Monthly Archives: March 2015

Lent Course in Broxbourne – Week 4

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In the fourth and final Lent Course session we looked at Matthew 28 which of course concludes with the well-known Great Commission in verses 16-20. Before we got on to those verses we observed various significant points from the earlier part of the chapter.
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1. We noted again how Matthew often uses bracketing to emphasise a point. In chapter 1 we had seen how the two-fold giving of the name Jesus brackets the great title Immanuel and Jesus’ calling to “save his people from their sins”. Both the bracket and that which is bracketed are thus given prominence. So now in Chapter 28 we note that the final teaching section takes place on a mountain in parallel with the Sermon on the Mount. Likewise the final promise is that Jesus will be with his followers who are going out in mission – parallel to Immanuel in chapter 1. Such bracketing underlines the importance and reliability of the whole Gospel which lies within these brackets.
2. Chapter 28 tells the story of the resurrection of Jesus. We noted the glorious truth that Jesus’ resurrection is normally spoken of in the passive – the cold, dead, hopeless body of Jesus seemed to spell the end of all life, salvation and hope. He had laid aside his glory, allowed himself to be crucified and to descend in fearful finality to the cold tomb. Into this situation of despair God the Father came and raised Jesus to new life. And if the Father could bring new life to the cold dead body of Jesus, he can bring new life to us in our spiritual coldness. Glory! What grace!
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3. This chapter stresses the word “afraid” (28.4, 5, 8 and 10). The combination of fear and joy in 28.8 is so real in many of us. The two opposite emotions can join together in our times of worship and generally in life. Likewise we saw how Jesus called into mission disciples amongst whom both worship and doubt held sway. These were no super-saints! Doubt coexisted with their worship of the resurrected Jesus. So rest assured – Jesus could even use people like us in mission!
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4. The only witnesses of the Resurrection in Matthew’s account are two women. In 28.7 the angel commands them to “go and tell”, in which the word for “tell” has no great significance. But then in verse 10 Jesus himself repeats the command, but changes the word to one with richer significance. The root of this Greek word is the same as the root of the Greek word for Gospel. This verb would be better translated as “proclaim” or even “preach”. So the first preachers of the Resurrection were those two women – but we reassured the vicar of Broxbourne that it is still biblically allowable also for a man to preach!
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5. The resurrection should not be separated from the cross as the central message of the good news of Jesus. It is interesting that in Acts 17 the non-Jewish Athenians thought that Paul was preaching two new Gods, ‘Jesus’ and ‘Resurrection’. It seems clear that the great emphasis of Paul’s preaching must have been the person and work of Jesus plus the resurrection. Evidently the Athenians had badly misunderstood what Paul was trying to say about the resurrection, but still this was the heart of his gospel message to them. And in the disillusionment of our contemporary societies the promise of a totally new life through the resurrection of Jesus is good news indeed!
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So we came to the actual commission in the closing verses of the chapter:
1. “Therefore” – because Jesus has total authority as king of his kingdom not only in heaven,but also here among us on earth. We go with his authority. We note the example of this in U.N. debates. The representative of a great power like America, China or Russia may actually be less gifted in him-/herself than the representative of some small powerless nation. But he/she comes with the authority of their nation and so people will listen to them. We may not be specially gifted, but we go to the world with the authority of him who we represent – and he has all authority.
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2. “Go”. In the Old Testament with the great exception of Jonah Israel is not sent out to preach to the Gentiles. They were called to live the life of God, keeping his commands in God-like holiness. This would so demonstrate the reality, holiness and loving goodness of God that the Gentiles would be attracted in to worship and follow the God of Israel, the creator of all the earth and of all people. But now the New Testament has a further call, namely to go to the unbelieving world and share the good news of Jesus and his salvation.
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3. “Make disciples” – our goal is to help people to become those who will sit at the feet of Jesus for the rest of their lives and in humility go on learning from him. Our aim is more than just getting people converted. We believe that we all need to become those who will follow Jesus and learn from him. We need to grow in our Christian life and faith.
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4. Baptism is the visible sign of God’s promises to us if we believe. It is not just the sign of our faith which may be unreliably up-and-down. But God’s promises are sure and give us assurance. Luther in his times of dark doubt pictured Satan lurking beneath his sofa and tempting him to doubt God’s grace. In his vivid way Luther would then open his Bible, show it to Satan under him there and call out “Baptisatus sum!”, I have been baptised. He did not believe that baptism in itself saves us, but he was reminding himself and the Devil that God had given him the outward sign and mark of his promises. And God never breaks his promise.
Baptism in the name of Father, Son and Spirit reminds us too to make sure that each person of the Trinity has his rightful place in our faith and proclamation. It is so easy for our faith to become unbalanced by an undue emphasis on one person of the Trinity to the relative neglect of another Person. In this way our whole faith will become unbalanced and we shall miss out on elements of the Gospel.
When my wife and I were engaged, she was in Singapore and I was far away in South Thailand and then in North Sumatera, Indonesia. In those days there was no email or other modern communication. Even letters took a couple of weeks. She tells me that in those days she often fingered her engagement ring. If one were cynical, one could point out that this ring was useless. If she had lost it somehow, that would not have changed my love for her. Or if I had fallen in love with some local beauty in Thailand or Indonesia, the fact that she had a ring from me would not have helped. In itself the ring had no power. But it was a tangible token of my promises and love, so it was deeply significant. So it is with baptism. We all need such visible signs of faith. And in our proclamation of the good news of Jesus we should include visible signs and outward forms which declare the reality of our message, will attract people to Christ and help them to remain strong in faith.
5. “All nations”. Jesus was calling his disciples not only to reach out to their own Jewish people, but also to all peoples. We too are called to bring the message of Jesus to Jew and non-Jew alike, to ethnic minorities now living in our country and in mission to all nations in every continent.
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6. Mission is not only evangelistic, but also includes teaching people everything which God has commanded us. Thus it will include ecological and environmental elements of our faith, every part of Christian teaching which has come to us, including the command to “go and make disciples of all nations”. In fulfilling this Great Commission we must therefore teach people to go out in mission to all peoples everywhere. We have to confess that former generations of European mission workers were generally disobedient to this command and failed to teach African, Asian and Latin American churches their international responsibility in mission. We rejoice that in our day the Holy Spirit has begun to move in the church worldwide to inspire them also to get involved in worldwide mission – even coming to Britain to witness among our people. Is the coming of such Christians to help us in our mission here the harbinger of a new hope for Britain?
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Lent Course in Broxbourne – Week 2 (posted after Week 3 – sorry!)

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The Broxbourne Lent meetings have now had their second gathering and I looked with them at the call of the first disciples in Matthew 4.18-21. We noted together the significance of the preceding verses which lead into those first disciples’ call.
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Matthew 4.12-17
1. “When Jesus heard that Jesus had been put in prison . . . from that time on Jesus began to preach ‘Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near’”
Suffering is the traditional biblical prelude to the coming of God’s kingdom. In Ezekiel the agony of warfare with Gog and Magog introduces the fantastic picture of the kingdom in chapters 40-48. In Isaiah 53 the sufferings of the Servant lead to him ‘seeing his offspring and prolonging his days’ (53.10-12); the cross cannot be avoided if the resurrection unto new life is to be experienced; it is only when a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies that it will bear much fruit.
Jesus is introducing God’s kingdom and needs disciples to introduce the kingdom to all the world. They too must be ready therefore to take up their cross.
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2. The kingdom is inseparably associated with righteousness. In traditional Jewish thought the messianic kingdom will come when Israel keeps the Law perfectly. Jesus and the New Testament reverser the order. Rightness must ensue when the kingdom comes – so repent! The kingdom of God and holy righteousness go hand in hand together. In our corrupt, violent and over-sexualised world this message of righteousness and repentance is much needed. Christian holiness should stand out in stark contrast with the standards of the world.
3. The kingdom is universal. Jesus centres his early ministry in “Galilee of the Gentiles” (Matthew 4.15). God’s kingdom reaches out beyond the narrow confines of Judea and the the Jewish people to bring salvation and life also to the Gentiles of all nations everywhere. This international perspective is vital for the vision and ministry of Jesus’ disciples throughout the ages. All Christians are called to have a global vision.
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The call to discipleship
The call to become a disciple of Jesus involves three everyday simply understood commands.
1. “Come”. Verbs of motion carry great significance in the Gospels. Are people moving towards Jesus or distancing themselves from him? The command is to “come” to Jesus and keep coming closer and closer to him in intimate relationship. In John 1 even Jesus as God’s Word is “with” God (pros in Greek which can be translated as ‘with’, but prosparticularly means ‘towards’). Relationship involves also moving ever closer towards the other person. Somehow even in his perfect oneness with the Father even Jesus is constantly coming towards his Father.
2. “Follow”. The call to discipleship demands that we ‘follow’ Jesus.
We follow him as Lord and therefore obey him. In these verses those first disciples immediately left their nets and their boat – they didn’t refer the decision to some church committee or even have a year of prayer or training first! The call to follow Jesus is urgent and comes before the security of their fishing work by which they lived. In 4.22 they even left their father. In the conservative first century Jewish society parental obedience and filial responsibility had an immensely strong place in the religious culture, but the call to follow Jesus overrides absolutely everything else. Jesus has absolute priority.
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3. “I will make you fishers of men” – and women! Jesus’ call here is not just to tend our aquariums, but to venture out into the oceans to find new fish. Of course it is important also to beautify the fish tanks,  keep them well aerated and feed the fish we already have in the tank. But here Jesus is saying that discipleship in his kingdom means outreach into the oceans to evangelise and share the good news of the kingdom in such a way that new people are added to his church. International and cross-cultural mission among all peoples is an essential calling for disciples of Jesus.
Let us be obedient to his call to us to be true disciples of Jesus! Let his call have priority in our lives.
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Lent Course at Broxbourne – Week 3

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The third week of the Lent course has now passed and we are much encouraged not only by the very appreciative feedback, but also by steadily increasing numbers – 38 first week, about 45 second week and now 55 for this week. Do pray for the Lord to speak to people again this coming Wednesday, the final week. This week I looked at the feeding of the crowds in Matthew 14 and 15, very favourite passages of mine.
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We noted that the death of John the Baptist forms the introduction to the feeding of the crowds. So Jesus clearly has his own impending death in his mind as he feeds the crowds. So we saw how Matthew uses the verbs associated with the Last Supper and in the Christian Communion Service. Jesus took the bread and fish, he looked up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the bread, he gave it to the disciples and they gave it to the people, they all ate. Jesus not only has in mind to feed the crowds with bread and fish, but also with his sacrificial death for our sins.  Social ministry which meets the people’s needs must go hand in hand with the message of Jesus’ atoning death for us on the cross.
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We noted too that Matthew often has two parallel stories or the number 2 in an event – so Jesus feeds two crowds, still the storm twice, heals two blind men etc. In Jewish law a testimony becomes valid with two witnesses. Matthew’s account of Jesus is the truth.
Matthew stresses that Jesus had compassion not just on individual people, but also on “the crowds”. In our day of huge cities and populations, we need to relate our task of feeding the crowds also to the multitudes al over the world.
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Matthew interestingly tells how with the crowd of 5,000 the Jewish disciples take the initiative in going to Jesus (14.15) with real concern lest the crowds remain hungry, whereas with the Gentile 4,000 crowd it is Jesus who shows concern for the crowds lest they faint by the way (15.32). He has compassion for this Gentile crowd, whereas the Jewish disciples were not very enthusiastic. We realise the danger of being more concerned that the crowds of our own people should be fed than we are for ethnic minorities or people overseas.
Jesus’ words in 14.16 send shivers down our spines. “You give them something to eat”! The horror of these words is underlined by the pathetic response of the disciples “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish”. Their loaves were not large supermarket loaves and their fish were not whales! Totally inadequate resources. But Jesus has the answer to their problem – bring your inadequate resources to me, he says. He has a wonderful way of taking our weakness and multiplying our gifts, so that we can fulfil his commands to us in the feeding of the crowds.
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And what crowds they were! Five thousand men, not counting the women and children. How many therefore altogether? Jesus was living in the pre-birth control era. When we were missionaries in Indonesia back in the 1960s there was also no birth control locally. It was reckoned that a normal family consisted of parents and six children, so eight people per family. Was Jesus’ crowd then some 40,000 people? Let’s be conservative and say just 20,000! Five bread rolls and two little fish appeared ridiculous. As we face the worldwide task of mission and feeding the crowds everywhere, in our weakness both individually and as churches we may feel our gross inadequacy too.
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We have said that Jesus fed the crowds. This is not quite the whole story. Jesus gave the bread and fish to his disciples and they fed the crowds. Jesus loves to use us to do his work. What a humbling privilege! Of course he could do the work better without us, for we tend to make a mess of everything we do. And we tend also to allow pride to spoil our lives – “I preached the sermon”, “I led the worship”, “I witnessed among Muslims” . . .
12 baskets of leftovers indicates the fact that the first crowd was Jewish, while 7 baskets indicates the wider nature of the second crowd which was Gentile. In the Bible it is foreseen that the Messiah will feed the crowds of all nations in the messianic banquet at the table of Abraham. Jesus’ feeding of great crowds of both Jews and Gentiles is a messianic sign, so the feeding of the crowds is immediately followed by the Jewish leaders demanding a sign from heaven. But Jesus declares that the only sign given to them is “the sign of Jonah”, the one and only Old Testament person to be sent to preach to the Gentiles. Jesus is the Messiah and he feeds the crowds of all peoples both materially and also with his saving death on our behalf.
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Our calling is to follow Jesus and feed the crowds of every ethnic background, Jew and Gentile, both in Britain and all over the world.
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Lent Courses at Broxbourne

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Broxbourne Parish Church has kindly invited me to give four talks for Lent. This Wednesday I gave the first one and was encouraged that the hall was packed. The plan is to give four talks on Matthew’s Gospel. In the first talk I looked at Chapter 1 with the genealogy of Jesus and then his names Jesus and Immanuel. Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus has three unique features which introduce his account of Jesus’ ministry.
1. Jesus has evil people in his background whereas normally contemporary genealogies airbrushed out any skeletons which might have been in the cupboard. We see this in the inclusion of Rahab who was a prostitute. David’s sin with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah, the listing of fearfully evil kings in his family tree. This may be linked to the name ‘Jesus’/the Lord saves. All people, both Jew and non-Jew, who become ‘his people’ and follow him can experience the reality of all our sin being washed clean through Jesus’ cross and resurrection. In Jesus Yhwh comes down to earth in order to save.
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2. Jesus has various non-Jews in his genealogy. It might seem a scandal that Jesus should have foreigners and Gentiles in his ancestry. But despite his strongly Jewish emphasis Matthew stresses Jesus’ wider ministry not only to his own Jewish people, but also to all peoples. This emphasis on the universality of Jesus’ purposes is so relevant to our multi-ethnic society and also to mission worldwide.
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3. In spite of the chauvinistic culture of 1st century Jewish life Matthew includes various women in Jesus’ background. We may smile and point out that most of us have women in our family backgrounds – they do play a part in our birth! Matthew purposely underlines how Jesus exalts women and their role in the Christian faith. Indeed in Matthew 28 the only witnesses to the resurrection are two women and Jesus commands them to “go and tell” (28.10). The Greek word for ‘tell’ has a proclamatory significance, so they were the first preachers of the resurrection, the very heart of the good news of Jesus. We may add that it is still also allowed for men to preach!
The genealogy starts with the assertion that Jesus the Messiah is the son of David and the son of Abraham. He is the king of God’s kingdom and he is thoroughly kosher in his messianic identity. The climax in 1.17 underlines the absolute glory of Jesus with its threefold repetition of the number 14 – the letters forming the name David in Hebrew add up to 14; and 14 is 2 x 7, the number of fullness and perfection.
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In coming weeks I will share a little more of what I will be teaching on this course. You may also like to read more on Matthew in my book *Matthew and Mission – the Gospel through Jewish eyes” which is available through Jews for Jesus.
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