Lives being transformed
God is Love
In English we have one word for “love”. The Bible has many, both in Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament). For example, in Greek we have:
- Eros: From which we get the word “erotic”. It is a physical and intimate kind of love.
- Philia: This is often translated as “brotherly/sisterly love”. It is a transactional love that says: “I’ll help you if you help me”. It is a respecting of each other in a business partnership.
- Storge: This is a natural and instinctual love of parents towards their children and vice-versa.
The early followers of Jesus used a different word for love though. They felt that none of these words captured God’s love shown through Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension. They used the word Agape.
Agape is a love that is active before it is a feeling; it isn’t blown by the winds of feelings. It is a love that gives us what we need, which might not be what we want… It is a love that is costly to the person giving it. It’s a love that the recipient can reject and is therefore a massive risk to the giver.
This is the love the writer of 1 John had in mind when he wrote: “God is love” (1 John 4:8). Love is not an attribute of God or just one part of God’s character. If God were a stick of rock love would run right through the middle. Now, in saying this we’re not ignoring other parts of God’s character. To be sure, God is just, merciful, gracious, jealous, protective, etc.. But God’s justice is loving, God’s mercy is defined by love, etc..
Thomas G. Long, a gifted American preacher and writer, says: “God does not love us out of need, does not possess us out of insecurity, but God does desire that we reciprocate with love – not for God’s sake, but for ours.”
God is love; this love is both a vulnerable and strong love at the same time.
Willingly died on a cross, rose again
From conception to ascension Jesus’ main aim was to bring God’s kingdom and therefore remove the barrier of sin, reconciling humanity with God.
In full agreement with his heavenly Father and in the power of the Holy Spirit Jesus lived the life we can’t live and willingly died the death we should have died to offer us life. Fulfilling many Old Testament prophecies, Jesus died on the cross for us.
He stood in our place taking the consequence of Sin.
He released us from the slavery of Death.
He triumphed over the Devil who only wants to bring about ruin and death.
Jesus invites us, in our regret, to change direction (repent) and turn to him. If we do this we are his and he is ours; He will never let us go, turn his back on us or forget us.
God proved Jesus had removed the barrier of sin for all Creation by rising to life again three days later! He wasn’t just another criminal who had died at the hands of the Roman authorities instead, he had triumphed over death and deprived it of its sting.
From foetus to a heavenly return Jesus shows us God cannot stand sin and loves us so much that he refuses to leaves helpless and alone in it.
God made a good and beautiful creation
The first book of the Bible tells the story of God creating everything (Genesis 1-2). Some Christians believe this to be a literal six day event whilst others understand it to be an ancient poem. The Hebrew word for “day” (yom) has several literal definitions: A period of light (as contrasted with the period of darkness), a general term for time, a point of time, sunrise to sunset, sunset to next sunset, a year, a time period of unspecified length and a long, but finite span of time (an age, epoch or season).
This story, this poem, was a Jewish response to the creation stories of other people groups of their time. The other stories differed in one major way; they started with a battle between a good and a bad god in which the good god wins. The Jewish story made it clear that there is only one God, who is good and created all we are see and feel.
Some people have thought that God made creation perfect and we messed it up. Genesis says God made it “good” and “very good” when he created us.
The Hebrew word for “good” (tov) can mean the following: “Good, pleasant, beautiful, excellent, lovely, delightful, convenient, joyful, fruitful, precious, sound, cheerful, kind, correct, righteous; the good, the right, virtue, happiness, pleasantness.” The author of The complete word study of the Old Testament says: “It may refer to practical or economic benefits, wisdom, aesthetic or sensual goodness, happiness, or preference. An important meaning of the term is moral goodness, as contrasted with moral evil.”
Please note, it doesn’t say “perfect” is one of the possible meanings. Also, why would God say of creation that it is “perfect” and then, after creating humanity in his image saying, “it is very perfect”? It doesn’t make sense. If creation was perfect before humanity was made it can’t be any more perfect. In saying this we’re not slighting God creating this beautiful place we call home. It is very good!
The Hebrew word for “perfect” (tamin) can mean: “Blameless, blamelessly, complete, entire, full, intact, integrity, perfect, sincerity, unblemished, uprightly, who is perfect, whole, without blemish, without defect.” It is used often in verses about sacrifices to God such as Exodus 12:5 and Exodus 29:1 and occurs 91 times in the Old Testament. It also speaks of God is verses such as Deuteronomy 32:4:
He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.
If the writer of Genesis wanted to say that Creation was perfect why didn’t he use tamin instead of tov?
God made something that was good and invited us to be partners in caring for it. And when we care for our planet, God’s planet, we’re more inclined to see its beauty!
The kingdom of God
Christians have often misunderstood “the kingdom of God” as “Heaven” or “the Church”. It’s neither.
In “Jesus and the victory of God” Tom Wright says:
“The most important thing to recognise about the first-century Jewish use of kingdom-language is that it was bound up with the hopes and expectations of Israel. ‘Kingdom of god’ was not a vague phrase, or a cipher with a general religious aura. It had nothing much, at least in the first instance, to do with what happened to human beings after they died. The reverent periphrasis ‘kingdom of heaven’, so long misunderstood by some Christians to mean ‘a place, namely heaven, where saved souls go to live after death’, meant nothing of the sort in Jesus’ world: it was simply a Jewish way of talking about Israel’s god becoming king. And, when this god became king, the whole world, the world of space and time, would at last be put to rights.”
In Matthew’s gospel Jesus mentions the Church twice (16:18-20 and 18:15-20) and the kingdom of God fifty-five times. The Church should be a signpost for God’s kingdom. It is key to God’s plans but the kingdom isn’t limited to the Church.
The kingdom of God was the emphasis of Jesus’ teaching, for instance, in the parables in Matthew 13. Jesus said the kingdom is:
- Often small to start with
- A feast to which all are invited
- Larger than, but includes the Church
- Planted by God before we arrive on the scene
- A field (the world) we must buy (live in)
- Always growing in mysterious ways
- Consistently hidden
- A bringer of joy
The kingdom was not replaced by the Church when Jesus ascended to heaven and gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit. It was still the focus of the early Church leaders such as Philip and Paul (Acts 8:12, 19:8, 20:25 and 20:28) and must be ours. We, as individuals and a local church in Tonbridge must seek and focus on the kingdom of God.
We can become so familiar with some words that they lose their importance and impact. “Sin” is one such word which is often only used for the really big things. You may have heard someone say: “I don’t beat my children and I pay my taxes. I not a sinner, I’m a good person.”
So what does sin mean?
The most frequently used words for sin in the Old Testament (chata) and New Testament (hamartia) both essentially mean “to stray from the path” or “to miss the mark.” The path/mark is God’s intention for us. Whenever we miss this in thought, word, action or lack of action we sin. No wonder the writer Paul says: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
From God’s perspective all sins are the same but from a human point of view all sins are not the same: Cheating at a family game of cards does not have the ramifications of cheating on your spouse. The consequences of sin can be catastrophic for individuals, communities, nations and the entire world.
Some may ask: “But didn’t Jesus say all sins were the same in Matthew 5:21-30 when he spoke about murder and adultery?” Not quite. Jesus exaggerates, challenging us to carefully examine our thoughts and actions. He is making it absolutely clear that sin is a serious business and we should do everything to avoid it. Martin Luther King Jr. once said: “Not only will we have to repent for the sins of bad people; but we also will have to repent for the appalling silence of good people.”
We should stand up against sin, in other words, repent of it. “Repent” means to turn in my thoughts, then my heart and then my actions away from those things which cause me to stray from the path of God’s design for my life.
We should also stand up against the sin in ourselves as it says in Romans 12:9: “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” We struggle to genuinely love others if we are burdened by evil.
We should stand up against “systems of sin” as it says in Proverbs 31:8: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.” Children dying of preventable illnesses, parents unable to feed their young, women being trafficked, elderly folk dying alone; these situations are wrong. We can do no other but stand against them.
In the gospels Jesus only seems to demonstrate a disgust for sin when it was committed by religious leaders (e.g.: Matthew 23:27-28). Why? Because Jesus couldn’t stomach religious hypocrisy; showing God and others how good we think we are, whilst loading religious obligations onto others which they have no chance of fulfilling. Jesus knew that religious hypocrisy was a major reason why many people didn’t follow God.
These religious leaders didn’t like Jesus because, amongst other things, they said he spent time with sinners. Jesus saw them as neighbours, even those who were his enemies and he didn’t particularly talk about their sins, but about God’s forgiveness of their sins instead. In Luke 7 a prostitute crashes Simon’s party and anoints Jesus’ feet with oil. He responds with the words: “Your sins are forgiven.” In John 8 a woman caught in adultery is thrown before him amidst a crowd of men demanding that she be stoned to death. It’s a trap and Jesus tells them that the one without sin can cast the first stone. After they’ve all left Jesus stands with the woman who hasn’t been condemned by the crowd and says: “Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.”
Sin is serious. We should stand against it.
Thank God Jesus doesn’t dwell on or leave us in our sin. When we turn to him we can find freedom and peace.
We freely accept and follow Jesus
We freely accept Jesus:
We can accept Jesus by asking for and receiving God’s love and forgiveness and becoming friends with Jesus. God sent his Son Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to remove the barrier of our sin that is between us. Although that barrier is removed we can still choose to reject what Jesus has done for us and turn our backs on God’s love. The choice is ours because God is not a Dictator. God will not make us accept Jesus. There are examples in the Bible of nations (Israel in exile – Jeremiah 29:4-14), cities (Jerusalem – Luke 19:41-44) and individuals (the rich young man – Mark 10:17-31) turning their backs on God. When we turn our back on God and don’t freely accept Jesus it breaks their heart. There’s no indifferent shrug of the shoulders and moving onto the next project. God keeps calling us back to freely accepting Jesus.
And follow Jesus:
All four Gospels record Jesus calling the disciples to follow him (Matthew 4:18–22, Mark 1:16–20, Luke 5:1–11 and John 1:35–51). This is more than just “following” someone on Social Media, as we keep a casual eye on their movements. It means we trust and obey him, going his way rather than our own, which can often be tough and costly but is ultimately rewarding. Also, it was so counter-cultural. In Jesus’ day a mother would bring her son to the Rabbi and ask him if her son could follow him. The lad would go through years of following before he was fully accepted. Jesus turns this on its head and invites the disciples to follow him; and what a motley and varied crew they were!
At the time there was a saying with regards to following and being a disciple that went like this: “Cover yourself in the dust of your Rabbi.” It conjured the idea in dusty Israel of a disciple being so close to their Rabbi as they observed how he lived and what he said and then tried to replicate it that they would literally be covered in dust from his sandals.
It is significant that Jesus calls the disciples and us to follow him before we worship him. We sometimes get this back-to-front in church. Following Jesus in the world should lead to worshipping him as we see him at work with, in and through us. Following leads to worshipping, not vice-versa.
Jesus is continuously calling us to freely accept and follow him:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
(Matthew 11:28-30 The Message)
Our relationship with God
One Dictionary definition of the term relationship is: The way in which two or more people or things are connected.
The grand sweep of the Bible is God’s desire to be connected with us and for us to also be connected with each other and Creation as shown in Mark 12: 30-31 where a Teacher of the Law asks Jesus which is the greatest commandment. Jesus responds by saying: And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
God wants us to freely choose to have a relationship with him.
At one level our relationship with God should be like our healthy relationships with other human beings. God wants us to be honest with him: We can laugh with joy, weep in pain; talk about the small stuff in life and grapple over the big things. We don’t need to hide before God or pretend to be someone we’re not. The Psalms are the only book in the Bible that are consistently humans talking to God and 60 of the 150 of them are laments, which are “passionate expressions of grief, sorrow or complaint.” That’s 2/5 th of the Psalms where people get angry with God or life!
And the good news is that God can take it, more than that, God wants to take it because he wants a real relationship with us.
God isn’t an object, without thoughts or feelings. Rather, God is an actual being who is passionate, can get angry; is joyful, at times jealous and desire the best for us.
In John 14: 7 Jesus is chatting with and comforting his disciples, when he says: “If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” Jesus was telling them that if they wanted to know what God was like they should look at Jesus because God was like Jesus. Later in John’s gospel Jesus tells the disciples they are no longer servants, but friends (15:15). Friends are people we love and like. I’m sure we’ve all heard that God loves us, and this is true. But do we believe that God actually likes us? God enjoys being with us, empowering us, speaking to us, listening to us.
Israel’s King, David, likened God to a Shepherd in Psalm 23. At the time shepherds named their sheep, cared for them, protected them and nursed them back to health when injured. And the sheep? They would come when they were called by name because they trusted their shepherd, knowing he would do his best for them.
David said: “The Lord is my Shepherd” (Psalm 23:1). Not just a shepherd, or your shepherd, or their shepherd, but my shepherd. God was his and he was God’s. That’s connection, that’s relationship.
The Bible is the inspired word of God
The Bible is a library:
There are sixty-six books written by many authors who often offer different views on situations. For example, 1 and 2 Chronicles tell a similar story to 1 and 2 Kings of Israel’s history under the reign of human kings (anti and pro, respectively).
The Bible is written in various styles:
We plumb its depths when we move from a “flat reading” of every passage and book. This doesn’t mean we don’t take it seriously. Rather, in taking into account the various styles (history, poetry, erotic, parable, metaphor, exhortation, hyperbole, etc.) we experience it more profoundly.
The Bible is a timely book containing timeless truths:
It was written between about 4,000BC – 96AD. Much of it is written for the people at the time. For example, if we took a literal approach to the Bible we wouldn’t wear blended fabrics or sow two different seeds in our fields (Leviticus 19:19) and men wouldn’t trim the edges of their beards (Leviticus 19:27). Furthermore, the Bible has some things to say about women and human slavery that most, if not all, people would agree were for those who first received them. Nobody uses the Bible to argue for slavery these days.
The Bible is interpreted:
We all try and interpret what the Bible meant then and, in light of that, what it means now. This reflects how Jewish Teachers, Jesus and the Apostles used the Bible:
- Jewish Teachers would debate together what the Old Testament meant using books such as the Midrash (commentaries on the Old Testament), Mishnah (the Oral Law of the Jews) and Talmud (which sought to explain the Mishnah and Old Testament).
- Jesus used a similar style, which is why he was often called “Rabbi”, sometimes upholding the Law and at other times interpreting it liberally.
- The Apostles, such as Paul and Barnabas in the book of Acts made decisions that went against the Jewish Law about circumcision and Peter did the same with regards to the Dietary Laws. They often set aside the Law, which was the most authoritative part of the Bible.
In his book Half Truths Adam Hamilton writes: “In Paul’s letters, he never claims that his words and thoughts are synonymous with God’s words and thoughts. He does, however, trust that he is led by the Spirit. In response to questions from believers in his churches, he writes to teach, encourage, correct, and mentor his flock. Does God speak through him in this? Of course. Does God still speak through Paul’s words to us today? Absolutely. But since he is writing as Paul and not God, we must interpret his words. We must seek to understand the times in which Paul wrote, the circumstances he was addressing, and the ways in which his words continue to address our current situation.”
The Bible is always interpreted in the light of Jesus:
In the introduction to his translation of the Bible the 15th – 16th century Priest and theologian, Martin Luther, wrote: “Therefore let your own thoughts and feelings go, and think of the Scriptures as the loftiest and noblest of holy things, as the richest of mines, which can never be worked out, so that you may find the wisdom of God that He lays before you in such foolish and simple guise, in order that He may quench all pride. Here you will find the swaddling-clothes and the mangers in which Christ lies, and to which the angel points the shepherds. Simple and little are the swaddling-clothes, but dear is the treasure, Christ, that lies in them.”
Jesus is the central point and person of the Bible. Therefore, when we come to parts that we find difficult to understand we always interpret them in the light of Jesus, who he is, what he taught and how he lived.
The Bible is inspired by God:
This is mentioned once in the Bible: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
When Paul talks about “all scripture” he is talking about the Old Testament, as the New Testament hadn’t been written yet. Why did he write this? Because the Sadducees and Samaritans only considered the Law (the first five books of the Bible) to be authoritative. They didn’t uphold the Prophets and other writings (Psalms, proverbs, etc.) in the same way.
Paul made it clear that God inspired all of it. “Inspired” is one word in Greek (theopneustos) and it appears nowhere else in the Bible or ancient literature prior to Paul using it here. Theo means “God” and pneustos means “breath, wind or Spirit”. Paul believed these sacred writings were influenced by God, but he doesn’t say precisely how! What he is saying is that God can use these Jewish writings to influence Christians; to teach, correct, train and equip us.
The Bible shows us how to live with God, ourselves, others and Creation:
St. Jerome, who lived in the 4th – 5th centuries AD, said: “The Scriptures are shallow enough for a babe to come and drink without fear of drowning and deep enough for a theologians to swim in without ever touching the bottom.”
Although it is massively diverse in style and content the Bible speaks with a single voice on all kinds of issues that affect your everyday life at work, home, church and socially. The Bible speaks to birth, life and death. It has views on the creative arts, money, prayer, our relationship with God, politics, the natural world, the Law Courts and how to conduct all kinds of relationships so that we can live with one another in peace-filled community.
The Bible is our core and key way of living with and for God.
Father, Son and Holy Spririt
“God are One and God is Three.”
This is correct and confusing! This is the belief called the Trinity (in Latin it literally means triad or threefold) which holds that God is one God and three separate persons: the Father, the Son (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit. The three Persons are distinct and have one nature.
The idea of God as both Three and One is hard for us to get our heads around and that’s why all figures of speech about the Trinity fall short if we pick them apart enough. God is like:
- Water: It can be water, steam or ice.
- An egg: The shell, yolk and white.
- A three leafed clover.
- A three legged stool.
Sit with any of these for long enough and we can pull them apart. That is part of the mystery of the Trinity which cannot be wedged into some neat formula.
Although the Bible doesn’t contain the word Trinity, an indication of three distinct persons can be found in 1 John 5:7-8 which is difficult to translate. The Jubilee Bible is probably the clearest and most helpful: For there are three that bear witness in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness on earth, the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree in one.
Also, Jesus made it clear to his followers that he was one with and equal with the Father, sharing in his glory before the world began. (John 8:58, 10:30, 17:5).
Jesus also showed his equality with the Holy Spirit in John 14:16-17: And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you for ever – the Spirit of truth. John is reminding us that the Holy Spirit is another, like Jesus.
There are hints of the Trinity throughout the Bible right from the start in the ancient creation poem where God talks to himself about making humanity: Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ (Genesis 1:26) Here there are three distinct persons who have one and the same character.
For many the most striking and obvious Trinitarian appearance is when Jesus is baptised by John the Baptist in Luke 3:21-22: When all the people were being baptised, Jesus was baptised too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’
In this passage we hear the Father, see Jesus baptised and see the Holy Spirit descending onto Jesus; all three are present.
The American author and Minister, Frederick Buechner, writes: “The Trinity is also a way of saying something about God and God’s inner nature; that is, God does not need the creation in order to have something to love, because within God’s being love happens.”
One picture for the Trinity from early church thinkers, which has stood the test of time, is The Dance of God. To dance with others means we trust one another, we work with one another, we enjoy one another and we need one another.
God dances together and invites all of Creation, including us, to join in the dance.
Jesus is the Son of God
Jesus is the second person of the eternal Trinity. He existed before the creation of time itself.
In the Bible he is anticipated in the Old Testament and revealed in the New Testament, in the Gospels. The Gospels are the first four books of the New Testament which tell the story of Jesus’ birth, life, ministry, death, rising from the dead and going back to heaven from the unique perspectives of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The rest of the New Testament unpacks further who Jesus is and how we can follow him.
Some people might ask: “Isn’t the Bible biased?”
Other historians, who weren’t Christians, shared their opinions about Jesus. One example is the Jewish writer Josephus who, shortly after Jesus, wrote: “Now there was about this time, Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful, to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works – a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the Christ]; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named after him, are not extinct to this day.”
More recently there was a lawyer called Frank Morison who wrote “Who moved the stone?” His initial aim was to show how impossible the trial and resurrection of Jesus was. He ended up following Jesus after weighing up the information before him.
Some people might ask: “Isn’t the Bible unreliable?”
The science of Textual Criticism simply put is this: The more texts we have that are closer to the original, the less doubt there is about their authenticity. This is a credible formula to show how reliable a document is. At school we are taught that Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars is historically reliable. The earliest manuscripts we have were copied 900 years after Gallic Wars was originally written and we have 9-10 copies from this date. The earliest manuscripts of the Gospels we have were copied 300 years after the originals and we have more than 2,300 copies from this date.
It is interesting that many people disregard Textual Criticism when it comes to the Gospels although this science points to their historical accuracy and reliability above and beyond Gallic Wars. And this isn’t a stand alone example. For example, Livy wrote History of Rome and our earliest copies (20) are 400 years after the original. Also, Tacitus wrote Histories and Annais and our earliest copies (2) are 800 years after the original.
F.J.A. Hort concludes: “In the variety and fullness of the evidence on which it rests, the text of the New Testament stands absolutely and unapproachably alone among the ancient prose writings.”
Therefore, we can confidently say that Jesus existed. But what was/is he like?
Jesus was a human. He was Jewish and part of an oppressed and occupied nation as an adult. As a baby his birth was questioned and he was illegitimate. As a toddler he fled with his parents to Egypt and was an immigrant. He worked for many years as a carpenter paying his trade. And in all of this he faced all that we face: Temptation, hunger, anger, illness, tiredness, suffering, etc.. The only difference? He didn’t sin. Jesus also treated other human beings with justice and dignity; having little patience for the ways of the religious bigots and spending time with those on the margins of society.
Jesus was a teacher. Bernard Ramm wrote: “They are read more, quoted more, loved more, believed more, and translated more because they are the greatest words ever spoken … Their greatness lies in the pure lucid spirituality in dealing clearly, definitely, and authoritatively with the greatest problems that throb in the human breast … No other man’s words have the appeal of Jesus’ words because no other man can answer these fundamental human questions as Jesus answered them. They are the kind of words and the kind of answers we would expect God to give.” Jesus mainly spoke in parables (simple stories with a profound point), as well as teaching through his miracles and healings.
Jesus is the Son of God. As well as being fully human Jesus is also fully divine. He made this really clear to his disciples. For example, when Thomas wanted to see God, Jesus told him that if he’d seen him, Jesus, he’d seen what God was like (John 14:9-10). Jesus also made it clear that everything he said and did was in response to and at the direction of God.
The gospel writer John calls Jesus “the Word” (John 1). The Greek translation for “Word” is logos which literally means “the most logical way to communicate”. God knew the best and clearest way to communicate to us what he was like was through his son.
If we want to know what God’s like look at Jesus; listen to what he said, look at what he did and how he treated people. Jesus’ disciples followed him for three years but fled when one of them, Judas, betrayed him. They left him. They hid in fear when he was killed and until he appeared to them alive again. These same people gave their lives for him, most of them being murdered for believing in him. Wouldn’t at least one of them have turned around and renounced him if it had all been a hoax?
Bernard Levin, the controversial British journalist, wrote: “Is not the nature of Christ, in the words of the New Testament, enough to pierce to the soul anyone with a soul to be pierced? … he still looms over the world, his message still clear, his pity still infinite, his consolation still effective, his words still full of glory, wisdom and love.”
The local Church
Jesus told the disciples that they were the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16). It wasn’t an optional extra when following Jesus or something they could be if they were “spiritual” enough. It was just a plain fact; they were salt, they were light.
And the Church which has followed in their footsteps for the past two thousand years is salt and light as well.
We are salt which is scattered all over the world throughout the week at school gates, in offices, on trains, in church buildings, around gyms, etc. In Jesus’ day salt was more valuable than gold and soldiers were often paid with it. Amongst other things, it preserves, adds taste and brings healing. Christians should be seen as those who preserve all that is good and has potential. They should add something positive which enhances life. They should offer the healing hope that comes from God.
We are light when we meet as a church and shine brightly and beautifully as we worship God, love and care for one another and serve the world.
The New Testament Greek word for “church” is ecclesia. It literally means “sent ones”. We are sent by God into the world as salt and light. The word is one that the early church borrowed from the Roman culture in which they lived. On the Roman tongue it was used for wise leaders who made decisions that made their communities into better places to live. Christians thought: “That’s what we should be doing; making wise decisions that make where we live a better place so that God’s love can be seen and become meaningful in the lives of those who see it.”
To state the obvious; church isn’t a building, rather, it is the followers of Jesus who meet in a building. Christians don’t go to church. Christians are the church when they are scattered like salt and gathered as light.
The Christian leader Reggie McNeal wrote: “In the future the church that gets it will spend its resources on strategies for community transformation. Members obviously have needs for pastoral care and spiritual growth. It is critical that these be addressed. However, I am raising the question of how many church activities for the already saved are justified when there are people who have never been touched with Jesus’ love? The answer is a whole lot less than we’ve got going on now.”
It is often said that church is the only club which exists primarily for non-members. It’s true.
The Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit is not a ghost. Rather, She has the characteristics of a person. The Holy Spirit thinks (Acts 15:28), speaks (Acts 1:16), leads (Romans 8:14) and can be grieved (Ephesians 4:30).
The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity, equal with but distinct from the Father and Jesus the son.
The Hebrew word for the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament is Ruach which means “breath” (which denotes life), “wind” (which symbolises power), air in motion, or Spirit. In the Old Testament:
- The Holy Spirit is dynamic in the Creation story: Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God
was hovering over the waters. (Genesis 1:2)
- The Holy Spirit empowered particular people at particular times for particular purposes. The prophet Gideon is just one example: “But Lord,” Gideon asked,
“how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon, and he blew a
trumpet, summoning the Abiezrites to follow him. (Judges 6:15 and 34)
- The Holy Spirit was promised by God to empower all people at some stage in the future (Jeremiah 31:33, Ezekiel 36:26-27 and Joel 2:28-29)
In the New Testament the Holy Spirit is called Pneuma in Greek which means “breath”, “spirit” or “soul”. The other word used for the Holy Spirit is Parakletos which means “one called alongside”; a counsellor, comforter or encourager. It conjures the picture of a Blocker in American Football. This Isn’t an official position such as “Quarterback”. Rather, it is anyone on the team who stops the opposition from tackling their team mate who has the ball and is trying to get a Touchdown. It is a function, not a position. The Blocker guides their team mate safely towards the End Zone as they protect them from other players and encourage them onwards. In the New Testament the Holy Spirit is very active and involved. For example:
- Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit at his baptism and the Holy Spirit empowered him to carry out his ministry, including miracles and healings: Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert … Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. (Luke 4:1; 14)
- Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would be present with us: On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:4-5)
- Christians were and are filled with the Holy Spirit as soon as they begin to follow Jesus (Acts 2:1-4). The Holy Spirit guarantees our eternity with God (Ephesians 1:13-14, 2 Corinthians 1:21-22), helps us pray (Romans 8:26-27), gives us gifts (Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; 27-31 and 1 Peter 4:10- 11) and fruit (Galatians 5:22-23a) to enable us to live for and become more like Jesus.
The sharp-eyed will have notice that the Holy Spirit was written about in the feminine at the start of this piece. The Holy Spirit is neither male nor female (just as God the Father/Creator isn’t). The Holy Spirit is mentioned in the masculine in New Testament Greek, however, in the Old Testament the feminine is used. The Holy Spirit is also mentioned in the feminine in New Testament Aramaic, Jesus’ mother-tongue.
It’s worth mentioning this to those that charge the Trinity with being purely masculine. The Trinity represents and embraces the very best of what makes us female and male.
All offered forgiveness, liberation from the past and eternal life
Something that is offered cannot be forced on someone and it can be rejected. God offers us forgiveness, liberation from the past and eternal life. We can reject that offer.
We are forgiven by God: We are completely forgiven because of Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection and returning to heaven. Once we have accepted God’s forgiveness and start following Jesus, by turning from our old ways (repenting) and turning to Jesus, our forgiveness is done. We are forgiven for all our past, present and future sins. Jesus conquered sin once and for all. This means, that although we are serious about saying “sorry” and aiming to live like Jesus, we don’t need to keep asking for forgiveness when we mess up. Instead, we can thank God that we are forgiven and then say sorry (repent). No going to God “cap in hand” each time we sin, needing more forgiveness. We are forgiven! This is the point of the part of the Lord’s Prayer about forgiveness: “Forgive us our debts
as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). It is a traditional Jewish prayer where each line is reflected on and not rushed through. So when we get to this line we reflect on how completely God has forgiven our debts and, in light of that, are encouraged to forgive others.
We should forgive others: The disciple Peter asked Jesus how many times we should forgive someone (Matthew 18:21-35). Jesus, in effect, told Peter not to keep count and then told him a story about an unmerciful servant who was forgiven much and refused to forgive someone else in return. The point of the story is that the greater our experience of God’s forgiveness, the more likely we are to forgive others. In fact, we lose count of how many times we forgive…
Here are some key points about forgiving others:
- Forgiveness is often private (we don’t necessarily need to tell someone we’ve forgiven them).
- Forgiveness is often hard.
- Forgiveness doesn’t necessarily mean forgetting (we may be able to forgive someone’s harsh treatment of us but maybe shouldn’t forget it, lest history repeat itself).
- Forgiveness doesn’t mean we have to be friends (some people aren’t good for us and we should steer clear of them).
- Forgiveness can be an ongoing process (we may need to forgive someone several times, even when we think we’ve moved on).
- Forgiveness means wishing the other person well in their life (the opposite of revenge).
We can forgive ourselves: Forgiving others can free us and bring us close to God. However, inorder to forgive others we often need to forgive ourselves; it starts at home. The theologian Paul Tillich said: “we need to accept our acceptance.” If God loves and forgives us we can love and forgive ourselves.
Jesus made it clear he had come to set us free (Luke 4:16-21) and that’s what liberation is: We are set free. This is what forgiveness gives us, we are released and no longer held back by the past.
The Bible uses many metaphors about eternal life. We will be in a heavenly city on earth with God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) the angels and those who haven’t rejected God’s continuous, lavish offer. We will be safe, active, excited, fulfilled and free from all pain, illness, loss and death.
Importantly, eternal life starts now. Life before death, as well as life after it.
The offer is there for all.
We are all made in God's image
The ancient creation story in Genesis 1 tells us that humanity was made in the image of God: “So God created humankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:27) Women and men are created equally in God’s image. Also, the original language (Hebrew) in this passage makes it clear that humans are distinct from animals.
When we strayed from God in Genesis 3 that image was defaced, but not destroyed.
But when we follow Jesus we begin to move back from Genesis 3 to Genesis 1 and the image of God should be seen more clearly in us. This was always God’s intention for us and all of Creation. In eternity this “Genesis 1 state” will be fully recognised.
Fine. But what does it actually mean to be made in God’s image?
Over time being made in God’s image has be linked with our moral thinking and our creativity. These are valid examples, but we can see that many creatures are able to think morally and be creative, to a limited extent when compared with us.
If we were to make a statue of ourself and place it in a town square we’d hope people would stop and look at it, be inspired by it and think about the sculptor. An image makes you think of the maker. When people look at one another they should be reminded of what God is like.
To use another image; we are like mirrors who reflect what God is like. We should be able to look at one another and see the image of God as we reveal God’s kingdom in the world around us.
So what sets us apart from the rest of Creation when it comes to being made in the image of God? The ability to have a deep friendship with God.
Tonbridge Baptist Church
TBC is a church in Tonbridge
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Everyone welcome just as they are
Everyone involved in the transformation of themselves and each other
Everyone celebrating the presence of God in the every day
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Tonbridge Baptist Church