Category: "Theology"

Welcome to Philippi - some thoughts as we start our new sermon series

by Gavin  

Welcome to Philippi - some thoughts as we start our new sermon series

Welcome to the church of Christ, here in Philippi.  Here we all are, sitting in the spacious and Roman-styled home of Lydia, a local businesswoman.  We’re tried a few other venues, but for this meeting, Lydia’s home certainly has the most space, and in fact the church actually started off in her house anyway!  The date today is between 60 and 62 AD.  The windows are open and a refreshing breeze from the Gangites River is blowing in…

 

Let me introduce you to a few folk…

 

Old grandfather Geriatrix, all of 110 ten years old, sits there in his own world in the corner.  Maybe he is thinking about the events that happened just over 100 years ago when he was 10 years old.  He remembers the stories that his own great-grandfather (Ancientix) told him about what it was like in Krenides, the town of “Little Fountains.”  Ancientix used to play in those numerous springs while his father worked in the nearby goldmine.  But that gold changed his life forever as Philip II of Macedon (the father of Alexander), attracted by the age-old lure of that precious metal, swept down and conquered the region in the 4th century BC.   Krenides was renamed Philippi then (and who says that only South African politicians have the monopoly on name changes! O yes, those were great stories… 

 

Geriatrix thinks of his own story too, with Antony and Octavian defeating the forces of Brutus and Cassius at the Battle of Philippi in 42 BC – just 100 years ago.  O, he can remember it so clearly…  Philippi becoming a Roman colony, and so many of those war veterans settling in the area.  Yes, life changed radically for them.  Geriatrix had to learn Latin – that horrid language.  That’s all that they were allowed to speak.  And he wasn’t even aspiring to become an attorney! Oh well – Est quod est! Roman law was introduced, and things were very different.  But it wasn’t all bad!  Roman customs were introduced, and the city government became was modeled on those great Italian cities.  The changes in kitchen design only came later, but sadly pizza never really took off!

 

But who else is in the room as we gather?

 

Yes, of course, Lydia (the ever gracious hostess) and her family.  Who can forget Lydia, the first convert under Paul?  She continued in the fabric business, still specializing in expensive purple-dyed goods. 

 

“Hang on a sec – what’s that you asked? O, the disruption outside?  We’re used to that by now – sadly!  That’s just two of our ladies arguing outside on the roof.  Euodia and Synthche.  They were also some of the first converts, but they don’t see eye to eye on some church issues.”

 

In the other corner, sitting with his family, is the man from Correctional Services, Fearful Frederix.  Remember his story?  Paul had cast that demon out of the girl who worked as a fortune-teller, and her masters were furious.  They had Paul and Silas beaten and imprisoned.  But then that earthquake struck, and God miraculously caused their release.  Old Fearful Frederix was so unnerved that night that he was about to kill himself, but Paul stopped him, and he believed on Christ and was saved.  The first nocturnal baptism happened that night as he and his family were baptized!

 

Ah, but I ramble… Allow me to give you some detail on our church…

 

All of these events happened during Paul’s second Missionary Journey.  But Paul had a pastor’s heart for our church, and he visited again – at the beginning and end of his 3rd Missionary Journey (we read about that in 2 Corinthians 8 : 1-5 and Acts 20 : 6). 

 

As a local church we had developed a heart for believers in crisis, and helped where we could.  We previously helped Paul with some stuff when he was serving the Lord in Thessalonica. We also contributed abundantly for the needy in Jerusalem because we cared for the broader church.

 

But then Paul got imprisoned in Rome 4-5 years after he last visited us.  We were compelled to try and help him.  But we needed a courier, and DHL just were not operational yet… so along with the gift we sent Epaphroditus, one of our members here.  The problem was that Epaphroditus suffered a near-fatal illness en route to Rome (or was it just after he got there – that part is unclear?). 

 

Paul decided to send Epaphroditus back to us.  And he’s just got back!  And Paul sent a letter with him as well.  That’s why we’re all here tonight, crowded in Lydia’s house like sardines.  We can’t wait to hear what Paul has written to us…

What's with the water jar?

by Gavin  

What's with the water jar?

 

It’s great to have good Bereans (Acts 17:11) in our services, who listen attentively to the sermons, and are willing to engage meaningfully on the content!  And even be prepared to challenge!

 

OK, so yesterday I preached Mark 14:12-21.  This a staggering and mind-blowing account of how a holy, righteous God uses human sinfulness to achieve His own good and wise purposes.  We learned that through two facets of this story: 1) Jesus’ total control over all the events, and 2) Judas’ total culpability for all the events

 

Those 2 facets of this account show us how a holy, righteous God uses human sinfulness to achieve His own good and wise purposes… a lesson that we need to heed today!

 

As we unpacked this, we saw that Jesus sent 2 disciples into the city.  We know from Luke 22 that these men are Peter and John… part of the inner circle.  Jesus says that they were to go into the city, into the frenzy, amidst hundreds of thousands of people, crushing crowds, animals, carts, dust, noise… Everyone was thinking Passover:  preparation, final arrangements, final shopping, and lambs to the slaughter…

 

And Jesus says that in the middle of that circus, a man with a water jar will meet them.

 

This is a taste of Cape Town in the next few weeks and months, but also what millions do across the globe each day – fetching and carrying water to their homes.

 

Get this – that was unusual, because typically the women did the water duties.  So, if that was the case it would have been pretty easy to identify the man with the water jar.  The point was well made to me after the service yesterday, and I concede that fully.

 

BUT male slaves were used to carry water as well, and with the Roman occupation there must have been lots of slaves conveying water to the barracks etc.

 

So then, what are the chances?  Even if they found a guy with a water jar, what are the chances it was the right guy, going to the right place? There was no communication, no set meeting point, no SMS, no pin drops on WhatsApp… they just had to go, and meet a random man with a water jar.

 

So, if it was unusual for men to carry the water, and that is Mark’s point, then we accept that in the providence of God, the paths of that man crossed with Peter and John at the place and time.  If there were many men carrying waters jars in the city, and they just happened to stumble across the right  man at the right place and right time, the same point holds true – it was all providentially arranged, and God’s plan and timetable to get His Son to be arrested, tried, tortured and crucified still worked out perfectly.

Help in Heaven!

by Gavin  

Help in Heaven!

 

We all know about “Help” buttons… if there is a problem in using a programme, click on the “Help” icon for information.  Help lines and call centers are everywhere and for everything – anything from severe life trauma, medical aid queries, insurance claims through to how to correctly wire your electronics to get them to work – help lines exist to render aid.

 

Why?  Because we need help, don’t we? As people things are often beyond us, and the expertise and intervention of others is necessary. People with more power, more skill, more insight, more money, and more ability are needed to guide, coach, assist, rectify and troubleshoot for us.  You’re probably done it many times this week already… calling someone to help with carrying the groceries, calling someone for help with dates you don’t know, calling a plumber for help with a burst water pipe, asking a sports coach to assist with improving at tennis or golf or bowls!

 

How much more spiritually? We live in a fallen world, as fallen, fallible, sinful people.  Our lives are in God’s hands.  Everything we have is from him…

 

Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all.” (1 Chronicles 29:11–12, ESV)

 

We have a total dependence on God in every way – for life, health, provision, protection, salvation, daily grace, wisdom etc.

 

To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens! Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maidservant to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, till he has mercy upon us.” (Psalm 123:1–2, ESV)

 

This is a picture of total dependency, total need!  God alone can help us as needy people.

 

Now, what has that got to do with Ascension Day and us gathering tonight to consider the fact that Jesus is back in heaven?  This whole “Help” thing sounds a little left-field, a little removed from the issue of Jesus going back to heaven, right?

 

Well, today is Ascension Day in the life of the church.  But what does it mean?  Is it important?  We kind of know about Christmas and Easter, but Ascension Day?  We can talk a little about the importance of Jesus’ birth and life and death and resurrection, but his ascension?  Hmmm… that often where the wheels fall off, don’t they?

 

Well, there are a number of key reasons why it is important:

  • Establishes Jesus as ultimate ruler over all things (King of Kings, Lord of Lord)
  • Makes possible all the promises about the coming of the Holy Spirit as the “another Advocate, Helper or Counselor”, just like Jesus.
  • Keeps us longing for His return as judge – He’s gone, but He is coming back!

 

But I want to consider just one key reason in this reflection.  “HELP!”  The matter of divine help for believers in Christ Jesus!  Help for Christians, help for needy, sinful and vulnerable Christians is just one of the great benefits the ascension brings to us… How?

 

I want to peg our focus in Hebrews 4 primarily.  Let’s have a look…

 

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14–16, ESV)

 

In Jesus “we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens.”  “Passed through the heavens” is ascension language.  The thought is that Jesus has gone right through to the supreme place – and that is back in heaven, with the Father.

 

“… After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,” (Hebrews 1:3, ESV)

 

See, after His death to save sinners, and resurrection that shattered the power of death, Jesus also passed through the heavens to be seated at the Father’s right hand.  That’s what the ascension accomplished. Jesus Christ is now is seated triumphantly at God’s right hand.

 

Christ reigns right now with all power given to him both in heaven and on earth. Nothing happens that Christ does not know of, and that He does not have authority over.  He reigns above all, and possess all power and sovereignty to achieve His purpose and to defend His church.    That’s hope building for the Christian!  But it should also be quite sobering for the rebellious sinner who rejects the authority of Christ.

 

And what does Jesus do there in heaven?  He intercedes for His people on the basis of his shed blood.

 

Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” (Romans 8:34, ESV)

 

Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:25, ESV)

 

See, Jesus is the Advocate for the believer, for the Christian – interceding for them.

 

So what?  How does all that help us, help me, help you?  What’s the result of this whole ascension and rule and right hand and intercession stuff?  Let’s go back to Hebrews 4, and see the development of the argument…

 

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16, ESV)

 

That’s huge!

 

Think of where we started… we’re weak, fallible, sinners with weak faith and creaking, groaning, aging bodies, living in a world of crime, pain and heartache.  And believers in Christ have a risen, ascended Christ in heaven who is our advocate, interceding for us.

And Christians are invited to come to His throne of grace – confidently – to find what?  Mercy and grace in our time of need!

 

  • So, whether we are battling cancer, bitterness, betrayal, pride, or discouragement, we can pray with confidence because of our ascended Lord who intercedes for us.
  • When we face trial and affliction and confusion and distress, we’re invited to pray to God through Christ, who is powerful and concerned for us.
  • When we are faced with issues too big, pain too deep and decisions too confusing, the ascended Christ guarantees mercy and grace in our time of need.
  • When Satan comes and tells us that real Christians don’t do and say things like what we do, or people point fingers and say, “Hah, look at you – what a hypocrite you are!” or our faith is rattled and our sense of assurance gets eroded, where is our confidence? In Him, interceding for us, and in the invitation to come through Him to find mercy and grace!

 

When temptation and lack of assurance comes, our confidence lies in Christ – His finished work, His resurrection and His ongoing intercessory work for us as our Advocate in heaven all the time.  As the wonderful hymn, “Before the Throne of God above” captures it:

 

When Satan tempts me to despair and tells me of the guilt within

Upward I look and see Him there, who made an end to all my sins.

Because the sinless Saviour died, my sinful soul is counted free

For God the just is satisfied, to look on Him and pardon me.

 

That is the significance and importance of the ascended Christ!  Be encouraged by that.

 

On this Ascension Day (40 days after the resurrection), take time to reflect on how Jesus’s ascension changed everything.  It provided his followers with power, grace, mercy, presence, gifts, and anticipation enabling them to advance his mission.  And through faith in Christ, that means YOU! 

 

There is present help and hope for the believer, for the Christian.  Why?  Because He is presently seated at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

 

But there is also future hope as well… this same Jesus will return earth to establish his kingdom in fullness and put his enemies under his feet.

 

Let those truths fuel hope and motivate even greater prayer as we face life in this fallen world!

Why did Jesus curse the fig tree? (sermon follow-up from Sunday 26th March 2017)

by Gavin  

Why did Jesus curse the fig tree? (sermon follow-up from Sunday 26th March 2017)

 

Why did Jesus curse the fig tree when it had no figs, and yet Mark clearly made the point in Mark 11:13 that it was not the season for figs?

 

A few folk picked up on that yesterday after the service – well done!  Good Bereans, following the text!!!! OK, I alluded to the solution in the way I unpacked the passage, but didn’t want to get lost in the technical details.  The answer is not hard, and lies in a careful lexical and contextual understanding.

 

In essence, as I explained, fig trees are unique in that the fruit appears before the leaves.  Early buds comes BEFORE the leaves appear.  Therefore, tree with leaves should have fruit!  So how then do we read Mark’s enigmatic comment?  Remember that, firstly, Mark often inserts explanatory notes, so this comment is quite possibly for the benefit of those who were not familiar with fig botany!  Secondly, different Greek words were used to describe the young buds and the mature fruit.  So the sense is that is was the season for young buds, even if the full, ripe figs had not developed.  The point remains: this tree was deceptive because it was in full leaf, but had no fruit – it remains a picture of the empty worship of Israel at the time!

 

For those wanting the technical stuff, Edwards’ commentary excerpt here might be of value:

 

The sandwich complex begins on the road from Bethany, which John 11:18 identifies as “fifteen stadia” (slightly less than two miles) from Jerusalem. Jesus is hungry, and seeing from a distance a fig tree in leaf he approaches it in hopes of finding something to eat. In disappointment at finding no figs, and in earshot of the disciples, he condemns the tree.

 After the fig harvest from mid-August to mid-October, the branches of fig trees sprout buds that remain undeveloped throughout the winter. These buds swell into small green knops known in Hebrew as paggim in March–April, followed shortly by the sprouting of leaf buds on the same branches, usually in April. The fig tree thus produces fig knops before it produces leaves. Once a fig tree is in leaf one therefore expects to find branches loaded with paggim in various stages of maturation. This is implied in 11:13, where Jesus, seeing a fig tree in full foliage, turns aside in hopes of finding something edible. In the spring of the year the paggim are of course not yet ripened into mature summer figs, but they can be eaten, and often are by natives (Hos 9:10; Cant 2:13). The tree in v. 13, however, turns out to be deceptive, for it is green in foliage, but when Jesus inspects it he finds no paggim; it is a tree with the signs of fruit but with no fruit.

 The most puzzling part of the brief narrative of the cursing of the fig tree is the end of 11:13, “because it was not the season of figs.” This phrase is usually understood to exonerate the tree for not producing fruit since it was not yet the season. Understood as such, the phrase makes Jesus’ curse vindictive and irrational, as Bertrand Russell deduced. But this is neither the only nor the best way to understand the phrase. It is better simply to distinguish between mature figs (Gk. sykē; Heb. te’enim) and early or unripe figs (Heb. paggim). The end of v. 13 might be paraphrased, “It was, of course, not the season for figs, but it was for paggim.”  [Edwards, J.R., 2002. The Gospel according to Mark, Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos.]

OMG - how do we handle the misuse of God's name?

by Gavin  

OMG - how do we handle the misuse of God's name?

We don’t have to go far to hear the verbal misuse of the Lord’s name.  Sometimes some other adjectives are put alongside those names for more effect. It’s on TV.  Movies are full of that kind of speech. Comedians try to add to their supposed humour by injecting profanity and blasphemy into their shows. Sit in the workplace, and you’ll hear it.  School corridors, playgrounds, sport fields and gym change rooms echo with the name of God, used to punctuate sentences. You’ll hear on the Tee boxes on golf courses as shots are pulled and shanked. You’ll hear “Jesus” and “O my God” statements coming from the table next to you in a restaurant, and it is sadly evident that it’s not believers swapping testimonies…

 

The use, and in fact misuse of God’s name, is commonplace.  So then, how do we handle that as believers?

 

The “10 Commandments” seems so clear, right?

 

“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” (Exodus 20:7, ESV)

 

Based on that verse – that commandment – Christians seem to be offended.  We’ve got to go and tell them to stop, right?  That verbal, auditory offence gets under the skin of professing believers in Christ.  And so there are many – in good conscience – who feel the need to go to your friend, family member, golfing partner or boss and tell them not to use your God’s name in vain – in such a cheap, shallow way. “God’s name is being verbally profaned and I need to defend God’s honour and tell them to stop!”

 

But let’s stretch the thinking a bit… and please do not accuse me of heresy!  This is merely to broaden the dialogue.  Is that thinking not inconsistent? See, God doesn’t call us to defend His name, does He?  Look at the context in Exodus 20 :-

 

Commandment #1 : ““You shall have no other gods before me.

Commandment #2 : “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” (Exodus 20:3–4, ESV)

 

Just think about it… God prohibits false religion and idolatry in commandments 1 & 2.  Then He gives the prohibition on misuse of His name.  And what do Christians get the most hung up on?  Blasphemy, right?

 

Just imagine a devout, Bible-believing believer in an open plan office… together with 3 other colleagues : a Moslem, a Buddhist and an atheist who openly blasphemes.

 

What is the typical response from the Christian? “O, got to tell that guy to stop saying God’s name in vain because it is offensive to me!”

 

Huh?  But there is no offence because of the openly false religion that is flaunted and celebrated and promoted, and no offence taken to the Buddha or frog or whatever that openly sits on the desk?

 

How often are our responses as believers to the spoken misuse of God’s name fuelled more by our own personal offence to the auditory insult, rather than a real genuine concern for God’s glory?  If we were genuinely consumed with God’s honour being offended, would we not be as horrified and as confrontational about the falsehood of the wrong religious systems and the visual idols that are so openly displayed, even more than the verbal misuse that occurs?

 

Just a thought...