee: and Aaron thy brother shall speak unto Pharaoh, that he send the children of Israel out of his land. And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt.

The Son of man goeth as it is written of him: but woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! it had been good for that man if he had not been born.

If there is one thing I frequently encounter on the internet, it seems to be people who have great trouble with passages such as the one above, taken from Exodus. Sometimes it leads them to say that they don’t believe in God anymore; as if God ceases to exist the moment they read something about him they don’t like. I think that at the root of the problem is the idea that God ought to be a twenty first century liberal just like us, and that he should play by the rules we lay down for him. If there is one thing the Bible makes very clear from the outset, howver, it is that the Lord of all Creation is no democrat, and that he governs all things according to the good pleasure of his own will.

The lollowing is typical of very many verses in the Bible:

Blessed be the LORD God of our fathers, which hath put such a thing as this in the king’s heart, to beautify the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem: (Ezra 7.27)

Here it is the king’s heart which is being softened, rather than hardened, but still it is God who is the primary mover.

When Pharoah was created, his entire future life lay open before God, and God created him with the dispositions, temperament, and other attributes, necessary to ensure that he fulfilled God’s will – whether knowingly or unknowingly. In the case of Pharoah, this will have included his obduracy when confronted by Moses.

As with Pharoah, so with Judas Iscariot. The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus were preordained by God, and as Jesus makes clear, the means by which this was to happen was also preordained. And yet, as Jesus also makes clear, that fact did not in any way exonerate Judas from the evil of his actions. Neither Judas nor Pharoah will have been conscious of any constraint, forcing them to act in the way they did, and they will both have acted in accordance with their own will. Therefore they will stand condemned when they appear before God. At the same time, the king Ezra had to do with will be judged according to his own freely chosen (and good) actions – even though they also were preordained by God.

This may be a hard teaching, but I do not see any reason to suppose that God’s self revelation must be easy for us to accept. Every age is subject to the temptation to recreate God in its own image, and this age is no exception. After due allowance has been made for the cultural presuppositions of the biblical authors themselves, the purpose of the Bible is to reveal God as he really is, and not as we would like him to be. Anybody who feels entirely comfortable with the God who reveals himself in scripture, has probably substituted an idol for that God, and, if there is one thing the Bible does make very clear, it is that the Lord of all creation does not tolerate idolatry.

For what it is worth, that is my opinion, anyhow.

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Isaiah 9.8-12 and Genesis 11.2-6 – Human Pride & Arrogance
Posted: 5 January 2011 in Genesis, Isaiah

The Lord sent a word into Jacob, and it hath lighted upon Israel. And all the people shall know, even Ephraim and the inhabitant of Samaria, that say in the pride and stoutness of heart, The bricks are fallen down, but we will build with hewn stones: the sycomores are cut down, but we will change them into cedars. Therefore the LORD shall set up the adversaries of Rezin against him, and join his enemies together; The Syrians before, and the Philistines behind; and they shall devour Israel with open mouth. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.

And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there. And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter. And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.

It is clearly the height of folly to rebel against God, or to try and undo what he has accomplished, but such is the pride of the human heart that men will try and do it anyway. Men want to be God’s equal. In the Genesis story they try to accomplish it by building a tower with a stairway up into heaven. At best men don’t want to obey God, but negotiate with him. Some such idea lies at the root of the idea that salvation can be by works: The deal is that we will lead a good life, and God will repay his debt by granting us eternal life. But the reality is that God is always sovereign, and we are only here to serve his sovereign purposes.

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Exodus 4.1-14 and Mark 3.1-6 – The Call of God
Posted: 4 January 2011 in Exodus, Mark

“And Moses answered and said, But, behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice: for they will say, The LORD hath not appeared unto thee. And the LORD said unto him, What is that in thine hand? And he said, A rod. And he said, Cast it on the ground. And he cast it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from before it….. And the LORD said furthermore unto him, Put now thine hand into thy bosom. And he put his hand into his bosom: and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous as snow….. And it shall come to pass, if they will not believe thee, neither hearken to the voice of the first sign, that they will believe the voice of the latter sign….. And Moses said unto the LORD, O my LORD, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue. And the LORD said unto him, Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the LORD? Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say. And he said, O my LORD, send, I pray thee, by the hand of him whom thou wilt send. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses…..”

“And he entered again into the synagogue; and there was a man there which had a withered hand. And they watched him, whether he would heal him on the sabbath day; that they might accuse him. And he saith unto the man which had the withered hand, Stand forth. And he saith unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill? But they held their peace. And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other. And the Pharisees went forth, and straightway took counsel with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him.”

The Bible is full of people who appear to be none too happy with their vocation, but Moses’ argument with God is probably one of the most extended. We should perhaps be cautious of people like tele-evangelists, who too readily reassure us that they are speaking as God’s mouthpieces. In the Bible to be called by the Lord, and to have to rely upon his strength, seems to be regarded as a fearful thing. The Spirit bloweth where it listeth, and somebody who is truly relying upon God’s strength cannot know where it will take him.

The Pharisees were one group of people who wanted to be known for their Piety, and for having their own personal hotline to God. In Jesus, however, they met somebody who directly challenged their self sufficient, and legalistic, religion. What was even worse for them, Jesus managed to draw people to himself because he spoke with the unmistakable authority of God Incarnate:

And they were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one that had authority, and not as the scribes. (Mark 1.22)

The Pharisees, on the other hand, were afflicted by the spiritual blindness which results from a desire for reputation, and for the glory which rightly belongs to God alone. Their call was to repentance, and not, as in Moses’ case, to speak on God’s behalf. The same is true, I suppose, of most of us, who are called to follow Christ, not in great renown, but with lowliness of heart and mind.

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