Sunday, 27 October 2013

The Christ of God

In the Beginning, the Word (John 1:1-14)

John, his brother James, and Simon Peter formed an inner circle around Jesus. They were among Jesus’ first followers and witnessed some of the most significant events in Jesus' life, including the transfiguration (Mark.9:2) and the prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark.14:32-41). Of the four gospel writers, John shows us the heavenly Jesus, the eternal Son of God. He does not begin his gospel with the birth of Christ on earth but with a picture of His eternal nature from before creation and time.

The phrase, ‘In the beginning,’ is the same as the Greek phrase used in Genesis 1:1 in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) - See my last post In Genesis it literally means, “when the beginning began God was already there.” John develops this to show Jesus' eternal nature saying, “when the beginning began the Word, Christ, was already there.”

John leaves us in no doubt from the outset of his gospel that Jesus is God. Neither God the Father, nor God the Son is created, both were in existence before creation. The writer to the Hebrews confirms this, stating that the Son of God had no ‘beginning of days or end of life.’ (Hebrews 7:3)

This is further affirmed as John writes, 'all things were created by Him.' (John 1:3) The Word of God offers no exceptions as the emphasis in this verse shows, ‘apart from Him nothing came into being.’ He is the originator and the sustainer of all created things.

It is significant that John uses an Old Testament term to describe Jesus’ coming to dwell among us. He employs the term “tabernacled” to describe Jesus’ coming in the flesh (John1:14) an Old Testament term for the dwelling of God among His people. In the desert the tabernacle was the dwelling place of God (Psalm 90:1; Exodus 40:34-35) Now God dwells (tabernacles) among men in the person of Jesus.

Jesus is also described in John 1:14 as 'the only-begotten.' (KJV) The Greek word here, monogenes, is contrasted with the word for born, gennao in verse 13 where all who believe in Jesus are described as ' born of God.' Christ is the unique (monogenes) one, not born (gennao) as we are but begotten.

We can only rightly understand this phrase ‘only begotten’ when used of the Son in the sense of an un-originated relationship. This “begetting” does not mark the place in time when Jesus was born into this world. This is to do with the eternal nature of the Son, there was never a time when He was not, never a time when He was not the Son, never a time when He was not God.

Yet this Jesus was revealed for us all to see and come to know. The beginning of this gospel, the good news about Jesus, takes us back into eternity, gives us an eternal perspective, and demonstrates his eternal nature. How should we think about this Jesus?

John tells us:

For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. The Father judges no one, but has given all judgement to the Son, that all may honour the Son, just as they honour the Father. Whoever does not honour the Son does not honour the Father who sent him.

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgement, but has passed from death to life.

"Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.

For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgement, because he is the Son of Man. (John 5:21-27)

We should honour the Son “just as you honour the Father”? Consider the power of the Son, as Judge, Saviour and Life-giver – God.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

The Christian God

In the beginning God (Genesis 1:1)
In the economy of these 10 words we are introduced to the all-powerful, sovereign God of the Bible.
Here is the beginning and, as we meditate on these words, what hope it gives the Christian. Before anything was created God was already there. People sometimes ask, who created God? In everyday terms we can translate the first part of the Genesis 1:1, “when the beginning began God was already there!” The first lesson we have from this verse, then, is that God is eternal, He has no beginning.
The psalmist helps us here by declaring, “Your throne was established long ago; you are from all eternity” (Ps. 93:2). Everything in existence flows from Him and His life. God's reign is eternal and isn't part of creation, creation issues from his eternal reign. The psalmist declares of Him, “With you is the fountain of life” (Ps.36:9). The Eternal is the source of all else.
How wonderful it is for the Christian to have an intimate relationship with such a God. Jesus declared, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23)
The Christian can approach the eternal throne of God with confidence. “Let us then [because of Jesus] with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)
God doesn't think, see or judge things as men do. God himself declares, through His prophet,
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher then the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)
As for God, His way is perfect…” (2 Sam.22:31)
Christians know the assurance that our lives serve the greater purposes of the eternal God. We also have the assurance about the time we leave this earth and step into eternity, because God is already there. The faithful Christian can declare with the psalmist,
The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?” (Ps.27:1)
This God is greater than the greatest enemy we face. “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7) In him is our security.
We also see that what He created is separate from God. (Isaiah 40:22) The Bible story of creation shows that, while so many seek the creation, such as the sun, moon and stars, to worship and for guidance, there is One who is above all creatures and every part of creation.
We are told in Hebrews 1:3 that all creation is held together by His powerful Word. Christians have peace and rest because we keep our eyes on the Creator God who holds all things in the centre of His will.
To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens! Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maidservant to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, till he has mercy upon us.” (Psalm 123:1-2)

Monday, 7 October 2013

Jesus, Yes! Church, No!

Have you heard someone say that? “Jesus, yes! Church, no!” It is so easy to be impressed by Jesus, so difficult, sometimes, to be impressed by his followers. “Call themselves Christian!” people say when they see us fall short, sometimes spectacularly, of their expectations.

When you hang out your shingle you can expect the world to be watching. That’s why its important for us to be humble, to be seen to to acknowledge our failings (repent) and to demonstrate integrity even when we fail. We also need to be able to deal with people’s misconceptions about church, what it is and why it is less than perfect.

Church must be one of the most controversial and divisive doctrines in the Christian faith. Perhaps that is why so many avoid the subject, except when they speak of it in the most general terms. Most Christians are quite comfortable with the idea of the church triumphant, the final and complete picture of the church in heaven. However the idea of the church militant, the church as it is now on earth, presents apparently insuperable problems.

So we fudge the issue and settle for the idea of the church invisible, that is all Christians in all places and at all times whether here or gone to glory and, most importantly, known only to God. Of course this is a good definition. The church certainly comprises all, whenever or wherever, who have and will yet put their trust in Christ and become born again into his kingdom. However, it will not do simply to think of "you in your small corner, and me in mine". Scripture teaches that "Christ loved the church and gave his life for it" (Eph.5:25)  We should be able to define and describe the object of his love and invite people to enter with us into that love.

Not a Building

Christ did not die for a building. We have so often heard it said that the church is the people and not the building (see my last post) and we believe that. Yet we still refer to "the church on the corner" and speak of "going to church". These conventions, not to mention buildings, are useful as long as we don't allow them to mislead us and, more importantly, mislead those to whom we have a responsibility to give a clear witness.

Neither did Christ die for an institution. Christians, of necessity, need to organise themselves and so we have church organisations. We need to have some form of government and order so we choose leaders, hopefully by inspiration of the Spirit, who will teach and counsel (1 Tim.3:2-3:8.c.f.) It is worth noting that church leaders are servants, not bosses! Inevitably out of this organising activity institutions grow, which is good and helpful so long as the institution serves the church and not the church the institution.

The Christian life begins with a change in our relationship with the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Christian baptism is into God and not into an organisation. At Pentecost, when the conscience-struck people cried, "Brothers, what shall we do?", Peter replied, "Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:38). Repentance is a turning to God in genuine sorrow for sin, baptism is into, or "in the name of" Christ, who is God.

After listing, in Ephesians 1, all the marvellous spiritual blessings we enjoy in Christ, the apostle Paul wrote, "And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit…" (V.13). Everyone sealed this way is added to the number of believers, those who are being saved (Acts 2:47)

The Church is…

This "number of believers" is the church which is made up of "living stones" for, "As you come to him, the living Stone - rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him - you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house…" (1 Peter 2:4-5). Paul also reminds us that we are "God's building"; that we are "God's temple, and that God's Spirit lives in [us]" (1 Cor. 3:9 & 16) All these references are plural by the way. There is no place in the body of Christ for lone believers.

Church is not an organisation but an organism; not a structure but a body; not marked by offices and hierarchies but by the life of the Spirit in true believers. An obvious question is,  Why don't we see in the church the fruits of such an intimate relationship? In his book I Believe in the Church David Watson wrote, "Those who have recently declared that…the church is redundant…must know little of the God of history, the God who raised Jesus back to life, and the God who is able to work through human suffering and sin to reveal his reality to the world".


In Ephesians we read:

"And he gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers to prepare God's people to works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ" (Eph.4:11-14)

Now what will the church look like "until we reach a unity in the faith…and become mature?” Unity is not something that falls out of heaven into our laps. It is something that develops as we give ourselves to "works of service" and apply ourselves to the apostle's teaching (Acts 2:42) "so that the body of Christ (the church) may be built up until we all reach a unity of the faith".

Of course there is no room for complacency and every Christian seeks that maturity in the church. But since the church is living stones and not Portland stone, and since we are " being built into a spiritual house" there is need for grace as we become what we are destined to be.

There is a biblical precedent for such a view of the church - Israel, God's chosen people in the Old Testament. When you read the account of God's dealings with them they often looked like anything but the elect of God. Consider the account at the time of the judges when "everyone did as he saw fit". (Judges 21:25)

Or the time when Eli's sons showed contempt for the Lord's offering (1 Samuel 2) Or the times when Israel had to be punished for following other gods and worshipping in the high places (Ezekiel 20) Think of Samson who went straight from a brothel to do the work of a judge amongst God's people (Judges 16:1)

Or Saul who, with bitterness in his heart and evil intent, nevertheless could not help but prophecy along with the prophets of Israel (1 Samuel 19) Consider further the dividing of the kingdom and the warring factions within Israel. Good times, bad times, Israel never stopped being Israel - and the church never stops being the church.

Archbishop William Temple observed:

"What we must completely get away from is the notion that the world as it now exists is a rational whole; we must think of its unity not by the analogy of a picture, of which all parts exist at once, but by the analogy of a drama, where, if it is good enough, the full meaning of the first scene only becomes apparent with the final curtain; and we are in the middle of this. Consequently the world as we see it is strictly unintelligible. We can only have faith that it will become intelligible when the divine purpose, which is the explanation of it, is accomplished." ( F. A. Iremonger, William Temple [London, 1948], p.22)

The church is also in the middle of the drama. What a great picture!  It is a drama, in process, and the full meaning will indeed become apparent with the final curtain. Meanwhile we must recognise what we are in the middle of, and to what end it is taking us. Times test us and prove us and the world see this. Much is not right and we need to be vigilant in declaring truth, correcting error, seeking to know more intimately the mind and will of God, and becoming what we ought.

For this we have scripture and, "all scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Tim.3:16), W have the indwelling Spirit who gives life (2 Cor.3:6); helps us in our weakness (Rom.8:26); helps us bear fruit (Gal.5:22); and will guide us into all truth (John 16:13).

But we must trust that the building work continues and that God's plan for his church, despite the dire pronouncements of those who would write us off and start afresh, continues apace. For it is his church and his work and "He who began a good work in [us] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (Philip.1:6).