Acts 20.17-32 – The faith once revealed to the saints.
Posted: 5 August 2011 in Acts

And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church. And when they were come to him, he said….. And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more. Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God. Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears. And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.

I can think of at least four passages in the New Testament where we are warned that we must earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints (Jude 1.3). I suppose that makes it all the more lamentable that there are theologians today who feel able to sit lightly to biblical revelation. Anything contrary to the spirit of the age, such as the exclusive claims of Christianity, can (so far as they are concerned) be safely set aside. I am not saying that we can ignore the way in which the biblical writers were necessarily influenced by their cultural context. For example, slavery is today totally unacceptable, but it was acceptable to Paul.

Nevertheless, after due allowance has been made for cultural conditioning, the Bible speaks with the absolute authority of God. One of the mistakes liberal theologians make is try and substitute the cultural mores of the twenty first century for those of the first century. Again as an example, the language which represents God as being analogous to an absolute monarch probably doesn’t go down well in today’s democratic age, but that does not make the analogy is wrong. God is the absolute Lord of the universe, and the sentient beings he has created have a duty to worship him.

Similarly unpopular today is the God who places obligations upon his creatures, and who calls them to account when the fail to obey him – with hell awaiting those individuals not chosen for eternal salvation. And yet that is the God the Bible sets before us. Definitely not to be found in the Bible is a god (lower case intended) who saves everybody. We might not like that, but it is a fact, and such a god can only be believed in if the very words of Jesus himself are ignored.

So we have a faith which was once delivered to the saints, and the content of that faith is now recorded in the Bible. The God revealed therein is the one we must love and obey – and not a present day idol.

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Job 40.10-14 and John 14.6 – Salvation and humility.
Posted: 4 August 2011 in Job, John

Deck thyself now with majesty and excellency; and array thyself with glory and beauty. Cast abroad the rage of thy wrath: and behold every one that is proud, and abase him. Look on every one that is proud, and bring him low; and tread down the wicked in their place. Hide them in the dust together; and bind their faces in secret. Then will I also confess unto thee that thine own right hand can save thee.

Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way? Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

In the middle of the dressing down he gets from God, Job is implicitly challenged over whether he is able to save himself. Of course the answer is no, because God has ordained that no man (or woman) should be able to save himself. Centuries later, Jesus says essentially the same thing to his disciples. So that all glory can belong to God, he has been determined that our salvation should depend wholly upon his free grace. This can either induce a feeling of indignation with God for not allowing us to engineer our salvation – because we want to be in control, or it can alternatively lead to a sense of awe and humility, as we bow before the Lord our God.

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John 10.16, 12.21-26 – The will of God
Posted: 3 August 2011 in John

“And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.”

“The same came therefore to Philip, which was of Bethsaida of Galilee, and desired him, saying, Sir, we would see Jesus. Philip cometh and telleth Andrew: and again Andrew and Philip tell Jesus. And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour.”

In the second of the above passages, Jesus seems to be saying that his death was necessary for the birth of the Church (“much fruit”). In human terms it is, of course, extremely difficult to understand why the sacrifice of the Son of God should be necessary for the birth of the church, or for his sheep to hear the voice of their shepherd, but nobody said that the things of God had to be easy to comprehend.

Of course, the passage is not without its implications for us. If God was prepared to countenance the death of his own Son so that his will could be fulfilled, we have no reason to suppose that our pilgrimage through life must necessarily be an easy one – and that might include personal tragedies such as the death of a loved one, as well as natural disasters.

This passage contains another warning for us – namely that we must be prepared to lose our lives, in the sense of surrendering control over them, so that we too can be used as instruments of the Father’s will.

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John 10.1-5 and Matthew 4.18-22 – The call to discipleship
Posted: 2 August 2011 in John, Matthew

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.”

“And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets, and followed him. And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them. And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him.”

Both of these two passages, one explicitly and one implicitly, speak of the way in which those who have been given to Jesus by the Father will hear his voice and follow him. There is no reason given why precisely these individuals were chosen to be amongst Jesus’ closest disciples; it was the Lord’s good pleasure to call them. Since all four gospels make it clear that Peter was not without his character faults, they were certainly not chosen for their exceptional holiness. What is especially noticable is the way in which those explicitly called by Jesus immediately abandoned their existing lives, and everything they had known before, in order to follow him. All things considered, it was an extremely radical demand which Jesus was making upon them, but they responded nevertheless.

Chapter 4 of Matthew ends with large numbers of people recognising the voice of the true shepherd and following him.

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John 11.4,37 – The purpose of Jesus’ miracles
Posted: 1 August 2011 in John

“When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.”

“And some of them said, Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died?”

As with all the miracles of Jesus, this one can be read on two levels. One way is to read it as a historical event, the other is as a parable, and there is no need to question the validity of either reading. As historical events, the primary purpose of Jesus’ miracles was to reveal his glory and status as God Incarnate. Clearly, if they were just parables, they could not perform their proper function of glorifying Jesus, but they can nevertheless be read as parables. And as a parable, they speak of Jesus’ role in bring spiritual sight and spiritual life to those whom his Father, the almighty and most gracious God, had chosen. Both interpretations are important, and there is no need to choose between them.

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