Getting the Big picture
The audio of Ben's presentation to us can be found by clicking here or below.
Like most of the talks I give, this one reflects something of a personal journey, trying to make sense of the current emphasis in LWCC and asking how it all fits.
For what follows, I’m going to assume that you all have a working knowledge of the Bible. I apologise if this is not the case for you. Try and stay with me. In one sense, the content of this message could be an entire teaching series. I’ve missed out lots that might have been said. Twenty minutes is not a lot of time to try to fit in all that might be said when considering the Bible from Genesis chapter 1 through to the end of the book of Revelation! If you want to take it further, ask for the notes via the Church office.
When you think of the Bible, what do you think of? Yes, it’s God’s word, but what does that mean to you? Is it:
An Instruction Manual (the maker’s instructions – God’s given me a body; now what do I do with it?!)
Daily Guidance (hopefully not the open the Bible at random, close your eyes and pick a verse method!)
God’s rule book
A Doctrinal source book – it tells me what to believe
Yes, it’s probably all of these, to a greater of lesser extent.
But to me, what helps me make sense of what I read is to discern the story running through it.
And what is that story? It’s of a world that God made and pronounced good; it’s of people who sinned – went their own way rather than kept to God’s agenda, and consequently set the pattern for human existence; it’s of an entire cosmos that’s out of kilter with God’s plan.
And God sets in motion a plan to put it all back to rights again. And God uses human beings, and one human being in particular, as his key agents in the process.
He chooses Abraham as the progenitor of a group of people – and the person – who will make it all happen. (Genesis 12: 1-4)
That person is later identified as a descendant of David, a king of that people (2 Samuel 7: 12 – 14a)
In Isaiah 53, we see the method by which that nation, and that person, will make it happen; what it will take to get the world and its people back on track with God.
This person is identified as ‘one like a son of man’, who appears before the Ancient of Days and receives a kingdom that will fill the earth and last forever (Daniel 7:13 – 14, 27).
And then comes Jesus proclaiming that this Kingdom ‘is at hand’ (Mark 1: 15) and he demonstrates by the miracles he performed what it will be like when that kingdom is fully established.
He also teaches his hearers what would be expected of them if they considered themselves members of that kingdom. The most famous example is that body of teaching known as The Sermon on the Mount (see Matthew 5 – 7).
And in that Sermon we find a prayer. And in that prayer we find the words: ‘Your kingdom come; your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ (Matt 6: 10)
Of which more anon.
The story continues. Tragically, Jesus is not accepted by the powerful and influential people of his day. They see his actions and words as a threat to their own position. They gang up on him, arrest him, turn him over to the Roman authorities and coerce the Roman governor to order his crucifixion. And Jesus dies a horrible, excruciatingly painful death. And that, they think, is that.
Let me go back a bit at this point.
God chose Abraham to be the progenitor of the nation that would carry God’s purposes forward. Those people are referred to in the Bible as ‘children of Israel’, ‘Israelites’, and ‘Jews’.
Unfortunately, Israel repeatedly failed to live up to its calling. The Bible records that as often as the people sinned, God called them back: ‘Return to me’ is a consistent theme of the OT prophets.
But gradually the people fell into ever more sinful habits. The land God had given them was taken from them. They were driven into exile.
But there was a promise from God. He would forgive their sin and bring them back. One of the most famous places where this promise is spelled out is in the section of Isaiah beginning with chapter 40. The purpose? That Israel would at last fulfil its great commission and be the means of God’s earth being put back to rights.
How would this promise be fulfilled?
The Biblical answer is found in Mark 1: 1 – 3. Jesus’ mission is explained as God’s great call for Israel to return from exile. But, as we read on in the NT, we find that there’s a twist: Israel is not just the physical descendants of Abraham. Gentiles – non-Jews - have now been grafted in. Read for yourself, especially in Romans, Galatians, Ephesians and Colossians, how God planned from the beginning to bring together Jew and Gentile into one people, a holy nation, a royal priesthood (compare Exodus 19: 5 – 6 and 1 Peter 1: 9). And God’s expanded Israel is no longer promised just a small parcel of land in the Middle East. The promise is now the whole earth (see eg Romans 4; 13)!
As I said earlier, Jesus comes to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is near. And the king of that kingdom, its Lord, is to be Jesus. And the evidence for that is that Jesus didn’t stay dead! God raised him up. The attempt to silence Jesus had failed, and Jesus is revealed for who he is.
And that is the core of the gospel proclamation. Read Acts 2: 36 and Acts 17: 31.
And just as the message to the people who had sinned in OT times was ‘Return to me’, so the gospel message to us is the same: Repent! (see Mark 1: 15; Acts 2: 37; Acts 3: 19; Acts 17: 30).
And that’s not all. The call is to be baptised, and baptism isn’t just a nice little ritual. The NT says that we are baptised INTO Jesus. That has many meanings, but one of those is: his mission now becomes ours.
And that’s not all. God gives us his Holy Spirit – his very presence and power to enable us to carry out the mission of bearing witness to Jesus. Read Acts 1: 8.
What does it mean to be a witness to Jesus? Historically, in evangelical tradition, it has been a focus on ‘How to win people to Christ’ with the emphasis, in the tradition I came from, on making sure that you tell at least one person a day about Jesus.
And those expounding this view have some weighty Scriptures to fall back on: Paul makes the point, in Romans 10, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. But how will one call unless they have faith? And how will they have faith unless they have heard? And how will they hear unless they are told?’ (vv 13-14)
And Jesus commanded: ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation’ (Mark 16:15)
But now we come to a surprising fact – well, it was a surprise to me! In the letters where Paul, and other Christian leaders, teach about what is expected of the ordinary Church member (if there is such a person), there is an almost complete absence of any instruction or exhortation about ‘winning people to Christ’.
Instead, the focus is on living lives that show that God has called us to life in a new dimension. And the hallmark of our new lifestyle is LOVE. See eg Colossians 3: 14.
The conclusion I draw from that is that it’s primarily our LIVES rather than our WORDS that witness to the reality of the hope that’s within us.
Here some people will want to probe deeper. ‘Are you saying we don’t have to tell people about Jesus?’
Any my response is: Of course I’m not saying that! Think back to what I’ve already said. But don’t forget, the Bible talks about Christians as being the body of Christ. What kind of a body would it be if it was all just one big mouth? As the Church, we collectively have the responsibility to bear witness to Jesus, the meaning of his death and resurrection and to the ongoing story that we are a part of. But we have different gifts, from the outgoing, evangelistic, ‘I tell at least 10 people a day about Jesus’ type to the very shy, tentative type who just quietly goes about his or her business and trusts that somehow God is in it all.
But whatever type we are, one of our big challenges is to discover how to live out our call to live a life rooted in love. And a good place to start might be the very short message that was shared in our midweek time together last week.
A link to the video can be found here
It was suggested that we seek to be those who BLESS those around us:
· Beginning with prayer, we
· Listen to those around us, perhaps even
· Eating with them. We
· Serve them, and as opportunity arises we
· Speak to them about our testimony of Jesus.
Is this a new rule for LWCC? My guess is No, it’s not intended to be a rule, but it’s a spur to our thinking and praying about how we, individually and collectively, can be salt and light to the people among whom we live and work; how we can live the kind of life that causes others to ask, ‘What is it about you guys?’
And then, of course, when they do that, we can ‘give an answer to those who ask us for a reason for the hope that is within us’ (1 Peter 3: 15)
The end of the story
Remember that prayer in the Sermon on the Mount? ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven’.
It happens, just as the prayer says. Jesus returns. Those who have died believing in Jesus are resurrected, and we who are still alive are caught up with them to meet the Lord in the air
(1 Thessalonians 4: 16 – 17).
And where then? The Thessalonians text seems to leave us hanging – literally!
John describes it this way:
‘I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God . . . . I heard a voice say, “Look, God has come to dwell with humans! He will dwell with them and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them and will be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death, or mourning, or weeping, or pain any more.” And he said to me, “Write, because these words are faithful and true.” ‘ (Revelation 21: 2 – 5).
What a brilliant story! No wonder it’s called Gospel – Good News! And that Gospel, that story, has a power to change hearts and lives (see Romans 1: 16)
Y’know, Scripture teaches us to make every effort to live up to the calling we have received and the hope we have (see eg Ephesians 4: 1 and 1 John 3: 3).
Let’s go for it.