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 »
Nov 272015
 

Teaching the commandmentsTherefore 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. (Matthew 5:19)

The 4 verses that we are currently looking at (verses 17 to 20) are a little introduction to what Jesus is leading on to talk about in His next part of ‘the sermon on the mount.’ They are very important but also hotly debated. I will set out my viewpoint this week on what I believe that Jesus is teaching. You may disagree, but we won’t fall out will we? I’m open to being shown where I may be wrong (as long as it’s in a loving and gracious way).

Jesus is speaking to the crowd in response to the Pharisees’ accusation that He was trying to abolish the Law of God. Jesus refutes this accusation, saying that actually He is not abolishing it but fulfilling it. He is not talking about any specific part of the law, like the 10 commandments, or He would have clarified that in verses 17 & 18, but He is talking about the whole of the Old Testament (law and the prophets).

He is not abolishing what has gone before but fulfilling or complementing them, filling them out and finishing them. Jesus completes the Law and the Prophets, the Old Covenant Scriptures, in three ways:

1) He completes their predictions or the prophecies given about Him and His work

2) He fulfilled the righteous requirements

3) He brings a new reality to the Old Testament shadows, He brings clarity to what they were pointing towards and suggesting.

That is why He is not abolishing them, because after all they are perfect.

I have read many interpretations of this verse which say that Jesus is still asking us to keep the requirements of the law, especially the moral code, such as the 10 commandments. He has just gotten rid of the rest but left those.

It is so important though, that we balance this scripture with other scriptures which speak about the law not ruling us anymore. For example, Romans 7 is very clear about this. In verse 4 it states that a Christian has ‘died to the law’ and verse 6 that we have been ‘released’ from it. That means the whole lot, not just part of it. If that is the case, what does this verse mean?

It is quite possible that when Jesus says ‘These commandments’ he is referring to the principles he is going to set out in the rest of His sermon. This could be what is referred to as “The law of Christ.” Jesus is about to set out some principles and ways of living that will please Him. We don’t have to do anything, but as those who are following Him, if we have truly repented and had our hearts changed, our desire will be to please Him. The Old law was a list of regulations we had to keep through a sense of duty. This new way is entirely different because it has been written on our hearts.

Notice that it doesn’t say that the person who relaxes any of these commandments would lose their salvation. It says that they would be considered least. A true Christian cannot lose their salvation but they can miss all that God has for them through all sorts of reasons. The person who teaches others well and gives themselves to Christ’s kingdom will receive rewards. This is clearly shown in many bible verses, such as:

Colossians 3:23-24, Romans 2:6, 1 Corinthians 2:9, 1 Corinthians 15:58, Hebrews 11:6 and many others.

I hope you count yourself blessed that you are living on this side of the law. We are living in the age of Grace where Christ has paid the full penalty. He has done it all for us and we can just live in the good of it. Praise His name.

 November 27, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Nov 202015
 

HeavenAndEarthFor 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. (Matthew 5:18)

Last week we looked at the statement of Jesus; that he had not come to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfil them. The law and the prophets is another way of saying the whole of the Old Testament. The reason why Jesus made this statement was because He was aware that He was making some very provocative and radical statements and His listeners could well have thought that He was going to do away with all that had gone before. Actually it was quite the opposite, there was nothing wrong at all with the law, it was the people who were trying to obey it who came up short.

Jesus didn’t abandon the law, He actually defined what it really meant. In the process He even raised the bar by saying it wasn’t about outward appearance but what was in the heart. It was no longer necessary to just avoid murdering someone for example, you now had to not even have anger in your heart!

Jesus goes on to further define in verse 18 what he meant by fulfilling the law in verse 17.

Firstly He starts with a phrase that Jesus often used, “truly I say to you”. This can be translated in many ways; “Verily I tell you”, “I tell you the truth”, “for I assure you”, “Amen I say to you”, “I can guarantee this truth”, “for most certainly I tell you.”

Do you get the point? Jesus is saying something that He wanted His listeners to take notice of. We know that whatever He says is true, but His hearers, who were perhaps unsure, needed to sit up and listen.

Secondly, what did He mean by saying “until heaven and earth pass away”? Well this refers to the future when all has been wrapped up. All prophecies have been fulfilled and everyone has been judged. The former things have finished and the new heavens and new earth are upon us. Death has been defeated, sickness and sorrow is no more. Every Christian has their glorified bodies which are not subject to decay. At that time there will be no more need of the law. We will live in the presence of God with any thought of sinning a distant memory extinguished from our minds.

Until that point not an iota or a dot will be changed. So what are an iota and a dot? Well an iota is the smallest letter of the Greek alphabet. The dot or as it is sometimes referred to as the ‘tittle’ refers to a tiny mark used in Hebrew letters that is shaped like a hook. As small as the dot on an i. The point is that there is nothing wrong with any of it, even the tiniest part. It was all instigated by God as His perfect standard. How could it be anything but perfect?

“All is accomplished” means literally “until all has occurred or everything is completed.” This is going back and emphasising what Jesus said in verse 17 about fulfilling the law. It does not merely refer to Jesus’ role as a teacher of the law, but as a fulfiller of prophecy and one who obeyed the moral law completely. He came to realise every prophecy and pass every test, to lead the way and accomplish every last stroke of the pen on the law’s statute books. He has fulfilled it all perfectly.

The question to leave you this week is “Do you trust Him? The one who has accomplished everything necessary in the law so that you don’t have to, or are you trying to fill in the gaps?

 November 20, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Nov 142015
 

As I sit here and watch the tragic unfolding events of violence and mayhem in Paris, I feel compelled to write something. We all react to such events in many different ways; anger, despair, sadness, indifference or just a sense of relief that it didn’t happen to us.

When I glance through social media, I see many ‘over’ reactions, often quite hurtful and unnecessary.

As a Christian for many years now, I have discovered that the bible offers many answers and wisdom about how to react to tragic events that happen. I want to humbly share some of these observations now in the hope that it will help you come to terms with this heart-rending event and others that will inevitably happen in the future.

Firstly, this event is no surprise to God. Not that He agrees with these barbaric acts, but he uses them in an amazing way to fulfill his own purposes. It is comforting to know that God knows the end from the beginning, He sees the big picture. We may not understand, but the fact that He does is really comforting.

When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. (Mark 13:7)

Only I can tell you the future before it even happens. Everything I plan will come to pass, for I do whatever I wish. (Isaiah 46:10)

The second hope I can give you is that evil will not prevail. Sometimes it seems that it is prevailing rather too much, but again, God is in control. King David says it well in Psalm 21 v 8-11

Your hand will find out all your enemies; your right hand will find out those who hate you. You will make them as a blazing oven when you appear. The LORD will swallow them up in his wrath, and fire will consume them. You will destroy their descendants from the earth, and their offspring from among the children of man. Though they plan evil against you, though they devise mischief, they will not succeed.

That brings me to a third point – The battle is not ours. Unless we are in the armed forces, we are not to fight against people. It is not people we are fighting against anyway;

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12)

As followers of Jesus, He is our supreme example. We are to be like Him in our reactions. Jesus showed love to His enemies and that is to be our reaction too. I don’t know how people can call Christianity a crutch for the weak, because it is one of the hardest things to do; to forgive perpetrators of evil, to turn the other cheek, to seek to bless our enemies, but those are the things we are called to do.

Our natural, fallen reaction is to speak against people who we perceive to be behind these atrocities, to spit bile and vent our fury. We might even be tempted to speak angrily against Muslim’s, but that is not the way. We need to be people who are above all of that. We don’t have to agree with Muslim’s to love them. We should love them as our neighbours and seek for ways to be kind because we are representing Jesus. Have you ever thought that they may be just as ashamed and embarrassed about radical Muslim’s as we are about money grabbing Tele-evangelists from our own camp?

Finally, we are called to pray. The hashtag #prayforparis is trending massively on twitter at the moment and the majority is used by people that I wouldn’t even have thought would believe in God. It shows the desperation in the human soul, a reflection that we are made in God’s image, that we need to do something to help these poor souls who are suffering.

Christians who are reading this – If people who don’t even know God are trying to contact some nameless benefactor in the sky, how much more should we, who know this father of compassion and mercy, be praying? We know He acts, we know He is the only hope, we know those desperately searching for comfort will receive His care. We know that He is the only answer.

I can understand being overwhelmed by the enormity of what is happening and wondering what to start praying about, so here are a few pointers:

(1) Pray for peace – In the hearts of those who are suffering, grieving families, those who have had their lives turned upside down. Pray for peace in the hearts of those who are hell bent on revenge and would seek to take it from inappropriate places.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

(2) Pray for world leaders – For the French government and for those governments that advise them. Pray that they would receive wisdom and look to how their reaction will affect future generations in 5, 10, 20 years from now.

Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. (1 Timothy 2:2) (NLT)

(3) Pray that the perpetrators will be brought to justice.

(4) Pray for the police and intelligence services that they would be led to potential threats before they even happen

(5) Pray for radical members of ISIS that their eyes will be open to the evil they are committing. Pray that the brainwashing would cease to be effective, that those in authority in the Muslim community would speak out.

(6) Pray that God will bring comfort and healing

(7) Pray that the will of God will prevail, that He will turn this evil on its head and bring good out of this desperate situation.

It’s very easy to switch off and pretend it is not happening, to turn off the TV and block it all out, but we are called to be ‘salt’ and ‘light’ in the world and to bring good in the face of a whole lot of evil. Be ready to speak to those with questions, to bring comfort to the anxious and peace to the troubled. To be like Jesus to those around us.

As I was considering what to write, I started meditating on Psalm 37, which is a great Psalm to consider in this present climate. Why not look it up?

God bless, Adrian.

 November 14, 2015  Posted by at 1:32 pm Paris attacks, Peace, Pray for Paris No Responses »
Nov 132015
 

Abolishing the lawDo not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (Matthew 5:17)

In our ‘Sermon on the mount’ series we are now changing tack and looking at Jesus’ next point. We have looked already at ‘the beatitudes’ and then following on from that the fact that Christians are to be salt and light in the society we live in. Now we look at a subject that has caused the Christian world much consternation for a very long time…. ‘The law’. Opinion has been sharply divided on a scale of 2 extremes. At one end of the scale we are still to keep all the law, sliding through keeping certain parts of it, until you get to the other end of ignoring it completely, it has no relevance!

Opinion is divided mainly because the bible appears to contradict itself. I say “appears” because actually, as you might expect, it doesn’t. It depends how you interpret it.

I want to make this as simple as I can;

The law was instigated by God, therefore it is perfect. In reality it was a standard set that nobody on earth could obtain, except one man in the whole of history. The law was really there to show how perfect God is and how we cannot even begin to get near to His standard. On top of that, any falling below the standard means death. You only get life if you keep the whole thing. You might say “That sounds really cruel?” Well yes, if you left it like that it would do.

We of course know that Jesus was that one man, the only one who could keep it. The amazing part is that He kept it on our behalf. When we trust in Him and put our faith in Him, it is like we have kept it. That is why it is really silly to trust in Him and then try to keep certain parts in our own strength. If we can’t keep it all it’s no point in trying to keep some, it’s all or nothing.

This is the dangerous part, because if that is really true, we can do anything we like. Well yes we can, but in the act of handing over our lives to Jesus, when we trust in Him we get a new heart, a heart that now wants to please Him. We keep the spirit of the law because we want to. It’s no longer a set of rules and regulations but a set of opportunities to please Him.

This is what Jesus meant when He said He had not come to abolish the law, but to fulfil it. He fulfilled it by keeping every last bit of it, the whole lot, He didn’t miss crossing a t or dotting an i. His life was a perfect example of keeping the law.

So the question is not now “should I obey that law or not?” but “what good things can I do to please Jesus?” A completely different perspective.

 November 13, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Nov 062015
 

Let your light shineIn the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)

In the last few weeks we have looked at how Christians can be an influence in society. We looked at 2 metaphors; being salt and light. This next verse today shows how we, as the “light of the world,” should be radiating that light. We shine before others as we demonstrate those characteristics of true Christianity, ‘the beatitudes’ which immediately precede these verses.

This verse today tells us that our faith should be open and transparent. We’ve already considered the futility of putting our light under a bowl or a basket. Our Christianity is to shine out beyond the four walls of our church buildings and beyond our cosy communities. That is when we will make a difference.

Light shines best when it is in darkness, it contrasts more in dark places. Shine a torch on a bright sunny day and you won’t be able to see it, but shine it in pitch black and it lights up the surroundings. It’s all very well being a good light when we are in church but the important time to shine is in the times when we are going about our everyday lives and mixing in some dark places. Our light shines brightest when we act or react in ways that are different to the world. This involves; being forgiving, turning the other cheek, preferring others, showing kindness etc.

This is true evangelism. It does worry me sometimes that we can get so confused about ‘doing’ evangelism. We can get the idea into our heads that evangelism is something we do on certain occasions when we might knock on doors or hand out tracks in the street or go treasure hunting. We step out of our church safety net for a short time, being a bit brave for a while and then retreat back into our comfort zone again. Those things I’ve mentioned aren’t bad, they’ve produced amazing fruit, but that is not how they did it in the New Testament, nor how we should do it now. We should shine every day through a radical lifestyle that shines bright in dark places.

I’ve noticed that many Christians get quite twitchy when it comes to talking about good works. We are desperate to get away from any idea of salvation by works and so we down play the importance of good works. We hammer the point home that we are saved only by grace, through faith and this is absolutely true, but if that thought was held in isolation we miss an awful lot. The truth is that after receiving such an amazing gift, our inclination is to do good works through immense gratitude. Also, if we’ve truly encountered the gospel and the immensity of what God’s rescued us from, we must surely realise that we couldn’t even begin to pay God back. The third reason, is that this gift of salvation is far too important to keep to ourselves. We do good works to demonstrate to others just how amazing God’s love is in the hope that they will discover it for themselves.

In the bible there are commonly 2 Greek words meaning ‘good’. Firstly there is ‘agathos’ which basically means good in quality. Secondly, there is ‘kalos’ which goes beyond something that is just good, but also has the feeling of something being; winsome, beautiful and attractive. The word for good here in this passage is the second one, ‘kalos.’ The good deeds of a Christian are to be done in such a kind, selfless, merciful and loving manner that they support the message of the gospel. They are to adorn the gospel of Christ.

What an amazing thought that our humble good deeds can bring glory to God. Have you ever considered that? Every decision we make for good, every time temptation is resisted, every tongue held in control, when we calm ourselves when just about to explode, all of these occasions and many more besides bring glory to God because our light is shining that little bit brighter.

If you don’t think that one person can make that much of a difference, I’ll finish on a story that the American president Woodrow Wilson tells of a chance encounter with the famous evangelist DL Moody. He was a man who was committed to God and determined that his light would be strong;

This is Woodrow Wilson’s testimony; “I was sitting in a barber chair when I became aware that a powerful personality had entered the room. A man had come quietly in upon the same errand as myself to have his hair cut and sat in the chair next to me. Every word the man uttered, though it was not in the least didactic, showed a personal interest in the man who was serving him. And before I got through with what was being done to me I was aware I had attended an evangelistic service, because Mr. D. L. Moody was in that chair. I purposely lingered in the room after he had left and noted the singular affect that his visit had brought upon the barber shop. They talked in undertones. They did not know his name, but they knew something had elevated their thoughts, and I felt that I left that place as I should have left a place of worship.

Have this in your thoughts as you live your life, that a Christian’s life is a window through which others can see Jesus. You can shine as bright as you want to be.

 November 6, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Oct 302015
 

light of the worldYou are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.… (Matthew 5:14-15)
Last week we talked about being the salt of the earth. This week we look at a similar metaphor with the same idea. Not only are we the salt of the earth, but we are also the light of the world. Both give the idea that being a Christian is not just about inward belief but also external influence. Like it or not, as God’s children and members of His family, we represent him in what we do, how we behave and what we say.
To understand the metaphor better, let’s consider what light does.

1. As a signal.

Light can indicate where you are going such as an indicator or a turn signal. When to stop and start, such as in traffic lights and it can also be used in pulses of light from one ship to another to send a message (e.g. Morse code).

2. As a guide.

A very famous verse in the bible is Psalm 119:105 Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Light is of course vital if you are travelling at night, or you really will do yourself an injury.

3. To dispel darkness

Darkness cannot occupy the place where light is. Where there is light, there cannot be darkness. Light is used to penetrate the darkness and expose evil and error.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. (John 1:5 NLT)
And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God. (John 3:19-21)

4. As security

A security light on the outside of a house for instance, comes on whenever anyone is sneaking past, to expose their movements.
Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible (Ephesians 5:11-13)

5. To produce growth

Plants grow because of the light (called photosynthesis). You will even see plants turning towards the light to get the most light they can.

6. To bring life

Very few things grow in the dark. In a forest only moss and fungus grows on the forest floor, but in a summer meadow, things grow very quickly. Just ask a gardener who has to constantly mow the lawn.
Jesus is the exclusive and only light. He is the true light.
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. (John 8:12)
So if Jesus is the light of the world and He is the only light, why did He call us the light of the world as well?
The answer is that as followers of Jesus we reflect His light. For example the moon has no light of its own, but as it reflects the sun’s light it can light up the night sky. The more time we spend in His presence the brighter we will become.
As Christians we will never cease to have that light within us, but what we can do is hide the light so that others cannot see it. That is what the rest of the verse is about. Jesus is saying it is pointless having a light and then covering it over and yet that is what some of us do.
The basket we cover the light with can be all sorts of things: It could be fear of what others might think, or of losing our respectability. We might not want to offend others and make waves or we just want people to accept us. What is your potential basket? Whatever that basket is we need to deal with it.
Another story about light in the bible was the parable of the 10 virgins in Matthew 25. The five foolish virgins were actually not Christians at all because they did not get into the wedding feast. The oil they should have had represented their lack of a relationship with Jesus. The message is the same though; we need to have our lamps ready, we need to be ready to shine whenever and wherever we are called to.
As I was writing this blog I found myself singing a song I sang a very long time ago in Sunday school “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine” If it’s good enough for the children, it’s good enough for us! What do you think?

 October 30, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Oct 232015
 

Salt of the earthYou are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. (Matthew 5:13)

We have now finished the beatitudes and we will continue with the rest of the ‘sermon on the mount’ but it is important to see that the thought process of this sermon follows through. The ‘blessed’ people who have fully embraced what it is to be; poor in spirit, merciful, pure in heart, peacemaking etc become people who affect society in a good way. We are not to be people who hide away in our little communities, unable to make any difference to the world around us. No, we are to be like salt which affects everything it comes into contact with.

But what did Jesus mean though when he said “we are the salt of the earth?”

Let’s look at some of the properties of salt and see how it is similar to how we can mirror its effectiveness.

(1) To season

I know it is not considered fashionable at the moment to put too much salt on our food, but just the right amount of salt can really bring out the flavour of a dish. Salt brings an interest, a quality. It stops things being bland and insipid. Our lives can bring an interest and excitement of something more than the mundane.

(2) Thirst making

There’s a reason why bartenders put free salty peanuts on a bar. They sell a lot more drinks. As we live out the joy of life that only Jesus gives, we create a thirst in others that craves a life that they cannot attain by anything else. They cannot put their finger on it, but Christians who are living out the beatitudes in an authentic way, have something they want.

(3) Disinfectant

Ever heard the phrase ‘rubbing salt into the wounds’? Well salt is an antibacterial agent so it helps to fight infection. Throughout history salt was used as an anaesthetic on new born babies. This practice was referred to in the bible in Ezekiel 16:4. Also in the bible is the account of Elisha who put salt into water to sanitise it (2 Kings 2:20-21). As Christians we can halt the infection of sin in our society. As we bring love and peace and reconciliation we help to stop the bacteria of sin spreading.

(4) Preservative

Before fridges and freezers were invented, salt was used universally to prevent food from going off. Meat was salted so that it could keep for a long time. Our presence in society should have a preservative effect on society and help to fight off sin’s decay.

(5) Fertilizer

Salt as a fertilizer is pretty unheard of now, but it was much more common in Jesus’ time and it could well have been this use that Jesus was mainly referring to.

There are 3 main points to make when considering salt as a fertilizer;

  • Salt would need to be scattered evenly. If it was just dumped in lumps it could destroy the chemical composition of the soil. Jesus knew that His disciples would be scattered far and wide when persecution came and actually that would make them far more effective. If they remained huddled in one place, they could not fertilize the soil properly.
  • Secondly, a fertilizer does not exist for itself; it exists for the sake of the soil it is feeding. As Christians we exist to bless and nourish our communities. If we didn’t, God might as well remove us, but instead He has a purpose for us to be a source of goodness to all around us.
  • The third aspect is that we are to be different to the soil we are feeding. As Christians we are distinctive. This leads on to the warning in the second part of today’s verse. If we lose our distinctiveness we are no good to anybody.

It is actually difficult for the table salt we know today as Sodium Chloride to lose its saltiness as it is a very stable mineral. But Jesus was not speaking from a scientific viewpoint. He was using a metaphor which was a common way that Jesus communicated. The most common explanation for Jesus’ warning against salt losing its saltiness was that the salt in His time would often be mixed with other impure minerals, rendering the salt properties ineffective. Salt would of course also be ineffective if it was watered down. The message is clear to those Christians who compromise and mix their faith with all sorts of other beliefs.

I’ll leave you with a thought provoking exert from Francis Chan’s book ‘crazy love’ who spoke about this very issue;

God is saying that lukewarm, half-hearted following is useless, it sickens our souls. How would you like to hear the Son of God say, ‘You would ruin manure? … Lukewarm and uncommitted faith is completely useless. It can’t even benefit manure.

 October 23, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Oct 162015
 

The world was not worthy of themThis week I’m going to finish looking at the last beatitude about being blessed when you are persecuted. We have now spent 4 weeks on this subject, previously looking at the Old Testament prophets, the early church and now this week, I’m going to look at Christian persecution right up to the modern day.

The title of this blog is taken from Hebrews 11:38 where the writer to the Hebrews is recounting the many people who suffered for following God. In this blog I want to honour our brothers and sisters who are absolute heroes of the faith. Some will be more well known, whilst others, no-one has heard of and they suffered in secret, but I am convinced that right now they are not regretting one moment.

As I was researching this subject I was actually quite amazed at the extent of major persecutions directed at whole people groups, across the world and throughout history. Far too many that I could do justice to in one short blog. So I’m going to pick out just a few that have inspired me.

Gelasinus

One of the shortest journeys from conversion to martyrdom was a chap called Gelasinus from the second century AD. He was in a play which was lampooning baptism. As He was thrown into the water as part of the sketch he emerged and said “I am a Christian for I saw an awesome glory in the tub and I will die a Christian.” This so enraged the audience who were there to mock Christianity that they took him outside and stoned him.

William Tyndale

One of the reasons we can all own a bible was due to the sacrifice of people like William Tyndale. He was passionate to see the bible translated into English so that it was accessible to everyone, but at the time this was illegal. Tyndale had to flee England and spent most of his life in hiding because the English authorities were searching for him. He was eventually caught by an act of betrayal from someone who pretended to be his friend. He was executed by strangulation and burning at the stake in 1536 because he believed that; sins could be forgiven, the gospel was enough for salvation and that everyone should have free access to the bible.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

He was a German Lutheran pastor and theologian who stood against the evil Nazi regime during the second world war. His writings have since become very influential. He was vocally opposed to Hitler and his evil regime and as you might expect this put him in great danger. He was arrested in April 1943 by the Gestapo and imprisoned at Tegel prison for one and a half years. He was then transferred to a Nazi concentration camp. After being allegedly associated with the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, he was briefly tried, along with other accused plotters, including former members of the Abwehr (the German Military Intelligence Office), and then executed by hanging on 9 April 1945, just two weeks before Allied forces liberated the camp and three weeks before Hitler’s suicide.

Jim Elliot

Was one of five missionaries trying to reach the Auca indians in the Amazon rainforest and share the love of Jesus with them. They had made initial contact by plane but on their second visit on January 8, 1956 they were slaughtered by the Waodoni warriors (an Auca tribe) who had been lied to about the group’s intentions. The other heroes who were slaughtered that day were; Nate saint, Ed McCully, Pete Fleming and Roger Youderian. Amazingly, Elizabeth Elliot (Jim’s widow) reached out to the tribe that had killed her husband and saw many converted. A supreme example of forgiveness and love.

Wang Zhiming

Between 1966 and 1976 the Cultural Revolution in China brought an onslaught against all that was ancient or venerated in Chinese life. The young Red Guards who led the campaign sought to break free of the past and to create a revolutionary society that was utterly new. Religion must be destroyed. Churches were closed and Christians were forced to meet secretly.

Wang Zhiming was one of many Christians who were persecuted during this time. Many were sent to camps, were denounced or beaten. In May 1969 he and other members of his family were arrested. Four years later he was condemned to death. He was by then an old man of sixty-six.

Wang Zhiming was executed on 29 December 1973 at a mass rally of more than 10,000 people. Immediately afterwards many Christians, rather than cowering in fear for their own safety, instead remonstrated with the prosecuting official of the red guard.

Janani Jakaliya Luwum

Was the archbishop of the Church of Uganda from 1974 to 1977 and one of the most influential leaders of the modern church in Africa. He was arrested in February 1977 and died shortly after. Although the official account describes a car crash, it is generally accepted that he was murdered on the orders of then-President Idi Amin.

Mathew Ayairga and the 20 other Coptic Christians

I doubt there are many of us who have not seen the picture (Which is the header of this blog) of the shocking images of the 21 Coptic Christians on a beach in their orange jumpsuits about to be beheaded for their faith. This was from February this year and shows that the persecution of Christians is not only still happening but intensifying. The reason I have mentioned Matthew was because he was the only one from Chad (the others were from Egypt). He was originally a non-Christian, but he saw the immense faith of the others, and when the terrorists asked him if he rejected Jesus, he reportedly said, “Their God is my God”, knowing that he would be killed.

This blog has been in honour of the men and women who have laid down their lives just like their Lord did and who are now at rest in the presence of their saviour. Their blood has been a seed that God is using to sweep many into His kingdom. His church will prevail, Hallelujah.