Category: Bible

In John’s Gospel we get a very different take on the Christmas story. Gone are the historical hooks: the census, the trip to Bethlehem, the wise men and the shepherds. Gone is the picture of Joseph and Mary in the stable. Instead, we are given a broader perspective on proceedings.

First of all, we are told that the subject of this whole episode is, and was, the Word – that which was with God in the absolute beginning. In fact, through this Word the entire universe that we inhabit came into existence.

The coming of this Word into his own creation is remarkable. 
 We know that Jesus would later announce that he is the light of the world, and that following his light would bring life, but there’s another element that we tend to skip over without recognising it for what it is. The light itself is not what brings life, but it is the life behind it – that self-same Word.

John 1:4 tells us: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.”

The light that we receive, that we follow, derives from that very life of God himself, through the Word. The I AM is the life behind the light.  So, the one through whom everything that was made has been made is the same life that lights that first Christmas, and every Christmas since then. It is the power of that life that ensures to us that the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness hasn’t been able to overcome it. Encapsulated in that fragile package who Mary, Joseph, shepherds, and wise men adored was all the power of the Creator of the universe!

And yet, remarkably, in becoming human, Jesus, the Word, became one of us, and ‘came to his own’. How sad then, that so many of us refuse him, not just at Christmas, but throughout our lives. The fantastic news is that this same Word is returning to his creation, but this time in all the power that we read of here. It’s one thing to reject a poor innocent and fragile baby. It’s another thing entirely to reject the One who is life itself and the source of all that was, all that is, and all that will be.

There’s only one thing we can honestly do: bow our knee to the Creator of the universe, made man for our sake, and worship him as the life who brings us light.

Bible General

No, it’s not the name of a Two Ronnies sketch, but the title of a sermon I preached a couple of months ago at Cuckfield Baptist Church.

Particularly for those who are new to the Bible, it can be difficult to understand context, or to see how all the different bits are a whole. This talk gives some pointers to look for while you read.

Four Threads Through the Bible

Bible General

There’s a gap in our history of the apostle Paul. In Galatians 1:17 Paul himself alludes to it, but gives no more detail than the fact that he went to Arabia for a while. I don’t often speculate, but in this case I think I have fairly firm ground.

Paul was steeped in the law. He knew the Jewish Scriptures inside out. We was versed in all the prophecies. But he was wrong about how it all fitted together. My dad says that prophecy without fulfilment is like having a jigsaw puzzle without having the picture on the lid – you won’t know how it all goes together until you can see the whole picture. Paul had all the pieces, but he didn’t have the completed picture.

When he encountered Jesus on the Damascus road, Paul was given the the whole picture; he realised that Jesus was the Christ, the fulfilment of all the Law, the prophecies and promises. That left Paul with a lot of pieces to rearrange. I believe that Paul left the country until he had put all the pieces of the jigsaw together, according to the picture that he now had. It would have taken some time for Paul to take all that he had known, and make sense of it on the basis of his new found understanding. Paul speaks of this in his letters as ‘the mystery revealed’.

And so, once Paul had got the revealed mystery understood in his own mind he came back so that he could share this understanding that Jesus is the fulfilment of God’s great plan, that Jesus is all the Law and the Prophets. This mystery revealed, this light bulb moment for Paul drove the rest of his life.

In his letter to the Colossian christians Paul says this:

“For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Colossians 2:1–3”

Whatever your hopes or desires are for the coming year, this hope transcends all, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is in Christ. Paul’s desire was that all might know, and he struggled with all his might to share this understanding. For us, we should take this for our own. We have the mystery revealed, we know Jesus is the Christ. Let’s do what Paul did. Let’s determine this year to know God and his Son through the Word that he gave us. Let’s put all those pieces together in our own minds and let’s share that knowledge with anyone who will listen.

So, my goal for the coming year is to read God’s word, to prayerfully study and consider, and to put together the pieces of God’s eternal plan in my own heart, and then to pass on what I have learned, to whoever will listen.

Bible

I’ve just returned from a bit of last minute shopping. It’s frantic Friday – everyone is rushing, pushing, searching, trying to put the finishing touches on the event that Christmas has become.

I was musing recently about why we give gifts at Christmas. Is it because we think of Jesus as God’s gift to us, or perhaps because the wise men brought gifts. It’s impossible to equate even the most extravagant Christmas gift with the giving of Jesus for us. Although Jesus is ours, he is never ours in the sense of a possession, something we own. He is ours, because we are his, and he is everything.

So that brings us to the wise men and the reasons for their offerings. First of all, the wise men were rather late to the party. Although they set out when they saw the star rise, it took some time to arrive at Bethlehem. Mary, Joseph and Jesus were no longer in the stable, and Jesus was an infant child, not a new born baby. But that in itself tells us something about Christmas – it was an event so monumental that the wise men were determined to pursue what they had discovered, even at such cost in terms of time and energy. I don’t know how far east they had come from, but judging by the age of the children that Herod murdered, it was some distance. This was more than curiosity, it was a conviction that the rising star bore real significance.

For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.
Matthew 2:2

Worship is a serious business, and these wise men were serious about worshipping the new king.

When they arrived at the house, the wise men did indeed worship Jesus, and they offered gifts to him. But those gifts were not toys or trinkets to be played with. The gifts themselves were an act of worship.

Perhaps we will come late to the real meaning of this party too. It may be well after the decorations have come down that we can objectively think about how we should treat Jesus, but here’s some food for thought for when you get there.

We are told that the wise men ‘offered him gifts’ (Matthew 2:11). The important word is ‘offered’. It’s quite a common word in the New Testament. We read of it when the people brought Jesus the sick and the demon oppressed. We read of it when the paralytic was lowered down from the roof. We read of it when a blind, mute, demon possessed man was brought to be healed. We read of it when the little children were brought before him.

Yes, we bring our offering of worship to the incarnate God – Immanuel, God with us; Jesus, God saves. But we come too, knowing our need, knowing that there is only one who can heal, restore, forgive. We offer ourselves not because we can give to him, but because he alone can save. And, strangely, these two, worship and petition go hand in hand with our loving God. No matter what state we find ourselves in this Christmas, know this, that Jesus welcomes all who will come and offer themselves to him. ‘I won’t reject anyone who comes to me’ Jesus would later say.

So, when you are struggling with the busyness, or the obligations, or just the whole commercial weight that is heaped on our Christmas celebration, remember the lines of the Christmas carol, and take them to heart:

Yet what can I give Him?
Give Him my heart.

And give him your heart in worship and in need. Jesus is more than willing and able to meet that need and accept that worship.

Bible

9-5 ThesesWe’re a generation living with an identity crisis. We have been told that we can choose to be whoever we are, and with that choice, for most of us comes confusion. Where does that leave us? Identity comes from where we come from, where we’re going, who we belong to. It is a complex thing, and not one that is always consciously understood, and yet it still defines us.

I remember that it was only once I had left home and began to live in a different country to the one that I was born in that I became more interested in family history – my origins. Subconsciously I was trying to establish my identity, and that identity had roots. If we decide that we can arbitrarily change that identity we are in effect cutting off our roots. But roots are the very thing in which we thrive. A tree without roots is mere wood. A person without roots doesn’t know where they are going or where they have come from.

The Bible, cover to cover is given to explain not just our roots, but also our destination. The Bible makes explicit what we can see in part as we look at the universe in which we live. The Bible also makes clear that we are God’s and he is ours. He made us, he has plans for us, he has plans for this entire universe.

And so, our identity is bound up in God. We cannot choose it and more than we can choose our parents. And yet, just as a child can disown his parents and walk away from them, we too can walk away from God. The story of the Bible, and of Jesus in particular is that God is not willing to walk away from us. He sent his Son, Jesus to win us back, to open the door to a restored relationship.

It is neatly summed up in the Apostle Peter’s first letter (2:10):

“Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, now you have received mercy.”

Our identity, our belonging, our hope and destiny is all bound up in a loving God who has shown mercy, who has at great cost opened the door to forgiveness and reconciliation for all. Our God has offered to include us in his people – that’s our identity.

In the book of Hebrews we’re told of a new covenant. The single word translated by these two literally means a ‘together covenant’ – the idea being that of bringing all things together: a consummating covenant. This is the ultimate goal that God has for this universe – a people that belong to him, loved, prepared, as a bride for a groom and kept for all eternity!

“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days declares the Lord. I will put my laws into their minds and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” Hebrews 8:10

Bible General