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Bible boy_reading_bibleThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 4:24-25

24 So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them. 25 And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.

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Matthew 4 begins with Satan tempting Jesus at the end of His 40 days and 40 nights in the desert.

Afterward, Matthew shows us that our Lord fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy by settling in Capernaum — the land of Zebulun and Napthali.

There, Jesus called on people to

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. (Matthew 4:17)

Of His move from Nazareth to Capernaum, recall that Jesus began his ministry in Nazareth and had to leave when his fellow townsmen tried to throw him off a cliff (Luke 4:16:30). He had read part of the scroll to the congregation in the synagogue (Luke 4:18-19):

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
    He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
    and recovering of sight to the blind,
    to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Incensed, the people asked among themselves who Joseph the carpenter’s son thought He was. Anger escalated when Jesus reminded them of Nazareth’s parlous state during Elijah’s time: a preponderance of widows, a terrible famine and a leprosy epidemic. Our Lord’s teaching session ended as follows (Luke 4:29-30):

29 And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. 30 But passing through their midst, he went away.

He had foreseen this (Luke 4:24):

And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown.

Matthew has the story of His rejection in Nazareth later (Matthew 13:53-58), although it omits the attempt to throw Him off the cliff.

Back to Matthew 4. Having made His base in Capernaum, Jesus then called four fishermen to follow Him: Simon (Peter), his brother Andrew, James son of Zebedee and his brother John (verses 19 and 20):

19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”[a] 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him.

All of this is in the three-year Lectionary readings used in public worship. Oddly, these readings stop with verse 23:

And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.

It is incomprehensible that today’s verses are not part of the Lectionary verses. Why? They are every bit as marvellous.

John MacArthur preached a whole sermon on Matthew 4:23-25.

Word of Jesus’s teaching and healing spread to faraway Syria!

Also in this is the reality of Gentiles coming from far and wide to see and hear Jesus.

The other marvellous aspect of this is that He healed so many diseases instantly and permanently.

Medicine was very primitive in those days, in fact, until the 19th century. The reason people in the Bible considered illness a curse was that many were in chronic pain or physical isolation from disease or ailments. The most physicians, such as they were, could do was to give patients herbs or potions.

Furthermore, there was no developed study of illness. Epilepsy was considered an aspect of lunacy at the time. John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

… the old English says lunatic. It’s translated epileptic. That’s very interesting. Lunatic is a word with a Latin root and the first part luna comes from the moon because the people in those days thought that people were nuts because they got affected by the moon. Lunar sickness, they were sort of, they used to call them moonstruck. That’s where you get the idea of a lunatic; he’s moonstruck. But the best etymological connection for this word for us today is epileptic. The reason we say that is because in Matthew 17:15, that word is used to refer to a seizure that appears to be some kind of epileptic seizure. So our Lord could deal with disease that is caused by demons, all of it, and our Lord could deal with disease that is come kind of disorder in the brain or the nervous system or whatever malfunction creates seizures.

Another constant preoccupation of the time was leprosy, which is contagious. No one went near lepers, who had to be isolated from the rest of the community.

A phenomenon of our Lord’s ministry was the preponderance of demons. MacArthur says that nowhere in the Bible do we read of so many as during His time spent preaching and healing.

This was the most magnificent time the ancient world had ever known.

Matthew Henry explains:

They who came for cures, met with instruction concerning the things that belonged to their peace. It is well if any thing will bring people to Christ and they who come to him will find more in him than they expected. These Syrians, like Naaman the Syrian, coming to be healed of their diseases, many of them being converts, 2 Kings 5:15,17.

John MacArthur explains how word of Jesus travelled. Galilee was a trading centre with much Gentile interaction. As a result, the Galileans were used to new people and new ideas:

And, of course, to a Jew that’s a very despicable thing to do so there was much frowning upon Galilee because of the mixture of people that lived there. But you see Galilee was surrounded by foreign people. Along the coast, the very coastline itself was that great people who sailed the Mediterranean Sea known as the Phoenicians. Along the northern part were Syrians. Along the southern part were Samaritans. You remember the southern part of Israel and the northern part was separated by Samaria where the half-breeds lived. So they had the half-breed Samaritans on the bottom of them and they had on the north and east the Syrians, and on the west they had the Phoenicians.

And so there was a tremendous non-Jewish influence. And it tended to sort of water down the traditionalism and they were open to something fresh and they were open to something new and Jesus knew that. He selected that area. Additionally the roads of the world, the great roads of the world running from the east to the west and the north to the south passed immediately through Galilee. And we know about this, in fact, there was a very famous road in those days known as the Way of the Sea. And the Way of the Sea led from Damascus through Galilee and then made a left turn and went right down to Africa. Things coming from the eastern part of the world would come to Damascus; they’d be taken west to Galilee and then straight down into Africa. The road to the east went through Galilee and then right on out to the furtherest frontiers of the east, so it was a trade route. Because of that there was a tremendous mingling. Jerusalem never had that. Because of Jerusalem’s location it was isolated. It was on a high high plateau. People didn’t bother to go up there. It was in a desolate desert area to the east and a coastline to the west, desert to the south and so Jerusalem never had that trade element, as did Galilee. Traffic of the world passed through there.

In fact, one writer said Judea, that is the south, is on the way to nowhere and Galilee is on the way to everywhere. And so because of the mentality of the people, they were open to change, because of the constant influx of non-Jewish influence, and because of the tremendous population of people in a highly productive agricultural area Jesus was planned by God to begin His ministry there.

Matthew Henry’s analysis of Jesus’s cures examines them by miracle, mystery and mercy:

(1.) The miracle of them. They were wrought in such a manner, as plainly spake them to be the immediate products of a divine and supernatural power, and they were God’s seal to his commission. Nature could not do these things, it was the God of nature the cures were many, of diseases incurable by the art of the physician, of persons that were strangers, of all ages and conditions the cures were wrought openly, before many witnesses, in mixed companies of persons that would have denied the matter of fact, if they could have had any colour for so doing no cure ever failed, or was afterwards called in question they were wrought speedily, and not (as cures by natural causes) gradually they were perfect cures, and wrought with a word’s speaking all which proves him a Teacher come from God, for, otherwise, none could have done the works that he did, John 3:2. He appeals to these as credentials, Matthew 11:4,5; John 5:36. It was expected that the Messiah should work miracles (John 7:31) miracles of this nature (Isaiah 35:5,6) and we have this indisputable proof of his being the Messiah never was there any man that did thus and therefore his healing and his preaching generally went together, for the former confirmed the latter thus here he began to do and to teach, Acts 1:1.

(2.) The mercy of them. The miracles that Moses wrought, to prove his mission, were most of them plagues and judgments, to intimate the terror of that dispensation, though from God but the miracles that Christ wrought, were most of them cures, and all of them (except the cursing of the barren fig tree) blessings and favours for the gospel dispensation is founded, and built up in love, and grace, and sweetness and the management is such as tends not to affright but to allure us to obedience. Christ designed by his cures to win upon people, and to ingratiate himself and his doctrine into their minds, and so to draw them with the bands of love, Hosea 11:4. The miracle of them proved his doctrine a faithful saying, and convinced men’s judgments the mercy of them proved it worthy of all acceptation, and wrought upon their affections. They were not only great works, but good works, that he showed them from his Father (John 10:32) and this goodness was intended to lead men to repentance (Romans 2:4), as also to show that kindness, and beneficence, and doing good to all, to the utmost of our power and opportunity, are essential branches of that holy religion which Christ came into the world to establish.

(3.) The mystery of them. Christ, by curing bodily diseases, intended to show, that his great errand into the world was to cure spiritual maladies. He is the Sun of righteousness, that arises with this healing under his wings. As the Converter of sinners, he is the Physician of souls, and has taught us to call him so, Matthew 9:12,13. Sin is the sickness, disease, and torment of the soul Christ came to take away sin, and so to heal these. And the particular stories of the cures Christ wrought, may not only be applied spiritually, by way of allusion and illustration, but, I believe, are very much intended to reveal to us spiritual things, and to set before us the way and method of Christ’s dealing with souls, in their conversion and sanctification and those cures are recorded, that were most significant and instructive this way and they are therefore so to be explained and improved, to the honour and praise of that glorious Redeemer, who forgiveth all our iniquities, and so healeth all our diseases.

The prophet Malachi spoke of the ‘sun of righteousness’ (Malachi 4:1-3):

The Great Day of the Lord

4 [a] “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts.

These two verses of Matthew’s — rejected by the Lectionary compilers — add so much to our appreciation of Jesus’s healing miracles, revealing His inexhaustible mercy and love for all, including Gentiles.

Such an editorial decision beggars belief. Congregations can’t bear to hear two additional — and informative — Scripture verses? I do wonder about the Lectionary people.

In closing, John’s Gospel tells us that there were countless additional miracles which do not appear in his account (or the other Gospels) — John 20:30-31:

The Purpose of This Book

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Next time: Matthew 5:25-26

BBC viewers will recognise Diarmaid MacCulloch’s name even if, like me, they have trouble spelling it.

The Oxford University Professor of Church History has a new three-part series on BBC2 on Friday nights called Sex and the Church.

In the latest issue of Radio Times (18-24 April 2015, p. 7), he opines on the Church and sexuality. His editorial, ‘Body and soul’ urges clerics to catch up with the rest of the world in this regard.

He states that Jesus had ‘surprisingly few words’ about sex. True. But, then, Jesus did not say much about many specifics of Christian life. Sex is not the only matter on which He remained somewhat silent.

MacCulloch, a Church of England deacon, has been openly gay since the mid-1970s. The son of an Anglican clergyman, he says:

“I was brought up in the presence of the Bible, and I remember with affection what it was like to hold a dogmatic position on the statements of Christian belief. I would now describe myself as a candid friend of Christianity.”[4]

However, why is he so mystified that our most senior clergy continue with cautious statements about sexuality? The New Testament letters, particularly those of St Paul, warn against certain sexual practices — heterosexual and homosexual — equating them with lying, theft and murder. Even if we excuse them, God condemns them all.

Of Scripture, MacCulloch told The Spectator in April 2013:

‘The essence of the authority of God is its thereness,’ he says. ‘It’s a bit like our relationship with our parents. There is nothing you can do about it. You can’t declare someone else to be your dad. That seems to me to be a statement about religion. I have a relationship with the Bible because it’s just there. I may not like what it says, I may not approve of it or obey it, but it’s there and I’ve got to cope with it.’

Oh, okay, then (not).

He closes his Radio Times piece with this:

Cheer up, bishops: in the wise words of Mae West, those who are easily shocked, should be shocked more often.

Wow. He might be upset about the quandary that the Anglican hierarchy are in regarding conducting same-sex unions in church, however, the Church is meant to be in the world, not of it.

The programme concerns ancient scandals:

Having looked last week at how the influential writings of St Augustine set in stone the idea that all sex, even within marriage, was sinful, he turns his attention this week to the revolution that turned that idea on its head for the first time in almost a thousand years: the Reformation.

First MacCulloch tracks back to the 11th century to examine how the Church deliberately set about increasing its power in society by taking control of the formerly civil institution of marriage, while at the same time increasing the pressure on its own clergy to embrace celibacy. A ban on clerical marriage resulted in appalling medieval hypocrisy – thousands of church-run brothels, and a sharp rise in incidents of clerical child abuse (“a pattern of behaviour repeated in recent years”) – which much of the Reformation’s religious revolution was in direct reaction to. The manner in which sexuality subsequently became one of the prime battlegrounds between Catholicism and Protestantism provides rich material for MacCulloch.

What is the purpose of MacCulloch’s telling us that there have been scandals in the Church from time immemorial? Most of us know this. The same licentiousness has taken place in every other social, religious and secular setting throughout history. This includes other world belief systems.

Even if we didn’t know about these ecclesiastical transgressions, true Christians realise that humanity lives in a fallen world. Furthermore, Satan will do whatever he can to destroy godliness. It’s what he does.

May we pray for the grace to improve and enhance Christ’s holy Bride and bring comfort to His followers. May the licentiousness, scandals and worldliness stop.

Temptation is always with us. Most Church historians could have explained this easily whilst revealing historical events.

What sort of ‘friend of Christianity’ is Diarmaid MacCulloch, anyway?

This is too good not to share.

A reader on Darryl Hart’s Old Life gives us the essence of Presbyterianism:

A Pentecostal, a Baptist, and a Presbyterian are in a diner kind of tensely discussing some joint charitable venture in their town.

While doing so smoke begins pouring through the window from the kitchen into the dining room.

The Pentecostal jumps and yells “FIRE!”

The Baptist jumps up and yells “WATER!”

The Presbyterian remains seated and motions them both to sit back down and says… “order”.

So true!

This order, with divine grace, has inspired many extraordinary theologians since the Scottish Reformation. Excellent Presbyterian references, which I often consult, are the Westminster Confession of Faith as well as the Shorter and Larger Catechisms.

The Orthodox Presbyterian Church has a helpful page with links to all of these documents. I have added this to my Resources section as ‘Westminster Confession and Catechisms’.

jesus-christ-the-king-blogsigncomMy past few posts have explored what the Revd James A Fowler of Christ In You Ministries calls Resurrection theology. I first borrowed his sermons in 2012. Past posts in the 2015 series — summaries — can be found here, here, here, here and here.

Fowler’s essay, ‘The Extension of the Resurrection’, neatly ties together God’s purpose for creation, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, the Ascension, Pentecost, the growth of the Church and the Christian life — with a word or two on the afterlife. It is well worth reading in full.

Emphases mine in the excerpts below. Note Fowler’s distinction between ‘remedial’ and ‘restorative’, as they relate to the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, respectively.

How, then, is God’s ultimate objective for mankind achieved and accomplished in the resurrection of Jesus Christ? The death consequences of man’s sin were dealt with in the crucifixion when Jesus vicariously and substitutionally took mankind’s sin upon Himself on our behalf. In the redemptive act of His death Jesus accomplished the remedial work necessary to remedy the consequences of man’s sin before God. In that it was “impossible for Him to be held in death’s power” (Acts 2:24) for He was personally “without sin” (Heb. 4:15), He was raised from the dead in resurrection. In the resurrection expression of life out of death Jesus accomplished the restorative work of God, allowing the life of God to be restored to man. He took our death in crucifixion that we might have His life by resurrection …

Jesus repetitively promised His disciples in the upper room that He would send “another Helper, the Holy Spirit, who would be in them” (cf. Jn. 14:16,17,26,28; 15:26; 16:7,13-17). The word He used for “another” was not heteros, meaning “another of a different kind”, but He used the word allos, meaning “another of the same kind”, because He was promising a Helper who would be just like Him since the Helper would be Him in Spirit-form. Crucified, buried and raised from the dead, Jesus then ascended to the Father (Acts 1:8-11) saying, “you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you;…” Soon thereafter, on Pentecost (Acts 2:14), the Holy Spirit was poured out upon mankind allowing the Spirit of Christ to invest mankind with His life (cf. Acts 2:31-33) … Jesus told Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life” (Jn. 11:25) and told His disciples, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (Jn. 14:6). The divine life of God is available to man in Jesus Christ. “He that has the Son has life; he that does not have the Son of God does not have life” (I Jn. 5:11,12) …

We must see beyond the historicity of the empty tomb on that first Easter day, and understand the extension of the resurrection-life and resurrection-power of Jesus Christ in every Christian. Christianity is not just the remembrance of an historical resurrection, but is comprised of the vital dynamic of the risen Lord Jesus functioning in the activity of the Holy Spirit of God by enlivening Christians with the “saving life of Christ” (Rom. 5:10). Christianity is Christ ­ the resurrected Lord Jesus living out His life in Christians every day, to the glory of God.

I hope that you have found this brief series as enlightening and profitable as I have. I also hope that it informs the remainder of our Eastertide 2015 and beyond.

JesusChristMy past few posts have explored what the Revd James A Fowler of Christ In You Ministries calls Resurrection theology. I first borrowed his sermons in 2012. Past posts in the 2015 series — summaries — can be found here, here, here and here.

Fowler’s essay excerpted below is entitled ‘Resurrection: the Key to Understanding the Gospel’. I highly recommend reading it in full. It addresses how people, Christians included, perceive the Bible, God and the life of Christ.

Because we fail to properly understand and appreciate the Resurrection, our evangelisation is weak. Fowler tells us how to overcome these weaknesses and become fuller Christians. We must come to realise that the Risen Christ is working through us.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine:

It is time that we find the Resurrection stone, and discover the “key” to unlock these religious mysteries, to interpret the gospel as it was intended. The resurrection is a far more important discovery for mankind than the Rosetta Stone was to Egyptologists. The resurrection is the “key” to understanding the gospel and its import for all peoples …

The concept of resurrection must first be decoded. The resurrection is not just an historical event, not just a theological truth. The resurrection is a living, personal reality in the Person of Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “I AM the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:25)

Jesus was indeed raised from the dead historically on that “first day of the week.” The theological significance of “life out of death” and eventual bodily resurrection is truly important. The present significance of the resurrection is recognized when Christians understand that the risen Lord Jesus ascended to heaven and the very resurrection-life of Jesus was poured out on Pentecost to dwell in the spirits of Christian people. That spiritual reality, the indwelling of the living Lord Jesus, the dynamic function of His resurrection-life in and through our lives, is the essence of the gospel. Jesus, the “resurrection and the life,” is living out His resurrection-life in us, the Christ-life expressed in the Christian.

Many of the “things of God” remain hieroglyphics to many Christian people because the reality of the resurrection-life of Jesus is not applied to Biblical truth.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ defines the “church of God” as those who are “called out” to be all God intends them to be by His activity of resurrection-life in and through them. Jesus Christ is the “head of the Body, the church” (Eph. 5:23; Col. 1:18,24). The church is the “Body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12), the collective expression of the life of the risen Lord Jesus, the resurrection community, the “church of the living God” (I Tim. 3:15). The world is supposed to see the out-working of the life of Jesus Christ on earth today as the resurrection-life of Jesus functions in the interpersonal relationships of Christian peoples.

I sometimes wonder if our postmodern interpretation of Christianity — from both sides of the socio-political spectrum — characterised by niceness, the social gospel, good works, legalism, liberation theology and theonomy, is marring that one-on-one relationship we have with Christ.

If we focussed more on the Resurrection, as Fowler says, we would move away from the ‘me, me’ aspects of Christianity and really devote our lives to the living, risen Christ.

Tomorrow: From remediation to restoration

Jesus Light of the World 616Without Christ’s resurrection, our religion is but a commemoration of history.

To many people, Christ died and that’s the end of the story. However, at Easter we remember His fulfilment of Scripture by rising from the dead, defeating the tomb and, by extension, bringing us the promise of life eternal in Him.

I have been writing about what the Revd James A Fowler of Christ In You Ministries calls Resurrection theology. I first borrowed his sermons in 2012. Past posts in the 2015 series — summaries — can be found here, here and here.

Fowler warns us that we risk making our faith a historical one, especially if we neglect the Resurrection. His article, ‘A Call for Resurrection Theology’, explains much more and I would recommend reading it in full.

For now, here are the principal excerpts, emphases mine:

The church throughout the centuries has often failed to recognize the significance of the resurrection of Jesus. Despite the fact that the Easter celebration has been regarded as the culmination of the Christian year of worship, the full meaning of the resurrection has often been undeveloped or diluted in Christian teaching and preaching. Christian theology has emphasized numerous legitimate Biblical themes, but has seldom made the resurrection the focal point or fulcrum on which all other Christian subjects depend

Because of this neglect and the common misemphases of Christian theology, I am compelled to write this article and to make “a call for resurrection theology” …

If the incarnation and crucifixion were the only historical acts of God on man’s behalf, then the gospel would cease to be “good news”. If the gospel narrative was only that “Jesus was born. Jesus died. God said to man: ‘There is the remedy! I came. I fixed the problem. Now you are fixed. The slate is wiped clean. Now, go and do a better job next time.’” That is not good news! That is damnable doctrine. That is tragic teaching!

The incarnation and crucifixion alone serve only to condemn man all the more. The story would go like this: “A man came who was God-man. He did not share the spiritual depravity of the rest of mankind. He did not develop the “flesh” patterning of selfish desires like other men. He lived life as God intended, allowing God in him to manifest His desire and character at every moment in time for thirty-three years. He was the perfect man! He did not deserve to die, but He was put to death unjustly. In dying undeservedly, He died in our place, as our substitute, and paid the price of death to satisfy God’s justice, and forgive mankind of their sins.” Is that the whole of the story? If so, He lived and died perfectly which we cannot do. If the incarnation and crucifixion were the whole of the story, then we would have been better off without Him! Why? Because He could live and die as He did; we cannot. And the fact that He did only condemns us all the more by His matchless example, for we do not have what it takes to live like that.

Only in the resurrection do we have the message that God has given us the provision of His life in order that we might be man as God intended man to be; in order that the resurrection life of the risen Lord Jesus might become the essence of spiritual life in the Christian; in order that we might live by His life and the expression of His character. The resurrection is the positive provision of life in Christ Jesus, around which all other theological topics must be oriented

If Christian theology does not get beyond the cradle and the cross, the birth and the death of Jesus, then all we have to offer is a static history lesson with no contemporary consequence. If Christian theology does not get beyond apologetic defense for what “was”, and longing expectation for what “will be,” then it becomes an irrelevancy of temporalized “bookends” that fails to address what “is” and “should be” presently …

What a tragedy that the Christian religion has itself blockaded people from life in Christ by projecting the implications of the resurrection to an historical event of the past or to an anticipated expectation of the future.

If we do not properly understand or appreciate the relevance of the Resurrection, can we be proper Christians? Fowler does not believe so.

May we contemplate Resurrection theology in the approach to Ascension Day and Pentecost Sunday.

Tomorrow: Understanding the Resurrection is understanding the Gospels

jesus-christ-the-king-blogsigncomTwo posts from last week — here and here — appeal for what the Revd James A Fowler of Christ In You Ministries calls Resurrection theology.

For many of us, Easter is but one day, when, in fact, it is the most important part of Christianity.

In 2012, I excerpted several of Mr Fowler’s sermons on the Risen Christ, including ‘Christianity is Resurrection’. It is well worth reading in full, because not only does Fowler address what we remember on Easter Sunday but ties it into the events of the Bible and Christian theology.

For now, a brief excerpt outlining what we should understand and appreciate about Easter. Emphases mine:

The gospel is the message of the resurrection. The Gospel IS resurrection. Christianity is the expression of the resurrection. Christianity IS resurrection. Someone might say: “But Christianity is Christ!” That is true, but Jesus Christ said, “I AM the Resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). Jesus Christ is the content, the essence of resurrection-life. Jesus never said, “I AM the Cross”, but He did say, “I AM the resurrection”. The resurrection is the expression of the dynamic of all that Jesus IS. In fact, the resurrection is the reality of all that Christianity IS. The vital understanding of everything that is Christian is in the resurrection. Resurrection-life is the focal point of all Christian teaching ­ the starting point from which everything must be appraised, evaluated and interpreted, ­ EVERYTHING! Everything prior in time, time itself, and everything that follows chronologically, logically and theologically can only correctly be understood in light of the resurrection; all human history, all human thought …

All of history, and especially Biblical history, must be interpreted by the resurrection. Those who preceded the resurrection were who they were, and did what they did, because of what was, Who was, to happen in the resurrection

Christianity IS resurrection. At Easter time we do not just celebrate another event in history ­ even if it be regarded as the greatest event in history. Resurrection is not just an historical event; it is an on-going dynamic of the life of God in Jesus Christ. We do not just assent to the historicity or theological accuracy of the resurrection of Jesus Christ; we encounter resurrection. We encounter and have personal relationship with the One who is “the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:25). One cannot count themselves a “Christian” unless they have encountered, received, and are participating in the resurrection life of Jesus Christ.

The season is not over yet, by the way. Eastertide runs until Pentecost Sunday, still a few weeks away.

May we use this time to make the Risen Christ a very real part of our lives.

Tomorrow: Without the Resurrection, Christianity is only history

Thomas The Incredulity of St Thomas by CaravaggioThe Sunday after Easter is known traditionally as Low Sunday, because the newly baptised had finished their week of wearing white baptismal robes and returned to their normal attire.

Traditionalist Catholics often call this particular day Quasimodo Sunday from the Latin Introit:

‘Quasi modo geniti infantes, rationabile, sine dolo lac concupiscite’. This translates to: ‘As newborn babes, desire the rational milk without guile’ and is intended for those baptised the week before. 

The protagonist of Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame got his name from being left as an infant at the steps of the famous cathedral on Quasimodo Sunday.

Whatever Lectionary year we are in, the Gospel reading is always the story of the Apostle Thomas (John 20:19-31), who, unlike the other remaining ten Apostles, did not come out of hiding until a week after the Resurrection.

Although we do not know from John’s account whether the scene unfolded as Caravaggio depicts it — probably not — the painting is a captivating work of art, to say the least.

In 2011, I excerpted sermons on the Apostle Thomas by The Revd P G Mathew, Reformed (Calvinist) pastor of Grace Valley Christian Center in Davis, California. What he has to say is well worth reading in full.

Highlights follow, emphases mine.

In ‘Beware: You Are on Display, Part Two’, Mr Mathew explains:

That Jesus Christ, in his resurrection body, still has holes in his hands, made in behalf of those he came to die for. As long as those holes are there, we can say we are engraved on the palms of God. These indelible impressions are impossible to erase, and, in fact, in Revelation 5:6 John writes, “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne.” Throughout all eternity the nail holes will be there. That should tell us that God loves us!

in ‘Fear Not: Jesus is Risen’:

Thomas believed when he saw Jesus and touched his hands and feet and side. But Jesus said, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). Our faith is supported by the evidence of the apostolic witness revealed in the Scriptures. Christ is not asking us to believe irrationally.

In ‘Mandate of the Master’, Mr Mathew relates:

Jesus showed himself alive to his disciples on many occasions over a period of forty days, Luke tells us, so they could know that their Master truly had risen from the dead with a physical body. They could look at him and touch him–the risen Christ was not a ghost, in other words. He ate with his disciples many times and appeared to Peter, James, Mary Magdalene, the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, seven of the apostles once in Galilee, ten of the apostles once in Jerusalem, all eleven apostles two times, the women at the tomb, and to five hundred at one time in Galilee. Why do you think Jesus showed himself so regularly to his disciples over this forty day period following Easter Sunday? Because they had the responsibility of bearing witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which is the fact upon which Christianity rests. They were the ones who must testify to the one who destroyed death by his death and was raised from the dead–Jesus Christ, the Lord of the universe.

From the disciples’ personal experience of the risen Christ as written in Scripture, we are to take our belief:

Jesus’ apostles, therefore, were eyewitnesses of both the resurrection of Christ and the ascension of Christ. They understood who Jesus Christ is, and we must understand also. He is the one who died on the cross for our sins, the one who was raised from the dead, and the one who destroyed death for us. He is the one who defeated the world, Satan, devils, and every power that is against us.

Easter recalls the culmination — His fulfilment — of Holy Scripture. May we understand and appreciate it as such. If we do not, we miss the point of our Lord’s time on earth.

Forbidden Bible Verses will return next week

JesusChrist Yesterday’s post pressed for a greater appreciation of our Lord’s resurrection and Eastertide.

The Revd James A Fowler of Christ In You Ministries inspired that plea. He calls for a ‘Resurrection theology’ in our churches.

His Easter sermons are some of the best I have ever read. We would be better Christians if we took on board what he has to say.

In 2012, I excerpted his sermon ‘It is the Resurrection that is being by-passed’, which I highly recommend reading in full.

Fowler says that we are all at fault for not emphasising the Resurrection more in our churches and evangelisation.

He includes Christian humanists, theonomists, Church growth advocates and churchgoers of misrepresenting the Resurrection.

He says that we bypass it when we:

– Make Christianity a ‘book-religion’ and neglect to accept

the Resurrected Lord as having “all authority in heaven and earth” (Matt. 28:18), and the One in whom life is found (John 5:39,40).

– View reconciliation as a communitarian concept instead of

a relational reconciliation wherein the “I AM” of the resurrected Jesus (John 11:25) enters into spiritual union with the Christian (I Cor. 6:17), and reconciles all things to Himself (Col. 1:20).

– Misrepresent faith as a purely intellectual or historical assent instead of

allowing for the out-working of His life (James 2:19,26).

– Live according to legalistic good works and mandated morality instead of

as the imitation of Jesus’ example, rather than Jesus Christ, the Risen One, living out His life in the Christian (II Cor. 13:5; Gal. 2:20; Col. 1:27).

– Present heaven as a human utopia instead of

the presence of a perfect God who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places (Eph. 1:3) that we might participate in the “kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 4:17) by the indwelling of the Perfect Risen Jesus Christ.

In short:

It is the resurrection that is being by-passed whenever we fail to recognize the full import of how God has restored humanity by the raising of His Son, Jesus Christ, whereby His “finished work” continues to bring to pass all that God intends to accomplish by His grace.

Let us pray for a greater appreciation of the Resurrection, particularly in the weeks approaching the Ascension and Pentecost.

Coming soon: The Resurrection as the focal point of faith

Jesus Light of the World 616Many Christians spend weeks preparing for Christmas but think less of Easter.

At Christmas, we have presents to buy and wrap, cards to send, a tree to decorate, a menu to plan and so on. All to remember the cute baby in the manger!

Easter is a different story. We hear about the empty tomb, the road to Emmaus and whilst we’re happy Christ rose from the dead, it’s less of a big deal.

Is it because there is no infant to contemplate? No presents to receive? No decorations in and around the home?

I know of churchgoers who actually dislike Easter because a beloved relative died around that time. Wow.

For many years I had problems with Christmas for that very reason but could not talk about it: ‘Don’t mention death at such a happy time. Everybody loves Christmas.’

Yes, Christmas is all about us: ‘my family around me’, ‘going away on holiday’, ‘great presents’ and so on. The list is endless.

Christmas does play into our carnality in the worst possible ways, most of which revolve around unmet expectations which are the highest at that time of year. Think of the disappointment manifesting itself in arguments, divorces, domestic abuse, suicides and so on.

That is our fault, nothing to do with the feast of the Nativity in and of itself. If we truly honoured the Christ Child, we wouldn’t place such an emphasis on our own needs.

One cannot help but wonder if churchgoers and clergy help to encourage this. How many Christian pages on the Internet concern Christmas and Easter? The number of entries for Christmas no doubt outnumber the latter. (I’m guilty of this.) In the offline world, how many Easter cards do we send and receive? Very few.

Yet, Easter is our greatest Christian feast. Without it, we would not be able to share in eternal life. Anyone whose relative has died around this time might take time to contemplate that their loved one would not be able to enter the Kingdom of God were it not for our Lord’s resurrection. As such, it should be a time of reassurance and comfort.

Eastertide lasts 50 days — until Pentecost, which is the Church’s birthday. Perhaps now that the 40 days Lent are over we can spend the coming weeks contemplating the significance and the joy of the Resurrection.

This can — and should be — a tremendous time of happiness for Christians, not one to be forgotten quickly. We would do well to make it part of our lives.

In 2012, I read — and excerpted — several sermons from the Revd James A Fowler’s Christ In You Ministries site. He is a pastor of the Neighborhood Church in Fallbrook, California, and, prior to that, had a teaching ministry in several countries around the world.

Fowler would like to see more of a ‘Resurrection theology’ in our churches. Yes, please!

What follows are highlights from his 2003 Easter sermon, ‘Living Reality of the Resurrection’ — well worth reading in full. Emphases mine below:

If the cross is an end in itself, i.e. “God’s final answer,” then all the gruesome execution of Jesus can do is create a martyr figure that allows people to focus on the death of this individual in order to perpetuate a particular ideology. Granted, that is how much of the Christian religion operates in our day, but is that what Christianity was intended to be?            

What happened on the cross, the death of Jesus, represents a remedial action

The resurrection of Jesus from the dead was God’s “Yes” to the restoration of His divine life in humanity. If our theology does not go beyond redemption in the death of Jesus on the cross, to the restoration of God’s life in humanity by the resurrection, then it ceases to be Christian theology. God’s “final answer” was not the cross. God’s final answer was (and is) the resurrection! In the resurrection of Jesus divine life overcame death, God overcame Satan (I Jn. 3:8; Heb. 2:14). That was historically enacted on that third day when Jesus arose from the dead and exited the tomb, but it was for the purpose of resurrection being personally and spiritually enacted in those receptive to Christ by faith.

It is a sad indictment of contemporary Christian religion to observe how the resurrection is regarded and taught in the churches today. It has become but a token recollection in the annual church calendar …

The need of fallen mankind is the restoration of the presence of God’s life in their spirit to energize their behavior in soul and body. The Spirit of Christ is that life. Life is a Person. “I AM the life” (Jn. 14:6), Jesus said. Divine life, spiritual life, eternal life, resurrection life are all the life of the risen and living Lord Jesus. The Apostle John explained, “He that has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life” (I Jn. 5:12).

This is not to diminish our Lord’s tremendous sacrifice in His crucifixion. Not at all.

However, the story did not end there.

Fallen humanity’s salvation requires both the cross and the resurrection.

Tomorrow: Bypassing the resurrection

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