Called to be sent

And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction... These twelve Jesus sent out... (Mt 10:1,5a)

In Matthew 10 it is very clear that Jesus calls his disciples in order to send them out. Jesus did not do all the preaching and demonstrating of the kingdom himself - he equipped others to do the same. He still does. Our calling includes both an equipping and a commission, just as it did for that first twelve.

We are not called to form a nice cosy Christian huddle, away from the big bad world, waiting for heaven. We are called by Jesus to be sent back with his authority to bring the kingdom to where we are.

One interesting detail I noted, is that in Matthew even the list of the disciples names indicates this purpose. They are paired up two by two, just as Jesus sent his disciples out two by two. Jesus strategy is to call us in, join us together, then send us out.


According to your faith

“According to your faith be it done to you.” (Mt 9:29b)

All through the gospels we see that Jesus responds to faith. Jesus is moved to action when he sees the faith of those who come to him. He rewards those who demonstrate their faith by pressing in or crying out to him, and he rebuked those who demonstrated a lack of faith by the doubts they confessed.

Faith is crucial, of that there is no doubt! The writer to the Hebrews tells us that "Without faith it is impossible to please God." He also goes on to tell us why:

For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Heb 11:6)

This gives us a correct understanding of how we interact with God by faith. Our faith does not constrain God - he is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine. He managed to create a whole Universe just fine before we came along. Our faith does not manipulate God - it is he that is sovereign, not us. We cannot twist his arm by pumping up how much we "believe" something is going to happen. In fact faith does not draw God to us at all (he is within us already!) it is the means by which we draw near to God.

We see that in Matthew 9, in several examples: The men who brought Jesus the paralytic on the mat - Jesus saw their faith. The woman who touched the hem of his garment - Jesus said her faith had made her well. And the two blind men who cried out to Jesus to be healed - Jesus said it would be unto them according to their faith.

What was their faith? In each case it was the fact they pressed into Jesus for what they needed. It was exactly the kind of faith described in Hebrews 11:6. They believed who he was, and they earnestly sought him as the one who was able to meet their needs. Faith is not static. It is not self-sufficiency. It is best displayed in the lives of those who are drawing ever closer to Jesus. Those who recognise that he is who he claims to be and who make demands on him for what is needed.

Jesus is not bothered by such demands made in faith. He delights to respond to them. Indeed he seems to be much more bothered when they are absent!


Sleeping through the storm

And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. (Mt 8:24)

Jesus always had peace, no matter what the situation he was in. Nothing caught him unaware, nothing caused him to panic or worry. If we want to see a perfect example of the peace of God, the peace that surpasses all understanding, the peace that characterises the Kingdom, we only need to look at Jesus.

In a mid-week meeting last week, a lady in our church fellowship, Sarah, had a great insight into the nature of God's peace:

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. (Jn 16:33)

Her insight was this: In the world we have trouble, but in Jesus we have peace.

The two are not mutually exclusive. Indeed as we see from the account of the strom - the two can happen at the same time. If we are in Jesus, then we are in his peace. We can know that peace, even in the midst of the worst storm that life can throw at us.

It is a peace of knowing who is in control. It is a peace from knowing that the one who only needs to give the word in in same boat with you. No matter how grim it may look in the middle, if Jesus is with you, you can be confident of reaching the other side. He wants us to know his peace.

I like this account of Jesus asleep in the storm for another reason. Some years ago, about 1998, I think, I was in a town just outside Atlanta, Georgia, USA on a business trip. I went to bed in my hotel room, and woke up the next day and went down for breakfast. Later than usual my colleague appeared looking red-eyed and weary. "You sleep well?" he said with a strange look. "Yes thanks" I replied. He stared at me incredulously for a moment, then said - "You are joking aren't you!?" When I asked what this was all about, he pointed me to the TV and the news it was playing. A tornado had passed within a mile of our hotel that night, ripping off roofs and leaving a trail of devastation. Most of the other guests had been huddled in the hotel lobby under blankets all night. I was asleep on the top floor, totally oblivious.

I think I knew something of Jesus anointing of peace that night!

Though, almost a decade later I think I must have lost some of it! Last night a tornado hit Nuneaton. It was five miles away, and a much weaker storm, but I did wake up... breifly!


Beatitude problem?

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Mt 5:3)

I've been musing on the Beatitudes, and this first one in particular for a few days now. The Beatitudes is a passage of scripture that, I believe, has accumulated much religious baggage over the millennia. Many fight with the impulse to say "blesséd" rather than "blessed." Over familiarity also has robbed much of the impact. But when Jesus ascended the mount and first opened his mouth to teach the people the words were fresh, relevant, and filled with authority and impact.

First these were not religious words or devices of speech, but a poetic device lifted from the popular culture of his time. Jesus was not speaking from a dusty pulpit, but a sunlit mountaintop with the wind in his hair. He was not engaging with the religious teachers, Pharisees or scribes, but with the ordinary everyday people.

He was however making a powerful theological statement. Moses ascended the mountain and gave the people ten commandments, the Law that they must obey. Jesus when he ascends the mount instead speaks nine blessings. He replaces Law with grace, and curse with blessing.

The words "Blessed are..." were not intended as nice uplifting sentimental thoughts to ponder. They were creative words of life. Jesus was not just speaking as a passive observer about the blessings he perceived to be already present on various groups of people - he was actively speaking and commanding those blessings into being. It was an impartation: "Blessed are you!"

So what of this first beatitude? Why has it caught my attention? Well primarily because it is the first, and nothing Jesus did lacked significance. A blessing on the poor was part of his mission statement lifted from the words of the prophet Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound
(Isaiah 61:1)

But this is where I think I may have a "beatitude problem" because I disagree with the common rendering of this first blessing. Jesus' self-professed mandate was to bring a blessing to the poor. Not just the spiritually poor - the poor. And the way he was to do that was under the anointing of the Holy Spirit. With the use of a comma and the insertion of the definite article (that is present in the Greek) this beatitude becomes a powerful declaration of the good news Jesus was anointed to deliver.

"Blessed are the poor, in the Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

The Spirit is the agent, not the adjective! Jesus is speaking into being the very blessing he was prophesied to bring.

The poor are blessed. How? In the Holy Spirit. What is their blessing? Nothing less than the Kingdom of God!

If I am right, (and that is not a given, I'm no expert in Greek... but all my research this far backs up my hunch) then this becomes a powerful opening statement that sets the scene, not just for the rest of the sermon on the mount, but for the whole New Testament. It is the walk of faith in a nutshell!

It's not about how much material resource we have. The way of faith, does not depend on our natural abilities or resources. We should never place our confidence in such things as these. It is not the path of the flesh that is blessed by God, but the path in step with his Spirit. It is about absolute dependence on the Holy Spirit.

Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts. (Zec 4:6)

The path of blessing for the poor is the same for every one of us. It is the path that the Spirit leads us in. It is the path that pursues the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom that the Father has been pleased to give us; that Jesus announced is ours; that the Spirit now leads us to possess - his glory is our blessing.


Prophetic Preaching

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Mt 3:1-2)

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Mt 4:17)

What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet... Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. (Mt 11:9,11)

Jesus describes John as the greatest among the prophets that came before him, (all those who came after him are of a different order.) Yet we don't have a record of anything John prophesied... or do we?

Now, I know that John was special among the prophets because all the others saw Jesus from far off, but to John it fell to say, "Behold! The Lamb!" But I don't believe that was the only way he was prophetic. We don't have any record of him saying "Thus says the Lord..." or any other conventional form of prophetic utterance, but we do have a record of his preaching.

We know that Jesus only did what he saw his Father doing. He came to instigate a new Kingdom order of God's will on the earth not to follow existing trends, so it is inconceivable that Jesus was copying or plagiarising John's message. So we see that John's message was highly prophetic for this reason: He was preaching Jesus' message before Jesus!

This, I believe, lifts the lid on the true nature of preaching. It can be, indeed it should be a prophetic activity. It is not just regurgitating the scriptures into a little homily or thought for the day. It is not following a teaching programme and ticking off doctrinal foundations. There is nothing wrong with these things, but if that is all preaching is, it falls short of the mark. Preaching is prophetic, for it is capturing and communicating what Christ himself would say to the church.

There is thus an overlap and symmetry between the ministry of the prophet and the ministry of the preacher: The prophet brings a prophetic message to communicate the word of God; the preacher brings the word of God to communicate the prophetic message. The most important requirement for both is to stand in the presence of God and hear what he has to say.

For Mark read Matthew!

My post entitled "Behold!" originally contained a typo [now corrected]. The passage I was referring to was from Matthew not Mark.

This post has recently been featured over on the ESV blog. (I'm honoured!).


But unfortunately my typo is now being propagated over the 'net too! That'll teach me to proof my posts before I hit publish! You never know who's reading!



And when Jesus was baptised, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Mt 3:16-17)

When the New Testament writers use the word "behold!" they do so to get our attention. They do so because what follows is of special significance and importance. The word "behold" itself in the English is not ideal, because it is not widely used today and so can make a passage seem dated or religious, and that certainly is not the intention. But it is hard to think of a better alternative, especially considering the literal translation is the imperative for look.

Here's what the translators of the ESV had to say about it:

The word “behold,” usually has been retained as the most common translation for the Hebrew word hinneh and the Greek word idou. Both of these words mean something like “Pay careful attention to what follows! This is important!” Other than the word “behold,” there is no single word in English that fits well in most contexts. Although “Look!” and “See!” and “Listen!” would be workable in some contexts, in many others these words lack sufficient weight and dignity. ~ Preface to the English Standard Version

There is no single English word that fits. One phrase I thought of was, "Mark my words!" In a language that originally lacked punctuation, it could also bee seen as a literary device similar to the exclamation mark or bold italics.

At the end of Matthew chapter 3, the account of Jesus baptism, we get two such "behold!" moments in rapid succession. The first when the heavens are opened to Jesus, and Holy Spirit descends upon him in manifest form like a dove, and the second when following close behind the Spirit comes the voice from heaven declaring, "This is my Son, the beloved, upon whom is my favour."

Father, son and Spirit are involved significantly from the very outset of Jesus ministry. Behold: Heaven is opened. The Spirit is manifested. There is a sound from heaven.

In the book of Acts we see that Jesus continues to work the way he began...

And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:2)


Angelic Dreams

But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream... (Mt 1:20a)

Reading through the first two chapters of Matthew, I have been struck by the way God spoke to Joseph. To Mary and to Zechariah the angel turns up when they are awake. But to Joseph he turns up in his dreams while he was sleeping.

It made me stop and ponder the faith of Joseph in this situation with a new admiration. How did he know that God had really spoken to him, and he had not just... um... dreamt it!

This was a huge decision for Joseph, and what he had heard was something totally unprecedented in the whole of redemptive history... and God was asking him to believe and obey on the basis not of a waking vision or visitation, but a dream!

I wonder how that would go down today, in this cerebral, empirical-data driven society which can pervade even God's people. How many today would be confident to base a life-changing decision on the basis of an unprovable, totally subjective dream.

Today there is much caution and scepticism of making decisions based on emotions or imaginations. We should not be led by such things they say - and they are right.... but neither should we be led purely by what we can grasp cerebrally from the empirical data. It may be very scientific, very intellectual, very respectable - but where is the faith needed for that? If Peter had waited for the water to become solid, he would have never stepped out of the boat.

What we need to be led by is the Spirit of God. And he will communicate with us, the way he chooses - not necessarily the way we would find the easiest. There is always a requirement of faith whenever God speaks. Those who are waiting for the iron-clad indisputable, totally verifiable word will be waiting a long time!! If God chooses to stir our emotions, we need to be those who have the faith to respond to those emotions. If God stirs our imaginations whether awake or asleep, then likewise we must respond. What matters is not how the message comes, but who sent it. If the source is God then we can be confident no matter how foolish we may seem to the cerebral mind.

God still has miriads and miriads of angels at his disposal. There is no indication that these heavenly messengers all hit the dole queue the moment the Scriptures were completed. That tells me something - God still has a lot to say!

I admire Joseph. Like his namesake in the Old Testament, he learned the power and significance of responding in faith to dreams from God. It was a lesson that was to save his life...

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt (Mt 2:13-14)


A chapter a day...

Here at Living Rock Church we are just starting a new Bible reading programme together as a whole church. Over the next 89 days we will be reading a chapter of the Gospels every day. Starting today in Matthew 1 and finishing on 14 December in John 21.

What excites me, is not so much the reading programme, but its purpose: to meet with Jesus. To encounter the Jesus of the gospels and allow him to transform our lives again, as he always does whenever we truly meet with him.

To help members of the church, and anyone else who would like to join us on this "short but significant journey." I have adapted my old "Ephesians Every Month Reader" into a shiny new "GospelReader."

I have written it to work on a rolling 89 day cycle. So if you get blessed by reading through a chapter of the gospels every day, you can carry on doing so indefinitely, and incorporate it into your existing reading disciplines and devotions.

GospelReader 1.02 requires Java Runtime Environment(JRE)


Jeremiah 33:6-9

Behold, I will bring to it [this city] health and healing, and I will heal them and reveal to them abundance of prosperity and security.

I will restore the fortunes of Judah and the fortunes of Israel, and rebuild them as they were at first. I will cleanse them from all the guilt of their sin against me, and I will forgive all the guilt of their sin and rebellion against me.

And this city shall be to me a name of joy, a praise and a glory before all the nations of the earth who shall hear of all the good that I do for them. They shall fear and tremble because of all the good and all the prosperity I provide for it.


Kindness and Repentance

Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? (Ro 2:4)

I heard a news article on the radio yesterday about the split caused in the Anglican church in the USA over the issue of homosexuality.

I don't want to comment on this directly, or about any of the people or the organisations involved. But I do want to give some general comments on the debate as a whole.

The Scriptures tell us it is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance. Both the kindness of God that reaches out to all men while they are still in their sin, and the repentance that this must lead us to if we are to come into the new kingdom order of God are essential if we are to present the good news of the Gospel without distortion. The polarization that can occur in any debate must not drive us to an extreme where we let go of one or the other.

Jesus was the "friend of tax collectors and prostitutes." These were the outcasts of society, the ones that the religious people did not want to associate with. We must guard against a new wave of pharisaic self-righteousness that deems that certain men are beyond the love of our saviour. I'm sure if Jesus walked the earth today he would upset just as many religious people by being the friend of homosexuals. The Gospel is good news to all men. We must be careful that we do not portray it otherwise.

However, although Jesus was the friend of tax collectors and prostitutes, he never condoned the common practice of extortion among the tax collectors, nor the prostitution of the prostitutes. His message and his ministry were clear from the very first day: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" The kindness of God reaches out to all men in their sinful state, but it does not do so to endorse any form of sinful lifestyle, nor to come just to meet our spiritual needs as we carry on the way we have always gone, doing our own thing. It calls us to repent. To radically change the way we think and act. It is not just the homosexual who has to repent and change his lifestyle when he comes to Jesus - we all do!

For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. (Ro 3:22b-24)

I thought about the word "repent" today. It is still a good word, but sadly because it is not common in everyday speech it has lost some of its true impact and accumulated some unwelcome religious baggage. I had a think about an alternative, and came up with this: "Defect!" It carries the same sense of radial switching of thought and allegiances, and the same result of transfer from under one kingdom to another.

"Defect, for God's kingdom is coming. Change sides, so you are on the winning team!"

Both kindness and repentance are vital to the gospel message. We must reach out to all men, regardless of what label society or even they themselves have applied. Note well, the Bible does not talk about homosexual men, but men who practice homosexuality. Society may define people by their sexuality but the Bible never does. There are not gay men and straight men, there are just men. In fact...

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3:28)

The only real division that is left is between those who have defected, and have brought their lives out from "doing their own thing" to being under the rule and reign of God, and those who have not.

Without repentance there is no entry to the kingdom, let alone leadership within it!!