We take a look at Hebrews 11 and what it means to live by faith.
Got a comment? Please leave it in the comments box below. I’d love to hear from you.
We take a look at Hebrews 11 and what it means to live by faith.
Got a comment? Please leave it in the comments box below. I’d love to hear from you.
I’m preaching on Luke 19.28-48 tomorrow. What a corker! The verse central to the section is:
“As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it” (Luke 19:41 NIV11)
Jesus weeping. It’s not the first time (John 11.35) and he’s not the only one (Luke 7.13; 8.52; Romans 9.2-3) But why now? Why here? Is he weak? Is he controlled by his emotions? Are the tears motivated by regret, fear or horror? The word translated ‘weep” could equally be ‘wailed’. Jesus burst into sobbing. Something serious and meaningful is happening. But what? Let’s note three things:
Why is Jesus weeping? Because he saw things as they really were, because he longed to gather people to a place of peace with God, and because he knew how much he could help.
He did not weep every day, and neither should that be our goal, but a little weeping could go a long way to help us have the heart of Messiah.
¹For more on this see Keller’s excellent short book:
Here’s just one quote, “The way the normal human ego tries to fill its emptiness and deal with its discomfort is by comparing itself to other people. All the time.” Jesus is so different, he feels no need to make comparisons. Instead, his energy is used for compassion.
A review of “God first loved us: the challenge of accepting unconditional love”, by Antony F. Campbell, S. J.
eg 300w, http://www.malcolmcox.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Lk14.001-768x576.jpeg 768w, http://www.malcolmcox.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Lk14.001.jpeg 1024w, http://www.malcolmcox.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Lk14.001-285x214.jpeg 285w" sizes="(max-width: 300px) 100vw, 300px" />My next sermon text is Luke 14.25-35 (Sunday 10.30AM, Laurance Haines School, Vicarage Road, Watford). What do you think of the first two verses?
“Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:25–26 NIV11)
There might not be a more controversial, hard-to-accept verse in the entire Bible. What does it mean to ‘hate’ in the way Jesus intends? How can Jesus talk about hate in any positive sense? Didn’t he tell us to, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,” (Luke 6:27 NIV11) It’s in the same gospel. Is he contradicting himself? Well, we’ll look at this in more depth on Sunday, but for now let’s consider the following issues.
First, the word, “hate”. We need its cultural context. According to Kealy, Hebrew, “had no suitable words to express different shades of meaning. Thus words such as “love” and its opposite “hate”…were used to express the idea of preference.”¹ Hence we should not see this as a a call to literal hate, but more one where a preference of one over the other is involved.
But does God never hate? Yes, He does. He hates insincere worship:
“Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.” (Isaiah 1:14 NIV11)
“I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me.” (Amos 5:21 NIV11)
With this understanding we can surmise that Jesus is saying, “Are you ‘all-in’? Are you ready to be fully committed, truly sincere?” This fits the following two parables (we’ll look at these in more detail another time). We cannot be divided in terms of who is first in our affections: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Luke 16:13 NIV11)
If we are to love all people (and loving our enemies must include our families even if they are also our enemies!), Jesus cannot be asking us to literally hate our families. So, what does he mean? Perhaps it is that the love one of his disciples has for him must be so strong that the highest other human love is hatred by comparison (see also Matthew 10:37). In other words, Jesus comes first. Always. In everything.
Such an interpretation does not weaken the command. On the contrary, it strengthens it. We are called to a radical reordering of priorities. Our devotion to Jesus is so total and complete, so wholehearted and genuine that observers will see love for friends, family and things as hatred in comparison. This is not so much a call to remove love for family as a call to ensure love for Jesus is so hot that all other loves we have are cold by comparison.
How do we sustain this love? Recall that eternal life is on offer: “Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:25 NIV11) As well as many other great and special promises: “Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Luke 18:29–30 NIV11)
More reflections on this passage will be coming later in the week. But, for now, what are your thoughts on this passage? How do interpret the “hate” Jesus is talking about? How do explain it when talking to other people? I’d like to hear your ideas. Please drop me a line via email, or leave a comment on this blog
¹Kealy, C.S.Sp, Seán. Freedman, David Noel, Allen C. Myers, and Astrid B. Beck, eds. Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible.
I’m going to a wedding in January. I was invited even before the couple got engaged, and then received an official invitation via email two weeks later. I was already going, but now I’m double-going. Some invitations we treat with greater significance than others. Let’s see what happened in this parable.
“At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’” (Luke 14:17 NIV11)
A second ‘invitation’ was necessary because no one had a watch, and time was ‘elastic’. This second invitation meant “come now” because the meat was ready and would soon go off. Come within the hour. The word “come” is in the present imperative, meaning, “continue coming”, because it was assumed the guests were coming on the basis of the original accepted invitation. It might be inconvenient, but you knew it was going to happen.
We get ‘invited’ in various ways, and on multiple occasions, but there comes that time when we must respond. Everything is ‘ready’ because Jesus has come, and now, for us, he has done all that is necessary for us to enjoy the banquet since he has died for our sins and risen to give us life. But many make excuses. Let’s look at these:
This feast is not a food bank where people turn up to get what they need then go off to pursue their lives as they wish. It is a banquet where people come to feast with the host – leaving other things behind. Devotion is essential in the kingdom.
The people listening to Jesus would have laughed at these excuses. They are lame, transparent and insulting. No one is fooled by them – they are calculated insults. How will the host respond? We’ll look at that tomorrow – and in the sermon on Sunday. Come along if you can: 10.30AM, Laurance Haines School, Vicarage Road, Watford.
I was surprised to see this article in the Evening Standard: Religion can trump capitalism among the world’s downtrodden. It’s not strongly polemical, but calmly well-reasoned. The writer (Terry Eagleton) correctly observes the difficulty secularism has in creating a unified identity. Listen to many a politician talk about shared ‘values’ and you suspect they have been handed a list of terms by an advisor. The words are likely deemed to offend as few as possible, and especially those who might be in key marginals at the next election.
Forgive my cynicism. I am grateful for the good-hearted among the political class who work hard to keep this thing we call a country together. I’m of the opinion we do not pray enough for them as Christians or churches. Paul urges Timothy, “…that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” (1 Timothy 2:1–2 NIV11)
Let’s not blame politicians for everything. Instead, let’s see what we can do to bring people together. If religion isn’t ‘allowed’ to do that in our post-God world, what might be? Eagleton argues that, “…the most successful substitute for religion is sport. It is sport that is the opium of the people — it lays on the weekly liturgies, supplies the canon of legendary heroes and provides the sense of solidarity one might previously have found in a chapel or cathedral.” I’d add that sport also substitutes for war. As violent as spectators can be (mostly in soccer), the damage and deaths are far short of armed conflict.
However, Eagleton has another target in his sights – capitalism. Early capitalism carried convictions. We will make the world better with the morals of hard work and upright ethics. Modern capitalism has done away with any secure belief system, since that would demand faith – and faith, along with God, has died. Capitalism shorn of its beliefs leaves an empty stage – one onto which any fundamentalist system may walk unopposed. How can we argue with fundamentalist Islam, or any other ‘ism’ if we have no coherent alternative belief system?
I’d suggest that the Gospel is the solution because, when applied, it re-creates all people as equal. In the kingdom we show “equal concern for each other.” (1 Corinthians 12:25 NIV11), and receive equal value from God, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28 NIV11) We’re bonded together by love (not easy, takes hard work, but worth it, Eph 4.3), and love one another because “we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” (1 John 4:16 NIV11) Love is the strongest unifying force known to man, and it has been revealed in it’s full glory by Jesus.
If we want people to be unified, if we want conflicts to cease, if we want to see human progress without human casualties we will need more than capitalism or any ‘ism’ has to offer. We will need love – super-human love. Only Jesus can give us that. Love trumps all.
eg 150w, http://www.malcolmcox.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Image1.001-250x250.jpeg 250w, http://www.malcolmcox.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Image1.001-174x174.jpeg 174w" sizes="(max-width: 150px) 100vw, 150px" />It’s the third class of three on the “Atonement” tonight in the Thames Valley churches of Christ. We’re looking at how we communicate the cross to people who do not believe in it, understand it – or have never heard of it. There’s also a point on preparing and delivering engaging communion talks. But more on that another time.
We’ve looked at several models of the atonement (see the classes here – YouTube). One thing is clear. No single model does justice to all the nuances and riches of this amazing reality. And illustrations are just as tricky. In emphasising one aspect of Christ’s work, an image, simile, metaphor or story misses another important perspective.
However, for the purposes of stimulating discussion, I’d like to offer this story and find out from you, dear reader, what you think of its strengths and weaknesses. I do not remember from whence I garnered this illustration, but here you go:
“On August 16, 1987, Northwest Airlines flight 225 crashed just after taking off from the Detroit airport, killing 155 people. One survived: a four-year-old named Cecelia. News accounts say when rescuers found Cecelia they did not believe she had been on the plane. Investigators first assumed Cecelia had been a passenger in one of the cars on the highway onto which the airliner crashed. But when the passenger register for the flight was checked, there was Cecelia’s name. Cecelia survived because, even as the plane was falling, Cecelia’s mother, Paula Chican, unbuckled her own seat belt, got down on her knees in front of her daughter, wrapped her arms and body around Cecelia, and then would not let her go. Nothing could separate that child from her mother’s love—neither tragedy nor disaster, neither the fall nor the flames that followed, neither height nor depth, neither life nor death. Like that child caught in the middle of the disaster, so we have been trapped by our own sin, spiralling down to an inevitable doom. But our God loved us so much that he left heaven, came down to our level, and covered us with the sacrifice of his own body so that we might be saved from the Fall.”
The ‘covering’ aspect of the atonement comes across well. The ‘hilasterion’ (Rom 3.25) was the cover of the ark of the covenant, the mercy-seat, the place of propitiation, “Above the ark were the cherubim of the Glory, overshadowing the atonement cover…” (Hebrews 9:5 NIV11). The high priest sprinkled blood on the ark’s lid to make atonement for ‘the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been’ (Lev 16:16 NIV11). We have a ‘better’ cover. A permanent one. No need for annual rituals. And not a covering by the blood of animals, but the perfect Son of God.
What does this illustration say to you? Does it do justice to the topic? What are its strengths and weaknesses? Do you have a favourite illustration you like to use when explaining the atonement to people? Please let me know.
Unexpected encounters with friends are always a delight. Saturday provided two such pleasures. Penny & I popped along to the New Hope open day – a charity for which I volunteer. I’m impressed with their work and recommend them to anyone in the Watford area looking for an opportunity to make a difference.
After a welcome flapjack & cup of tea (thanks, Annette – your home-made fairy cakes looked delightful!), we heard children singing and wended our way towards the sound. There was Jess coordinating the choir from Watford Central Primary school. She’s a friend of a friend (via Becky Makinson), and was doing a sterling job marshalling the vocal talents of the youngsters who’d been good enough to take time out of their spare Saturday time this weekend. Click here for a short clip of their singing.
A little later a harp seeped into our soundscape. Not something you hear every day. Moving into the workshop revealed a harp/flute duet. Lo and behold, if it wasn’t Lynn, the mother of a church friend, Leon. She and the flautist were providing beautiful music for all who would stop and listen.
While we already know Jess and Lynn, we’re not best friends. But seeing them serving people with whom I have a connection gave me a stronger bond with them. I was reminded that friendship is not built on just talking or spending time together (as helpful as that can be), but also on serving together. Jesus understood this – he did not serve alone, but, after setting the example, involved his followers to join him in service. He was the servant par excellence – “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve,” (Matthew 20:28 NIV11), and gave his disciples opportunities to serve, “he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people.” (Matthew 15:36 NIV11). He still does today.
All of us have opportunities to serve, but I wonder if, should we find ways to serve together with other believers, we might find our church communities stronger and more bonded in love. The strength of our fellowship does not depend on believing the same things, or sitting in the same building. It depends far more on what we do together that would please God and serve the world around us.