Thursday, 9 December 2010

Paul in Athens

Acts 17:16-34

Background: ‘Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.’ v21. It was, perhaps, like one of our great Universities, an intellectual ivory tower of a place where they loved talking about the latest ideas.

Epicureans: they were materialistic, doubted the existence of the ‘gods’, and believed in moderation in all things. Sensible people! They would have fitted in on QI, the TV show.

Stoics: they were pantheists (they thought the world has a soul) and believed in exercising self-control in order to overcome destructive emotions. They would have done well as monks, who deny themselves sleep and conversation in order to gain closeness with God (On this theme ‘The Big Silence’ is worth watching!).

For the Areopagus – see the picture above.

Perhaps Paul had grown up longing to see the famous Acropolis with its view of the Areopagus. But if he did, he didn’t stay in tourist mode for long:

Paul’s spirit ‘was provoked within him’ v16. The same Greek word is used in the Septuagint (OT in Greek) when the people ‘provoked’ God by grumbling or worshipping idols (Num 14:23; Deu 32:16 ). What is our reaction to the overt Atheism so popular in the media (Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking, Stephen Fry… )? Are we equally provoked and upset by what we hear?

So, having spent time analysing the situation, picking up the atmosphere of the place, and engaging spiritually (and emotionally) with what is going on, Paul then preaches a message that fits them in their context:

Paul’s Message
His initial attempts at communication seem to fail (v18), despite being one of those who was reputed to have ‘turned the world upside down’ (v6)! ‘It would be hard to imagine a less receptive or more scornful audience.’* So he has a rethink and comes up with a message that does get through (to those receptive of the Good News)…

1. He starts where they are: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What a brilliant introduction. He has grabbed their attention, and showed his own intellectual ability, while remaining focussed on the things of God. He also begins where they are. Like a Sat Nav. It doesn’t ever say: ‘If I were going there, I wouldn’t start from here!’ It always starts where you are. (please ignore last word!)

2. He declares a clear message using language they will understand.

‘What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him.’

Notice too the focus on humankind. Paul’s message is written from a universal (rather than universalistic) perspective. He does bring in some good teaching – that God is creator and Sustainer, and determines where we all live on the earth i.e. He’s in control of nations (This doesn’t mean that harsh dictators have God’s support (Nebuchadnezzar was removed from office by God), rather that God is in control of the movements of nations. Cyrus, Emperor of Persia, is called ‘the LORD’s anointed’ (literally ‘Messiah’) in Isaiah 45:1 because he brought freedom for the Jews to go back to their land and rebuilt Jerusalem and the temple cf. Amos 9:7 "Are you not like the Cushites to me, O people of Israel?" declares the LORD. "Did I not bring up Israel from the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Syrians from Kir?). These are parts of the Good News that we often skip, assuming that people already know the basics. But in many cases they don’t. Notice that Paul doesn’t preach a message that only appeals to individuals. His gospel is always one for people groups, whether Jewish or ‘Greek’ (gentile) in orientation. One reason we only see ones and twos come to the Lord is that we pretend that the gospel is for individuals (and the ongoing effect is that many think they can be a Christian but not go to church). It isn’t! It’s for humankind! The sooner we preach that the better – the more biblical we will be, and the more true to the Good News about Jesus the Messiah.

3. He quotes their poets and philosophers (v28-30). What he doesn’t do is start quoting the Bible (Old Testament) at length, though he does allude to it frequently. There would have been no point, as the Athenians wouldn’t have known it! The quote about being God’s offspring is particularly interesting – Avatus (the poet), was referring to Zeus, not Theos (God). So in a sense Paul is acknowledging the glimmer of truth in Avatus’ saying, but at the same time gently correcting it. ‘In him we live and move and have our being’ would have appealed hugely to the Stoics. Paul takes this quote and applies it from within a biblical framework:

4. Having quoted their poets and philosophers he brings out some great theology from them:

‘Being then God's offspring (genos: offspring, descendants), we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”’

Notice how he doesn’t shrink from sharing the Good News about Jesus, but he shares it in non-technical language. The resurrection would have been a particular challenge to Greek philosophers, just as it is today for atheists and agnostics.
For those worried about Paul’s lack of explicit preaching about the cross, let me reassure you by saying that Luke’s recording of Paul’s words are probably a summary rather than a verbatim report of Paul’s speech. We can imagine that prior to speaking about a ‘resurrection’ Paul must have mentioned Jesus’ death. In any case it is implied even in the summary we have.

5. The response was varied. Some responded, others did not:

‘32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” 33 So Paul went out from their midst. 34 But some men joined him and believed…’

Most Greeks believed in the immortality of the soul, but wouldn’t have been so receptive to Paul’s teaching about the resurrection of the body.

We should not expect everyone to respond. But if we take the attitude that it is all up to God, and not at all up to us, then we are in error. A simple comparison of Paul’s message to Jewish audiences e.g. 13:16-43; 17:3 shows that Paul did in fact adapt his message for a purely gentile or ‘Greek’ audience. But we shouldn’t be discouraged when some don’t respond. The Good News is near (as we were seeing this morning from Deuteronomy), the message is in our hearts – but not in the hearts of all. Not everyone is ready. Some, very sadly, will never be ready.
How then should we Share?

This has huge implications for us as we share the Good News with others. There are many places in the world where people already have strongly-ingrained beliefs. To ignore those is foolish. Like Paul we need to speak and live in one way for one group, and another way for another group (1Co 9:16b-23, perhaps taking on ourselves extra restrictions so as not to offend them – after all, our own culture is fairly ‘Greek’ these days i.e. laissez-faire in terms of its morality and cultural taboos, or, rather, lack of them). This is not to say that we change the Good News. Far from it! But we do try to use fewer religious or technical terms that would need explaining. One such term is Messiah – it means a lot to a Jew, and something to a Muslim, but very little to anyone from a non-Theistic background. Even those living in the post-Christian West understand little by the term. Another is the whole idea of cleansing by blood sacrifice. In Central Asia it was difficult to use language involving kings and thrones to explain the gospel – they actually preferred to talk about lambs being sacrificed – it was part of their culture. So we need to think of appropriate metaphors, ones that are current and link into people’s existing world-view.

Often we think that the more we quote scripture, the more powerful our message will be. That is true for those with church backgrounds, but for the un-churched and those from other religious backgrounds it makes little sense to do this. We may in fact be putting them off. Better to find some kind of ‘hook’. One that some folk used in about ’99 or 2000 was the sense of pointlessness of Mr. Anderson’s life in the Matrix world, and his joy at escaping (down a sort of rabbit-hole) to reality, grim though it was, to become the person he was chosen to be – Neo, ‘the One’
followed by:

A more current one is the film Avatar:,
where ‘Jake’ who is without the use of his legs, can experience the freedom of life via an avatar as a Navi, a people with stronger legs than ours, in a place called Pandora. The Navi are more in touch with their nature than we are. He eventually joins Navi of the world he is living in as an Avatar to fight his own people as they try and plunder this idyllic world for its natural resources. This raises all kinds of issues (not least the harmful power of multi-national companies who have the backing of Western governments to plunder e.g. rain forests), but one might ask the questions,

 ‘How can we be free from our restrictive and technology-focussed cultures?’
 ‘What does it mean to be truly human?’
 ‘How can we be more in touch with nature?’

Some have found that they found this world grey and flat after the watching the film. They felt depressed and wondered what the point of life was, if you can’t life in Pandora (the planet where this idyllic world is):
This gives us an ‘in’ – a way in to share the Good News that Jesus offers life, and life in all its fullness (Psa 16:11; Jhn 10:10 ).

At the same time, as well as being culturally appropriate in the way that we share, we also need to remember that God is provoked by idolatry. Those who say, ‘I don’t make any claim to be religious’ are in fact stating their unbelief, and need to be called in no uncertain terms to change their way of thinking. As Spurgeon pointed out, no thief has ever gained points in front of a judge and jury by saying, ‘I make no claim to be an honest person.’! The court is likely to be much more lenient towards those who can show that they are usually honest, but slipped up on one occasion. The same is true with faith – let’s not reward honest fools by acknowledging their unbelief – rather let’s call all we meet to the truth about Jesus Christ as revealed by God through the Holy Spirit and in the message of the Bible.
(quotes are from the ESV)

*Stott 1990: 284

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

What is the Bible?

Is it a book? It’s name in Greek – ho biblios – means ‘the book’. But if it is a book, then we’re in trouble because nobody reads any more. At least young people don’t. They play computer games, watch videos, go on social-networking sites like Facebook, do anything that involves technology, but they don’t read.

In June 2002, the Office for National Statistics Omnibus survey found that:
- Nearly half of adults had read at least five books or more in the previous 12 months
- A quarter of adults had not read a book during the same period, including almost half of males aged between 16 and 24.
- 96% said they had read something in the past seven days, whether books, magazines, newspapers or text messages. Reading material varied according to age: 70% of 16 to 24-year-olds had read a magazine, compared to 59% of 55 to 64-year-olds; 33% of 16 to 24-year-olds had read fiction, compared to 43% of 55 to 64-year-olds.

The Bible Jesus Read
- What we call the OT they would have called the Bible (or Tanakh).
- Jews split it into: Torah (teaching), Prophets (inc. ‘history’), and Writings – so, roughly speaking: Teaching, Prophecy, Other.
- The book most quoted by Jesus was one of the books written by Moses, the man of God – Deuteronomy (in fact it’s an extended sermon by Moses). Deuteronomy is from the Torah, and possibly the same book found by priests and scribes in the time of Josiah (‘the book of the law’) 2Ki 22:8 cf. Deu 30:10. It is the book that not only describes how to live, but it teaches us about the LORD:
- Deu 30:19-20 19 "I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; 20 "that you may love the LORD your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days; and that you may dwell in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them." or: ‘…for in this your life consists, and on this depends the length of time that you stay in the country’ NJB

Shiny Happy People
- What guarantee to you have that you will live a long, prosperous, and happy life? The Israelites had a covenant with the LORD. They would have Israel, the promised land, as their inheritance, and the LORD would have them as his inheritance (his possession) Deu 4:20-21 cf Psa 78, 106. What do we have? Our citizenship is in heaven (Phl 3:20), that is our inheritance – the Kingdom of God. But we have to remember that we are His inheritance – we belong to Him, we’re God’s people. And He will not forsake us:
- Psalm 94:14 For the LORD will not cast off His people, Nor will He forsake His inheritance.
- Jesus quoted the book of Deu when being tempted by Satan Mat 4:4 ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God ‘; 4:7 'You shall not tempt the LORD your God'; 4:10 'You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.' (Deu 8:3; 6:15; 6:13-14 respectively).

The Bible is message. It’s purpose is to bring us as God’s people into closer relationship with Him (2Ti 3:16-17). It is also powerful, and able to save those who believe it (Rom 10:17 ‘and hearing by the word of Christ’ probably means ‘hearing the Good News about Jesus Christ’).

We need to think a lot harder about the format we use to present this message to young people. Blogs are better than books. Videos, short clips on web-pages, are better still. For much of the world these clips are accessed on mobile phones rather than laptops. The sooner we move into the world of digital media the better!

Monday, 12 April 2010

The Gift of Prophecy

(1 Corinthians 12-14)

• Our son James and a friend were once having a conversation in the back of our (very long) car. It went something like this: 'God is big!' 'Yeah!' 'No, he's really big!' 'I know!' 'He's so big, he wouldn't even fit in this car!' 'Wow!' God is much bigger than we can imagine (cannot be reduced to a human construct, or put in a box). Colin Saxelby was talking a bit about this in church yesterday.
• God speaks all the time. Primarily through His Son (Heb 1:1-2). Also through creation (Psa 19:1-6; Rom 1:20), and through the Holy Spirit (1Co 2:13; 12:8).
• God uses the Holy Spirit to speak to us through other believers using words of knowledge, words of wisdom and prophecies (1Co 14:6, 12:8). These can include appropriate words from scripture, or a sense of what is right for a person (wise spiritual advice). Sometimes it is much more than that, and will be confirmed by the person as a direct word from God.
• Prophecy, as a gift, is highly valued in the Bible (1Co 12:28ff; 14:1-5). It will never end this side of heaven (13:8-12). Nor will tongues, but I'll write about tongues another time. The basic rule is that tongues are for an individual’s benefit, unless there is interpretation, in which case the whole church can benefit (14:4-5). Once when visiting a thriving free evangelical/charistmatic church in the South Downs God gave me a very clear message to give them. I said, 'Lord, I can't, I don't even know these people. You'll have to give me a sign to make it clear.' We had a time of worship in song, and some prayer time, then a leader stood up and said, 'Unfortunately our speaker this morning was double-booked, and is speaking elsewhere, so if anyone feels they have a message for the church, please speak up now...' !!!
• All these gifts need to be used, not in an atmosphere of chaos, but in an orderly way (14:26-33). If someone senses that God has a message for the church, or for an individual (as yet unknown) in the church, what should they do? The church leadership need to be involved, either before the message is given, or afterwards to confirm it or otherwise.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Insider Approaches

There has been much debate on insider movements on the web, in certain Western church movements and missions, and especially in the St Francis Magazine published by Interserve. Here is a brief statement on what the Insider Movements are, and some pros and cons of the approach.

What are Insider Movements?
These are movements that begin within a ‘cousin’ people group without much encouragement from ‘outsiders’, such that the movement continues without the adherents having to leave their socio-religious group. They have accepted Isa al Masih (Jesus the Messiah) as Lord and Saviour, but continue to call God ‘Allah’, pray five times a day, meet with others either in homes or in the usual religious meeting place, and read the holy books sent by God. They avoid using Christian terms such as baptize, church, Christian.

Bible translations that are ‘insider’ tend to translate the parts of the scriptures considered to be offensive using dynamic equivalents, while keeping the more literal versions in introductions and footnotes. They also take out most of the ‘language of Zion’ (Jew, Israel, temple, synagogue) and replace them with generic terms such as ‘meeting place’ for ‘synagogue’ or insider terms such as ‘Beytul Makdis’ for ‘temple’. One contentious issue is how to translate ‘Son of God’ in such translations. Arguably it mainly has the sense of chosen and beloved of God i.e. it is more Messianic in background than Trinitarian (for which ‘Son of Man’ with its Daniel 7 background is arguably much better evidence). Since our cousins think we believe that the Trinity consists of God, Mary (mother of God), and their son Jesus, as the result of a physical union between God and Mary, there are good arguments for translating the phrase dynamically, much as other biblical phrases are. The reason this is contentious is because many creeds take ‘Son of God’ as the starting point for defining who Jesus is as the 2nd person of the Trinity.

Another pioneering method is to use storying, especially a series of audio-visual media called ‘Lives of the Prophets’, which focuses on characters in the Bible already accepted by our cousins. The stories are excerpts, allowing potentially offensive passages to be left out. Sometimes substitutions are made e.g. ‘Abraham’s son’ for the same referent ‘Isaac’.

MBB M (cousin) background believer – someone who has left Islm and joined a church
Insider Someone who still calls themselves a Mslm (one who submits to Allah) but believers in Isa al Masih
Outsider Foreigner or ethnic ‘Christian’
C1-C6 scale A scale of contextualization starting from completely Western (un-contextualized) to secret meetings of believers that cannot, by definition, be counted. Not many ‘insider approach’ adherents like to use this scale, but if they do, C5 would normally be considered as insider – Christ-centred communities of ‘Messianic Mslms’ who have accepted Jesus as Lord and Saviour

Pros of this approach
* The believers are able to meet with others from a similar background rather than with foreigners of those of ‘Christian’ origins, and they have more opportunity to witness to others
* Avoidance of ‘extraction’ of new believers (though this is seen by some as a straw man – new believers are often excluded by their own families rather than extracted by those who shared the gospel with them)
* Avoidance of all the political issues to do with America and Israel vs. the Islmc world etc.
* Is highly sensitive to the cultural background of the believers and allows them to continue to respect God’s word, pray, and meet in ways they are used to
* Has worked fantastically in certain part of the world, where there are large movements of insiders
* Take account of the fact that ‘Son of God’ is a metaphor. Translations do keep the original sense in the footnotes
* Allows our cousins to begin to interact with the Word of God without them getting highly upset at some of the terminology or ideas
* Is arguably more in line with the teaching of the Bible that the Trinity is economic (to do with what Christ achieved and therefore who he must be) rather than immanent (ontological – who Christ is by definition). See: for more info

Cons of the approach
* Upsets MBBs and more traditional churches and mission groups by seeming to move away from classic 4th-century definitions of Christian orthodoxy
* Is considered to be ‘one step too far’ by many involved in contextualised mission to our cousins. These workers accuse these approaches of resulting in syncretism (though one person’s contextual approach is another person’s syncretistic approach or even heresy i.e. who defines what is ‘too far’?)
* Hasn’t worked (yet) in all contexts
* Some translations not only translate ‘Son of God’ dynamically, but take out all the Father-Son language in the gospels. The Father-Son metaphor may be one that is intrinsic to life and to our understanding of God
* Insiders tend to keep themselves to themselves and find it hard to relate to the wider body of Christ (the Messiah)
* Cousins can see what is going in and a) see it as a con b) use it as proof that we have ‘changed’ the text (as orthodox Islm teaches)

Insider approaches are to be commended for their cultural sensitivity and jettisoning of the colonialist mission paradigm. They are, however, rather experimental in that we will only see the results of such efforts in time. Will they lead to positive church growth or syncretistic groups of pseudo-believers/cousins?

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Apart from me you can do nothing

(John 15:1-16)

• We need Jesus:
Like the branches need the vine
Like an infant needs its mother
Like plants need the sun
Like a plane needs its wings

• We need Jesus!
We often think we can do without Him
We live in our own strength
We rebel—one of the OT words for ‘sin’ (‘transgression’) has ‘rebellion’ as one of its primary meanings
When we rebel, we fall into self-doubt and begin to doubt God’s love for us, and His grace—like the prodigal son we say “I am no longer worthy to be called his son” - yet God, like a caring father, is waiting and longing for us to return:
"18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.' 20 So he got up and went to his father. "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him." (Luk 15, NIV)

• Jesus is our model—his dependence on His Father was complete:
John 5:19 19 Jesus gave them this answer: "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.
The Son has the Father’s approval (Jhn 6:27), ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’ (Mat 3:17). We are also sons (Gal 4:6) and have that same approval from the Father. We need to rest in that relationship

• What does it mean to ‘remain in Him’? Two disciplines of prayer and obedience.
Prayer—We need to learn to ‘wait on the Lord’
The Psalmist pictures a person in prayer as like a watchman waiting for the morning:
Psalm 130:5-6 5 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope. 6 My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.
When we pray, we need to pray in expectation:
Psalm 5:3 3 In the morning, O LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.
Not like those praying for Peter’s release—they obviously didn’t have much expectation—when Peter knocked at the door and the servant girl rushed to tell the others who were fervently praying for his release, they didn’t believe her! Acts 12:15 You're out of your mind," they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, "It must be his angel."
This is related to hope:
Isaiah 40:31 31 but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

• Obedience—we need to obey his commands to love one another, and to bear fruit.

• We need Jesus:
Like the branches need the vine
Like an infant needs its mother
Like plants need the sun
Like a plane needs its wings

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Mega Church?

We have friends who run a church of 20 or so members on a tough housing estate. They must at times feel threatened by the idea of Megachurch (churches of 2000-3000). Yet there are many such churches in the States, and a few in Britain too. One thing I have heard said is that if about three thousand people turned to the Lord at Pentecost (Acts 2:41), why shouldn’t the same happen today? Well why not, indeed! But we do need to remember that the context was very different. Jesus had just risen from the dead, ascended, and sent the Holy Spirit for the first time (in the new age, at least). Those listening to Peter preach were Jews and God-fearers:

5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews [Greek: Jews, devout men] from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: "Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome; 11 both Jews and converts to Judaism; Cretans and Arabs-- we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!" Acts 2:5-11 (NIV)

God-fearers weren’t just people who fear God, but rather Gentiles (from Greek: ho ethnos – the people or nation) who had turned to Judaism, but because of their ethnic background were unable to convert fully to become ‘Jews’. They followed the Jewish religion as much as possible, but there was no point in being circumcised, since that was a mark of being a Jew, rather than a way of becoming one (contra. Baptism, which is a sign of having become a believer in Jesus). Since Jews were now spread all over the civilised world* – and even to some regions not conquered by the Romans (such as Parthia, part of what is now known as Central Asia). Despite the fact that most of them would have known Greek, the lingua franca and language of education, they heard the disciples speaking to them in their various mother-tongues. This will warm the heart of any Wycliffe members out there who believe strongly that God speaks to us in the language of our hearts. I remember asking a Dutch friend why she didn’t fill in her doctrinal statements in English, since that was the language she was using to study Theology. She replied, ‘You don’t understand, I believe in God in Dutch!’ ‘Told!’, as my son would say. The fact that the Holy Spirit was leading the disciples (a bunch of Aramaic-speaking fishermen from Gallilee) to tell the wonders of God in their own mother tongues proved to them that God cared for them, and so they turned and became believers in Jesus the Messiah. But they were already open to the things of God before Pentecost.

The point of Acts 2, therefore, is not that God likes Megachurches (though I’m sure He does), but that the Holy Spirit was doing a new thing in now moving amongst those from all over the world. This was to fulfil the prophecy in Isaiah 2:3 ‘Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” Israel was always supposed to be a ‘light to the nations’ (51:4; 61:3). What we have here, is a lesson in centrifugal (or is it centripetal?) mission, not megachurch.

* ‘The preaching of the gospel was preceded and prepared for by the dispersion of the Jews, and a world-wide propagandism of Judaism. In the 5th century BC the Jews had a temple of their own at Syene. Alexander the Great settled 8,000 Jews in the Thebais, and Jews formed a third of the population of Alexandria. Large numbers were brought from Palestine by Ptolemy I (320 BC), and they gradually spread from Egypt along the whole Mediterranean coast of Africa. After the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes (170 BC) they scattered themselves in every direction, and, in the words of the Sibylline Oracles (circa 160 BC), "crowded with their numbers every ocean and country." There was hardly a seaport or a commercial center in Asia Minor, Macedonia, Greece, or the Islands of the AEgean, in which Jewish communities were not to be found. Josephus (Ant., XIV, vii, 2) quotes Strabo as saying: "It is hard to find a place in the habitable earth that hath not admitted this tribe of men, and is not possessed by them."’ ISBE

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

A Messiah Figure

We all need a Messiah-figure to lean on!

1. Many claim to be Messiahs (fulfilling the prophecy in Mat 24:4)
2. Many are made to be Messiahs after their death e.g. Moh. (PBOH), by some sects of Islm
3. Many stories contain a messiah-figure

The film the matrix had some parallels with Jesus as Messiah:

* The Matrix is the Gospel of Neo, the coming of age of the postmodern messiah, his death, and his resurrection.
* The Matrix Reloaded perhaps corresponds to the Acts of the new messiah and his disciples, chronicling the next stage of their struggle with the machines.
* The Matrix Revolutions concludes the trilogy with the Apocalypse According to St. Neo, where during the apocalyptic final battle between humanity and the machines, Neo ends the war and brings the final realization of the messianic age of peace between humanity and machines.1

The Matrix, despite all its philosophising, is a story. Matthew clearly saw Jesus as fulfilling OT prophecy for a Messiah, the Son of David, the Son of God, (and most strongly) the Son of Man – the figure in Daniel 7, who is given authority over all nations – hence the end of Matthew (‘All authority has been given to me, therefore go and make disciples of all nations…’). One of the questions that comes up is, ‘What now do we make of the law and the prophets, now that Jesus the Messiah has come?’ Notice that the question is not, ‘What do we make of Jesus, in the light of the law and prophets?’, but, ‘How do the law and the prophets apply, now that Jesus has come?’ In fact, Jesus taught his own version of Moses’ law, in the Sermon on the Mount.

Often we focus too much on carrying out Jesus’ command to go to all nations, without realising who Jesus is, and the authority He has been given. Without Him, and his authority, we are nothing, and can do nothing.

Also, when we do go, the message we take is often to do with a set of faith doctrines, a philosophy (almost), that people have to sign up to. We forget to tell them the story of the Old Testament, the need for a Messiah, and Jesus coming to fulfil that expectation. We also forget to tell the ultimate happy ending of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, focussing too much on our guilt and its need for forgiveness, or some other me-centred gospel (that can sound like a spiritual insurance policy or alternative spirituality). The good news about Jesus is that he is ‘the One’, the one who came to make us the human beings God wanted us to be, and to bring into being the Kingdom of God focussed around a new community of followers of Jesus, no matter what their background or past. Good news indeed!

1 accessed 12th January 2010