Romans 5.6-12 – Humility and salvation
Posted: 17 May 2011 in Romans

For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement. Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:

For many years I would read passages such as the one above, and think that they made absolutely no sense. How could it possibly be the case that somebody being nailed to a cross 2,000 years ago could have anything to do with justice or salvation? I could leave conservatives to believe in that sort of nonsense, but there was no way I could believe it. Gradually, however, I was brought to a realisation and acceptance of the fact that, actually, it wasn’t necessary for me to be able to make sense of something before that something could be true. The Bible is given to us precisely as a revelation of truths we wouldn’t otherwise be able to discover for ourselves. It is not given so that we, in our arrogance, can sit in judgment upon God’s revealed Word. It was precisely that kind of pridefulness which necessitated Christ’s sacrifice in the first place.

Theology and the physical sciences do, of course, employ very different methodologies; with each one being appropriate to their respective subjects. But they do have one thing in common, and that is the irrelevance of somebody’s ideas of what ought to be true in determining what is true.

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Mark 10.17-23 – The cost of discipleship
Posted: 16 May 2011 in Mark

And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother. And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth. Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me. And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions. And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!

I wonder how many of us would react differently if we found ourselves in the position of the rich yoing man? Being submissive to the will of God is an idea easy to assent to in theory, but possibly much more difficult to put into practice. There is a theological virtue called detachment, the practice of which is supposed to ensure that we are attached to nothing so strongly that we can’t give it up if the service of God requires that of us. But, of course, that most of us are fairly well attached to clothes on our backs, roofs over our heads and food in our bellies.

Should we be inclined to think that God could never require such sacrifices of us, contemplating the lives of people like Jeremiah, or even of Jesus himself, ought to sober us up a bit.

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Joshua 7.11-25 – God’s “unfairness” and our salvation
Posted: 9 May 2011 in Joshua

Immediately preceeding this passage is the Israelite’s defeat at Ai. They had been forbidden to help themselves to the spoil from the Battle of Jericho, but one of their number had nevertheless done so.

Israel hath sinned, and they have also transgressed my covenant which I commanded them: for they have even taken of the accursed thing, and have also stolen, and dissembled also, and they have put it even among their own stuff…..

So Joshua rose up early in the morning, and brought Israel by their tribes; and the tribe of Judah was taken: And he brought the family of Judah; and he took the family of the Zarhites….. and Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was taken. And Joshua said unto Achan, My son, give, I pray thee, glory to the LORD God of Israel, and make confession unto him; and tell me now what thou hast done; hide it not from me. And Achan answered Joshua, and said, Indeed I have sinned against the LORD God of Israel, and thus and thus have I done….. So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran unto the tent; and, behold, it was hid in his tent, and the silver under it. And they took them out of the midst of the tent, and brought them unto Joshua….. And Joshua, and all Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah….. and his sons, and his daughters, and his oxen, and his asses, and his sheep, and his tent, and all that he had: and they brought them unto the valley of Achor.

This passage could be plucked more or less at random from a great many others which tell a similar story. The thing they have in common is that God holds, not just the individual who has transgressed responsible for his actions, but the group of which he is head. In Numbers it is the families of Korah, Izhar, Dathan and Abiram who suffer a similar fate and most famously, of course, in Genesis 3, the entire human race is held to be accountable for the actions of just two individuals. To our way of thinking this is bound to seem very unfair, but it is, perhaps, just one more illustration of the fact that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and his ways are not our ways. Nevertheless, God is the Lord, and we must bow before him.

However, this “unfairness” has a flip side, which apparently is just as unfair, but which works to our advantage. As Paul points out, if the misdeeds of a group’s representative can bring condemnation upon the whole group, then those who are called into the Body of Christ can be made righteous by virtue of Christ’s righteousness, who is their head and representative.

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Hebrews 1.8-11 – The Old Testament in the light of the New Testament
Posted: 7 May 2011 in Hebrews

But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom. Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows. And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands: They shall perish; but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment;

The above passage from Hebrews consists of a couple of quotes from psalms 45 and 102. It seems to me that, implicit in them, is an important principle; namely that the Bible is its own authority in interpreting itself. If you read psalm 45, it is easy to see why the author of Hebrews thought it was an appropriate quotation, but it is wholly likely that liberal sscholars would debate whether that psalm really contained a prophesy of Christ, before coming to the conclusion that it didn’t. However, the writer of Hebrews clearly believed the quoted verses to be prophesies of Christ, and since scripture is divinely inspired we must necessarily share his opinion.

Of course, that does not necessarily mean that the Old Testament authors were consciously writing about Christ. Probably they were not; at most they might have been conscious of writing about the Messiah of Jewish expectations. Nevertheless, divine inspiration means that it is not only right, but incumbent upon us, to share the New Testament authors’ understanding of Old Testament texts.

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God’s rule over history – Jeremiah 33.14-18
Posted: 5 May 2011 in Jeremiah

Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will perform that good thing which I have promised unto the house of Israel and to the house of Judah. In those days, and at that time, will I cause the Branch of righteousness to grow up unto David; and he shall execute judgment and righteousness in the land. In those days shall Judah be saved, and Jerusalem shall dwell safely: and this is the name wherewith she shall be called, The LORD our righteousness. For thus saith the LORD; David shall never want a man to sit upon the throne of the house of Israel; Neither shall the priests the Levites want a man before me to offer burnt offerings, and to kindle meat offerings, and to do sacrifice continually.

To me this passage speaks of the way in which God’s purposes will always be realised. Elsewhere in the Bible there are any number of examples where people rebel against God’s rule, and thereby bring judgment upon themselves, but who nevertheless help (unintentionally) to bring his will to fruition.

Have Abraham’s descendents been promised that they will dwell in the land of ancient Palestine? Then, in spite of the Babylonian captivity, it will come to pass. Has a Messiah, who will be a descendent of David, been promised? Then that too will come to pass. It will do so, not because there was anything special or holy about Abraham’s descendents – clearly there was not – but because the Lord of history has decreed, from all eternity, that it should come to pass.

God does not leave the course of history to happenstance, nor does he leave it in the hands of sinful men, but retains full control of it himself, and directs the steps of men according to the good plasure of his own will.

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