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Feb 052016
 

Tearing eye outIf your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. (Matthew 5:29)

This is one of the most misunderstood verses in the bible. Was Jesus really commanding self mutilation?

Jesus liked to use shocking, provocative language to make His hearers sit up and listen. A good technique, because you certainly wouldn’t forget what He had said, which was very useful in a culture that had an oral tradition with no books around. The technique that Jesus was using was called ‘Hyperbole’ this means to make extravagant statements or claims, which are not to be taken literally. It is the opposite of understatement. Jesus used this technique on a number of occasions, for example “straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel” (Matthew 23:24) or the famous “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:24)

Another reason it should not to be taken literally is the logic of tearing out just one eye. One could just as easily lust with the other one. Lusting can be just as strong in the thought life with both eyes closed. No, Jesus was referring to the seriousness of sin. We cannot play ‘fast and loose’ with what we look at with our eyes. To avoid sinning we are to deal radically with the problem. As I said last week and previously, it is an issue of the heart. It is the heart that makes the decision to take a lingering look, to dwell on what shouldn’t be dwelt on and defy the purity that God requires. Some images you can’t help seeing, but it’s what you make a choice to linger on that is at issue here. I find Job’s attitude useful from the Old Testament “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman.” (Job 31:1) (NIV)

One of the interpretations of the first part of this verse is “If your eye causes you to stumble” The Greek word for stumble is ‘skandalizo’ where we get our English word scandalize. It does not mean to trip up like you nearly fell over. It means to cause to do wrong. This word was commonly used for a stick put in a trap used for bait. When the prey would enter the trap the ‘skandalon’ would snap shut the trap, catching the animal. This is just the sort of meaning which Jesus was conveying. We look at things that we shouldn’t and suddenly we are trapped!

Finally, the warning is strong. Jesus did not pull any punches when he said that it would be better for our body to be thrown into hell. Jesus talked about hell many times. He was referring to a valley outside Jerusalem called Hinnom where the rubbish from the city was burned. It was considered a place that was cursed because it was the site where ancient worshippers offered their children to be burnt alive to the pagan god Molech. After king Josiah pronounced the place unclean (2 Kings 23:10) it became the town rubbish tip and because of the constant fire and smoke, it became a vivid picture of hell’s eternal fires.

This week’s subject may be really difficult to take action on, but if we are struggling, act we must. We need to determine in our hearts that we are going to change and ask the Holy Spirit to help us. Another excellent way to deal with this kind of sin is to be accountable to someone. If Jesus felt it necessary to warn about the fires of hell, it must be an important subject that demands our full attention.

 February 5, 2016  Posted by at 12:00 pm Temptation, The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Jan 292016
 

Lustful lookingBut I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:28)

We previously looked at the subject of murder and Jesus saying that even if you are angry with someone it is as if you’ve murdered them in your heart. Last week we looked at the sin of adultery and now Jesus clarifies this even more by saying just a lustful look is the same as committing adultery.

I’m sure His audience and especially the religious leaders thought they were fairly safe up until these verses. Jesus has clarified the law and swept the safe and secure carpet out from under their feet. They would have felt very comfortable having their man-made rules and feeling smug about not murdering anyone or committing adultery, but Jesus exposes their hypocrisy and reveals it is what is in their hearts that counts. Not just their actions, but their attitudes and motives as well.

I would say that today’s topic is probably one of the main struggles of Christian men today. I would also go so far as to say that it is becoming an increasing problem for women as well. We live in a sex crazed society and the availability of lustful images is everywhere. We all have very clever mobile phones these days, even young children, phones which can access, in a second, images that are readily available to titillate and entice. It is a huge problem and it has even been shown that our brains can be wired differently by the constant bombardment of these images.

Forgetting about the sordid and inappropriate nature of these images for a moment, they actually paint a very false picture of reality. Many images that are available are altered to try and give an unreal view of perfection. Every tiny flaw is airbrushed away using all sorts of clever techniques and we are left with an image that is impossible for regular people to obtain. A false reality is created where women are viewed as objects and are expected to please their men in every way possible without complaint. Watch enough of this and young men will never be able to cope with a real woman. They will become incapable of maintaining a ‘normal’ relationship. Young girls as well might feel that they never match up to the ‘perfect’ woman these guys are fantasizing over.

I don’t think the answer is necessarily stopping these images being so readily available, although I would love it to happen.

In countries where you might think this issue wouldn’t be a problem, because women are completely covered up, the lust problem is just as strong. I’m not having a dig at Islam, but statistics show that the most staunchly religious Muslim countries have a major obsession with porn. In fact Pakistan is statistically the country that downloads porn the most, followed closely by Iran, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. http://postober.com/general/top-10-countries-that-watch-the-most-porn/

This proves that religion is not the issue, but the heart. This is exactly what Jesus was saying. He was not focussing on outward appearance and observances but at what was going on within. That is the place that God examines and takes note of.

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. (Proverbs 4:23 NIV)

If you have a problem with porn and lustful images, the answer is to re-focus your desire onto something much better and satisfying. When our focus is on God and His goodness and being satisfied in Him, the pull of these lesser desires diminishes. Ask God to help you, He is only too willing to help you escape from the prison of this addiction. He wants you to live free.

If you don’t know where to start, just type in “Christian porn addiction” into an internet search and you will find many useful sites to help you, with some practical answers and steps to take.

 January 29, 2016  Posted by at 12:00 pm The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Jan 222016
 

AdulteryYou have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery. (Matthew 5:27)

In today’s verse Jesus is quoting from the 7thof the 10 commandments which are found in Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:4-21. Jesus has previously dealt with murder a couple of verses ago and has redefined its meaning. Now he tackles another huge subject, with a similar clarification.

The sin of adultery is mentioned many times in the bible and the dictionary definition is “voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a person who is not his or her spouse.” The bible agrees with this definition. The punishment for this sin in the Old Testament is capital punishment – death, but it is dealt with quite a bit differently in today’s society. It is the subject for many film and television plots and can often be portrayed in a positive light or at least not roundly condemned as it should. The general view is that if it is kept a secret, what harm can it do?

Today I want to look briefly at why Adultery is wrong and its consequences.

God instituted the covenant of marriage as the central building block of society. It was to be between one man and one woman (Genesis 2:24 and Matthew 19:5) and was to be a lifelong commitment of love, devotion and intimacy. This environment was the perfect setting for bringing children into the world allowing for their safety, security and healthy development. The marriage covenant was designed as a place of safety and trust and of course adultery destroys that.

Another aspect of God’s plan that adultery taints is the picture of the faithfulness of the marriage covenant mirroring God’s love for us and also Christ’s love for his church. This is found in Ephesians 5:22-32 “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (v25). It says in verse 31 that when a husband and wife get married they actually become ‘one flesh’ and this is a mystery that God does. Adultery breaks that sacred bond which God has forged.

God’s people are to reflect the character of God. They are to be; holy, faithful, loving and pure. Not thinking about themselves but always considering the needs of their partner. This was true in the Old Testament when God’s people were to show distinctiveness from the debauchery and promiscuity of the surrounding nations and it is just as important today. Our lives and especially our marriages are to reflect our heavenly father’s character so that outsiders are stirred to desire the same relationship.

The breaking of trust and sense of betrayal are two clear consequences following an adulterous relationship, but there are many other consequences to consider, such as;

· The length of time needed to bring restitution and healing.

· Even If a relationship was restored it would take a long time and great effort to gain trust, true fellowship and intimacy.

· Others closest to you would be affected, especially children and parents.

· Your witness to unbelieving family and friends would be damaged.

· It would damage the relationships of the person you have committed adultery with.

In summary; Adultery is the complete corruption of God’s good creation of marriage. Through the sin of adultery, Satan tempts us to seek sexual fulfillment in avenues other than the one God has ordained—within the bounds of monogamous, heterosexual marriage. Adultery rips at the fabric of society because it tears apart marriages and families which are the building blocks of society. Adultery offers a temporary satisfaction and excitement which is completely disproportionate to the lifetime it would take to mend the damage.

Next week we will look at how Jesus further clarifies this commandment in a way which would have totally shocked His listeners.

 January 22, 2016  Posted by at 12:00 pm The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Jan 152016
 

Purgatory Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison.Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. (Matthew 5:25-26)

As I was studying today’s passage I was surprised to find that it was one of the proof texts for the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory. I had obviously heard of this doctrine but had never really considered where it came from.

As I have a very inquisitive mind, especially when it comes to doctrine and the bible, I thought I would do some research.

According to the Catholic church, purgatory is a place that believers (not non-Christians) go to when they die so they can be purified before they get to heaven. We are living in a sinful state on this earth and we are tainted with sin, so we cannot go immediately into God’s holy presence. Purgatory is a place of purification, not punishment and we are to stay there until we are pure. This could be a matter of hours for the ‘super-holy’ or very many years for the rest of us. We can be speeded through the process by our kind family and friends left on earth who can go to mass on our behalf, do penance, say the rosary or buy indulgences (not so common now but nevertheless a fascinating subject I just don’t have time to cover here).

The main concept of purgatory is found outside the traditional canon of the bible, but in a set of books called ‘the Apocrypha’ which Roman Catholics hold as highly as the bible. It is in the book of Maccabees;

“Therefore they praised the work of the Lord, the just judge, who reveals what is hidden; and turning to prayer, they asked that this sin might be entirely blotted out. The noble Judas called on people to keep themselves free from sin. . . But since he had in view the wonderful reward reserved for those who die a godly death, his purpose was a holy and pious one. And this was why he offered an atoning sacrifice to free the dead from their sin” (2 Maccabees 12:41,42,45, New English Bible).

Apparently in today’s passage; God is the judge (obviously), the angels are the guards, prison is purgatory and the last penny is the last bit of sin.

I’m sorry but I really don’t see that in this passage. It is highly fanciful at best. I have read it a number of times but unless you want desperately to believe in this doctrine and anything that remotely fits into the concept will do, this is not what the passage means. It is a big mistake, when approaching the bible, to start with an idea and then try to twist passages to fit in with what you believe. I covered this subject in a previous blog which you might like to read here http://adrianpursglove.com/interpreting-the-bible/

I believe this passage is a lot clearer than some vague interpretation of purgatory. In the preceding verses. Jesus has been talking about going beyond just empty obedience and the letter of the law. He has been talking about our hearts and attitudes and actually being at peace with one another. In the previous verse he talked about our brothers (Christians I presume) but now He is even talking about our relationships with our enemies (‘adversaries’ actually means those we are coming up against, specifically with regard to legal matters).

The situation in the passage seems to involve a relationship breaking down and some sort of trust being broken. Someone is accusing someone of something and it looks like it probably involves money. Setting aside any specifics, Jesus is highlighting our need to settle our differences quickly before they get out of hand. The wisdom is to settle disputes before they get to court, because once the legal system is involved it is much more difficult to then just have a mutual agreement and settle things easily. Again, it’s about our heart attitude, humility and the desire to live at peace (as far as it depends on us) with everyone.

I’ll leave you with a deeper interpretation of this passage and that is the aspect of our relationship with God. Before we became Christians we were in a similar state to this passage. We were heading to the court where the righteous judge would have considered our sins and declared us guilty as charged. We would have been sent to prison without the possibility of paying off our debt. Our sins had made us bankrupt. But thanks be to Jesus that it was He who paid the last penny. We could never atone for our sin in purgatory or anywhere else. He had to do it all and I for one will be eternally grateful that He did. His sacrifice was all sufficient, meaning there is nothing left for us to do.

 January 15, 2016  Posted by at 12:00 pm The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Jan 082016
 

Be reconciled first So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you,leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24)

In the last couple of blogs in this series on ‘The sermon on the mount’ we have looked at the phrase “Do not murder” and then the idea that even being angry in your heart towards somebody is tantamount to murder in God’s eyes, because He sees into our very hearts and can detect that hateful murderous intent.

This week sort of continues along that theme and talks about being reconciled with one another before we even think of offering service to God.

God has such a love for all people that it really upsets Him if we are in wrong relationships with one another. He would much rather we sort it out with one another before we consider coming into His presence. He considers it the height of hypocrisy to start to worship Him while we are in conflict with another of His precious children.

What’s interesting about these verses is it is focusing on someone else’s attitude other than our own. Of course we should pursue reconciliation if we have something against someone, but this passage is suggesting we should still do something even if someone has got something against us. It might not affect us at all, but if we are aware of it, we should do something about it.

If we are really not aware, our conscience is of course clear, but even if we have an inkling that someone has a problem with us we are obligated to do something about it. A little qualification is required here though. We are responsible to make restitution for the unrighteous acts we do, but not the righteous ones. If we have done something foolish, selfish or sinful, then of course we should set it right. But sometimes people are upset with us because of righteousness. Jesus upset an awful lot of people, but he wasn’t required to apologise to them. Yes He always wanted to keep the channels open for reconciliation and still loved those who hated Him, but He would never have worshipped at all if He had been required to make restitution to everybody He had upset. It would have been a very long queue!

In the book of Romans the apostle Paul wrote some great wisdom for these sorts of situations;

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all (Romans 12:18) That’s the key. Sometimes we can attempt reconciliation but it is thrown back in our face. We can’t do anything about that, but if it is a genuine attempt, that is what matters.

It occurs to me that there are at least 3 very important points here;

· We need to seek reconciliation wherever and whenever we can.

· We need to be able to recognize our own faults and when we are in the wrong.

· We need to seek God for a humble spirit.

This passage makes it clear that God is not looking for personal piety but a communal love between brothers and sisters. We live in a very individualistic society, but God’s kingdom is all about ‘the body’, His people, the group. Yes of course he loves individuals but He doesn’t consider them on their own, but only as they function as a unified group.

We get the sense of how important this is when we consider the context of the situation Jesus was speaking into. He was speaking in Galilee, the altar that these sacrifices were to be made was in Jerusalem, which was about 80 miles away. If you had a problem with someone when you got to the altar, you might well have a 5 or 6 day journey to make it right! That’s pretty important.

I’m going to finish with 3 reasons we need to take this passage seriously. Consider this:

· Jesus says so

· You can’t worship properly when you are in conflict.

· God won’t listen to your prayers (consider 1 Peter 3:7 in a similar concept)

That settles it for me.

 January 8, 2016  Posted by at 9:15 pm The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Jan 012016
 

AngerBut I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. (Matthew 5:22)

I’ve heard it many times, when people try to justify themselves and declare that they are not that bad, they are not as sinful as others; “Well at least I have never murdered anyone!” If that is your hope for not being on the receiving end of God’s righteous judgement, then I’ve got a shock for you today. He sees things quite differently than we do.

We sort of have an inkling that this is true anyway, the bible reveals God as ‘all seeing’ and ‘all knowing’ and so He can quite easily look into the very thoughts and motives of our hearts. It’s these secret attitudes that condemn us.

Jesus was speaking to quite a crowd on ‘the sermon on the mount’ but it seems that a lot of the content was directed at the religious leaders who were obviously present. They were all about the external. As long as everything was said and done in an acceptable manner, it didn’t matter what was inside. Jesus saw it differently. Elsewhere he called them “whitewashed tombs” (Matthew 23:27-28). They had a paint job on the outside, but it covered over death and destruction. Jesus is gradually exposing their hypocrisy and revealing their hearts.

All sin begins in the heart.

Jesus is revealing in this verse today that murder is not simply the act of physically killing someone, but the anger and hatred in the heart that leads to the act. People who commit murder are very often angry inside first, for any number of reasons. It could be an explosion of rage in a moment or the slow build up of anger over years and years but it all starts in that inner place first. Just because we don’t necessarily have an opportunity to physically murder someone, doesn’t mean we don’t wish to do it in our hearts which in God’s eyes, amounts to the same thing. It’s all sin and consequently separates us from God, meaning we are heading for hell.

In the verse today, Jesus uses as an example the word ‘fool’. But it could be any similar word that conveys the same meaning. The word he uses is the Aramaic word ‘raca’ which can mean; fool, idiot or imbecile. The Greek translation of the word is ‘moros’ where we get our word ‘moron’ from. None of these words are very pleasant although some of us might just shrug them off, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” we might say. The fact is that words like these can have lasting impact on many of us. They would have had more impact in Jesus’ day as He lived in a very ‘honour’ based culture. Honour was very important and therefore shame had a much greater impact than it does in the west today, although there are a number of far eastern cultures that would consider it devastating to ‘lose face’. To be shamed, would lead a person to wish that they were dead.

We have already seen from the examples of ‘the beatitudes’ a few verses before this one, that God’s people are not the sort of people who would shame others, or get angry with one another. God’s people are known for their humility, they are meek people whose hearts are pure and who seek after peace. They are the ‘salt of the earth’.

So is every expression of anger a sin?

Well no. It is possible to be angry and not to sin. It says in Ephesians 4:26 “Be angry and do not sin.” It’s important we differentiate between righteous anger and unrighteous anger. The bible is clear that God gets angry and that is part of His holiness. Jesus himself got angry when he turned over the money changer’s tables in the temple and made a whip of cords (John 2:13-22). The important thing to notice is that Jesus’ anger was not personal but a righteous anger. It was an anger that was concerned for God’s name and His honour.

So to sum up what I think Jesus is saying in this passage is;
“Murder is always wrong and it will always be condemned and brought before a human court. But you need to realise that I’m more concerned with the root cause, the inward infestation of sin in a person’s heart, the anger that get’s a foothold because it is allowed uncontrolled and free reign to rule over a person’s heart. This careless and vengeful anger can destroy the character and reputation of others and is just as worthy of the highest judgment as murder. In fact it comes from the pit of hell and deserves the same kind of judgment.”

Let’s be those who deal first with the anger we hold in our hearts. You might even want to make it a New Years resolution.

 January 1, 2016  Posted by at 12:00 pm The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Dec 252015
 

Was Jesus born on dec 25Happy Christmas to all my readers, I hope you’re having a great day.

Last week we looked at some of the traditions we have become used to at Christmas time, which are probably only myths. Events such as; Jesus being born in a stable, Mary riding on a donkey while she is 9 months pregnant and 3 kings arriving for the birth. These things are not necessarily false, but they are certainly not mentioned in the bible.

Today I’m going to explore the age old question of whether Jesus was actually born on this day or not. I don’t want it to spoil your celebrations, the fact is He was born and it really doesn’t matter when it happened. I just thought it would be interesting to compare the assertions of those who say “yes it was December 25th” and those who think it must have been some other time.

It wasn’t December 25th

Let’s start with those who don’t believe it was this day;

They say It would be unusual to see Shepherds “abiding in the field” in December at a very cold time of the year when fields were unproductive. The normal practice was to keep the flocks in the fields from Spring to Autumn. Also, winter would be an unlikely time to hold a Census as fewer people would be able to make the journey. The weather was cold and the roads would have been in poor condition. To have a Census at that time would have been self-defeating.

A more probable time would be late September, at the time of the annual Feast of Tabernacles. when such travel was commonly accepted. This would coincide with an event widely celebrated in the Christian calendar of ‘Michaelmas’ named after the angel Michael the archangel who proclaimed to the shepherds that Christ was born. Michaelmas is celebrated on September 29th.

If September 29th was the date that Jesus was born, December the 25th(almost exactly 9 months earlier) was actually when Jesus was conceived. When you think about it, the darkest time of the year, the pagan celebration of ‘Saturnalia’ when the son is furthest away from the Holy Land, would be an appropriate time for God to give us the ‘light of the world’.

The original significance of December 25th is that it was a well-known festival day celebrating the annual return of the sun. December 21 is the winter solstice (shortest day of the year and thus a key date on the calendar), and December 25th is the first day that ancients could clearly note that the days were definitely getting longer and the sunlight was returning.

Since no one knows the day of His birth (the early church never celebrated it), the Roman Catholic Church felt free to choose this date, hoping to replace the pagan festival with a Christian holy day (holiday). They obviously came to the conclusion that rather than replace an established celebration day they would just compromise dates and change its focus so that the people would not be upset.

The bible itself points to an autumn date based on the conception and birth of Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist. Stay with me on this one because it is a bit complicated. Since Elizabeth (John’s mother) was in her sixth month of pregnancy when Jesus was conceived (Luke 1:24-36), we can determine the approximate time of year Jesus was born if we know when John was born. John’s father, Zacharias, was a priest serving in the Jerusalem temple during the division of Abijah (Luke 1:5). Historical calculations indicate this division of service corresponded to June 13-19 in that year (The Companion Bible, 1974, Appendix 179, p. 200). It was during this time of temple service that Zacharias learned that he and his wife, Elizabeth, would have a child (Luke 1:8-13). After he completed his service and travelled home, Elizabeth conceived (Luke 1:23-24). Assuming John’s conception took place near the end of June, adding nine months brings us to the end of March as the most likely time for John’s birth. Adding another six months (the difference in ages between John and Jesus (Luke 1:35-36)) brings us to the end of September as the likely time of Jesus’ birth.

Although it is difficult to determine the first time anyone celebrated December 25th as Christmas Day, historians are in general agreement that it was sometime during the fourth century. This is an amazingly late date. Christmas was not observed in Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire, until about 300 years after Christ’s death. Its origins cannot be traced back to either the teachings or practices of the earliest Christians.

It was December 25th

There are a few arguments that people use to support December 25thas the date of Jesus’ birth.

Firstly, the earliest Christian tradition dating back to the 3rd Century when an early church father, Hyppolytus (ca. 170-236) stated the date as 25th December. The earliest mention of some sort of observance on that date is in the Philoclian Calendar, a Roman Calendar dated around 336 ad. Another early church father John Chrysostom (349 to 407ad) also favoured December 25thas did Cyril of Jerusalem (348-386) who had access to the original Roman birth census, which also documented that Jesus was born on the 25th of December. These early church ‘heavyweights’ should not be ignored according to those who subscribe to the date we use today. They were after all, a lot nearer to the event than we are.

The second argument really disputes the assertion that Shepherds couldn’t have been outside in the fields in December because it was too cold. There is strong historical evidence that unblemished lambs for the Temple sacrifice were in fact kept in the fields near Bethlehem during the winter months. December is not the coldest month in Bethlehem, January is. Even then the temperature rarely goes below freezing. In fact the average temperature is 8 degrees (a couple of degrees warmer in December), which although cold, would not be beyond the possibility of hardy shepherds being out in the fields, with shelter and fire etc. Even in the bible there is evidence of someone looking after sheep outside in the cold. When Jacob wanted to marry Laban’s daughter Rachel, he had to work 20 years in total, tending the sheep. This was in Paddan-aram which was more northerly and therefore colder than Bethlehem. Jacob said;

These twenty years I have been with you. Your ewes and your female goats have not miscarried, and I have not eaten the rams of your flocks.What was torn by wild beasts I did not bring to you. I bore the loss of it myself. From my hand you required it, whether stolen by day or stolen by night. There I was: by day the heat consumed me, and the cold by night, and my sleep fled from my eyes. (Genesis 31: 38-40)

Thirdly, the issue of the timing of the census was not an issue. The census could still have been in the Autumn. Mary and Joseph could have completed the Census but not wanted to travel back whilst Mary was heavily pregnant, so they stayed in Bethlehem until after Jesus was born. This is quite a simple solution and fits perfectly into the biblical record, although slightly troublesome is the fact that there was still no room for them months later.

Fourthly, if the Romans had wanted to overtake a pagan ritual, why didn’t they choose December 21stwhen the winter solstice was celebrated?

The truth is we simply don’t know the exact date of Jesus’ birth. In fact, we don’t even know for sure what year He was born. Scholars believe it was somewhere between 6 B.C. and 4 B.C. One thing is clear, if God felt it was important for us to know the exact date of the Jesus’ birth, He would certainly have told us in His Word. The Gospel of Luke gives very specific details about the event, even down to what the baby was wearing, where he was laid, a bit of a guest list etc but not the date.
The fact is that He was born, that He came into the world to save us from our sins and to bring us into a relationship with Him. That’s the true meaning and reason to celebrate the incarnation. Enjoy the rest of your day!

 December 25, 2015  Posted by at 10:00 am Christmas 2 Responses »
Dec 182015
 

Christmas mythsI’ve decided to have a break from the sermon on the mount for a couple of weeks as I usually like to write a seasonal blog at this time of year.

I’ve always been interested in how we arrive at the Christmas scene we see year after year, especially as quite a lot of our traditions and what we think happened isn’t even in the bible.

The Christmas scene we have arrived at is usually set in snow. Mary is on a donkey and Joseph is standing by, leading the donkey with a staff in his hand. They arrive at Bethlehem on 24thDecember (year 0) the night before Mary gives birth and are frantically going round town trying to find a room in an inn. Talk about ‘last minute dot com’. Eventually they manage to find a stable, clear out the trough, put some straw in, just in time for Mary to give birth and lay the baby in the trough. To make the night even stranger they are visited by some smelly shepherds who look like they have seen a ghost and 3 rather regal looking chaps with big beards, bringing gifts, muttering something about following a star. They have been rather busy to go star gazing though.

The problem with that scene is it is probably quite a long way from what actually happened. Let’s look at the clues and use our imagination a bit;

There is nothing in the bible to say Mary was on a donkey. Their journey was 90 miles and it was unlikely she would have made that Journey ‘full term’ In Luke 2:6 it says “And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth.” That sounds like they had arrived well in time. The census would have been known about in advance given the logistics of getting everyone to their ‘home’ town. They were very poor and riding a donkey was the cheapest option (besides walking) so it is possible, but not guaranteed. They may well have travelled with other family members because they were all in the same situation and they repeated this journey every year after this to get to Jerusalem for the Passover (Luke 2:41). Bethlehem is only 5 miles from Jerusalem.

Because of the census including family members, they probably stayed with relatives. The bible doesn’t mention Inn’s and innkeepers (the word inn is better translated guest room). The family rooms were all taken (likely by older relatives who would have had priority) so their likely resting place was a part of the house where animals would have been kept. Usually people stayed on an upper level and animals were kept on a lower level. Animals were kept inside for a variety of reasons;

· To keep the house warm on cold nights

· To stop them getting stolen

· Their dung was often used for fuel

· The milk they produced would be easily accessible.

Imagine today having a house full of people and the only place someone can stay is the garage, that sort of idea. The bible doesn’t say Jesus was born in a stable, just that he was placed in a manger. It would be very difficult to be born in a manger as Mary would have had to have been an extremely talented gymnast! A manger was a sort of feeding trough, but with a bit of creativity could have easily been converted into a cot.

The shepherds arriving would have ensured that it wouldn’t have been a ‘still’ night and I doubt very much that Jesus didn’t cry (the phrase in the carol “no crying he makes” has always bothered me). Imagine the scene; a house full of guests, a mother giving birth, unexpected smelly shepherds arriving unannounced and clearly quite excited. This was a stressful night and I imagine Jesus did a fair bit of hollering. To make the picture complete a drummer boy appears banging his drum! Nah, that almost certainly didn’t happen.

At least it was extremely unlikely that the 3 kings arrived on that night. For starters they were not kings but wise men (magi) and there is no indication how many there were. It is assumed 3, because 3 gifts were presented, but the number is never actually stated.

It is actually quite likely, given the circumstances that when the wise men arrived, Jesus was anything up to two years old. The bible calls Him a child and not a baby. If it was a long period of time after Jesus’ birth, they would have visited Him in Nazareth, as Mary and Joseph left Bethlehem for Nazareth soon after Jesus’ birth. The main account of this is in Matthew 2 which states that Herod had ascertained from the religious leaders that the child would be born in Bethlehem. Herod had assumed that He was still there. Even though Mary and Joseph were in Nazareth, it was still a good idea to escape to Egypt, because they could quite easily be traced from Bethlehem back to Nazareth.

Next week we will continue this theme and ask if Jesus really was born on December 25th or not.

 December 18, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Christmas No Responses »
Dec 112015
 

Do not murderYou have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ (Matthew 5:21)

Jesus is here quoting from commandment number 6 of the 10 commandments in the Old Testament. These are in two places; Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17

On the surface this may seem like a pretty obvious statement but there are underlying questions such as; is the taking of human life always wrong? What about capital punishment? What about God commanding people to be killed? What about God killing people Himself, is He being hypocritical?

Firstly we need to establish the exact interpretation of murder and what it means in this context. The confusion has largely stemmed from some versions of the bible which interpret the commandment as ‘do not kill’ which could be interpreted as any sort of killing, including animals. If it meant literally not to kill anything this would have major repercussions, even for Jesus who killed fish to give His disciples breakfast (see John 21). We know that Jesus never sinned, so obviously it was ok to kill fish, so at least we have established that this verse doesn’t mean not to kill anything. The difference between killing and murder is subtle but very important. Basically, murder could be defined as “The unlawful killing of one human being by another”. You could insert the word ‘premeditated’ after unlawful, because some killing is accidental and there were many regulations in the Old Testament about what could happen if somebody accidentally killed someone, such as the provision of cities of refuge (Numbers 35:6).

One factor that must be considered is the authority that God has given to governing authorities;

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God (Romans 13:1).

This could cover issues such as capital punishment or fighting in a war. These can be ‘grey areas’ which Christians have long debated over. More black and white for a Christian is the issue of Euthanasia and Abortion, which even when allowed by an authority, we would still consider as wrong. There are some issues, where the conscience is concerned, where we may need to disobey the authority structure we are under. God’s law always takes precedence over human authority and where that authority clearly contradicts God’s word we must make a stand.

The last issue I want to tackle today is where people point the finger at God and call Him a hypocrite for going against His own rules by killing people. This shows a gross misunderstanding about the nature of God. Let me set one thing straight, God is not morally answerable to any person. The bible states this in Isaiah 45:9

Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’

The power of life and death is in God’s hands and He does what is right and what He pleases. The fact is that He doesn’t owe us anything except destruction. It is only through His amazing grace and mercy that He keeps us alive, because we are all rebellious and deserving of death, every last one of us. When you think about it, every single person who has ever died has died through God’s hands;

See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand. (Deuteronomy 32:39)

As I said earlier, this can seem like the most straightforward command but in reality it can be quite problematic, but I hope that I have made it a bit clearer. Next week we are going to look at Jesus’ radical definition of the 6th commandment where He classifies it even further.

 December 11, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Dec 042015
 

Exceedingly righteousWe are now in the fourth week of a section of Jesus’ sermon which addressed the Old Testament and whether Jesus had come to abolish it or not. These 4 verses lead into the rest of the sermon and have been hotly debated as to their meaning. I have included the verses below with today’s verse in bold.

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-20)

Jesus here highlights to His worried listeners that He is not doing away with their history with God in the Old Testament, but He is fulfilling it. Everything that happened in the Old Testament pointed to Him. The prophecies were about Him, the sacrifices predicted His sacrifice and the regulations were a shadow of what He was going to achieve. The 10 commandments were written on stone, but these new commandments were going to be written on believer’s hearts. No longer a struggle to keep a whole host of rules and regulations but a new heart and desire to do what pleases Him.

It’s important we consider what I said last week about Christians having died to the law. Because we could be inclined to think that these new commands that Jesus is giving, which incidentally are even stronger than the Old Testament laws, are just replacing one set of laws for another. These commands that Jesus is giving are His standards for living and they are achievable precisely because we have a new heart.

What Jesus is saying in today’s passage is that our own righteousness is never enough. To say that their righteousness should exceed the Scribes and the Pharisee’s would have been truly shocking to His listeners because they were ‘super’ religious. Humanly speaking there isn’t anybody who could touch the piety of the Scribes and the Pharisee’s. They even tithed their spice rack for goodness sake! Can you imagine getting the dried herbs from your kitchen cupboards and measuring out 10%? The trouble was, they had created many extra laws than what God had decreed. God had said that you should not work on the Sabbath, but they had taken it to ridiculous extremes. Just for a laugh and actually it is really quite sad, here are some of the stipulations they put in place for the Sabbath:

  • They taught that you should not look in a mirror on the Sabbath because you might be tempted to pluck out a grey hair and that would be reaping.
  • They said that you could only eat an egg which had been laid on the Sabbath if you killed the chicken for Sabbath-breaking.
  • If the lights were on when the Sabbath came (Sabbath began at sundown), you could not blow them out. If they had not been lit in time, then you could not light them.
  • It was unlawful to wear any jewellery or ornaments on the Sabbath, since this might be construed as carrying a burden.
  • It was not permitted to wear false teeth on the Sabbath.
  • You were allowed to eat radishes on the Sabbath, but you were warned against dipping them into salt because you might leave them in the salt too long and pickle them and this was considered to be Sabbath-breaking. The Pharisees actually had discussions as to how long it took to pickle a radish.
  • It was fine to spit on a rock on the Sabbath, but you could not spit on the ground, because that made mud and mud was mortar, and that was work.

There are many, many more besides these. No wonder Jesus got cross with them as they had missed the idea completely. Their piety was external and superficial and Jesus is looking for an inner attitude that is all about pleasing Him.

We can only exceed the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisee’s because we are trusting in His righteousness. Our righteousness is His righteousness and I for one am jolly pleased about that!

 December 4, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Righteousness, The sermon on the mount No Responses »