Friday, 27 August 2010

The blind and the lame

The Bible is full of echoes. The more you study the Bible in trust and obedience, the more you'll hear them. It's part of what convinces me that the Bible is the word of God... the echoes are so many, so meaningful, and so multi-layered, that it's immensely beyond the genius of any man to construct such an interplay - especially when those echoes are in different books by different human authors spanning the centuries.

Of course, you always have to ask yourself if you're hearing a real echo or not, or if you've been a bit fanciful. And you have to interpret exactly what is being said through the echo - what are the intended implications?

Sometimes something comes up rather wonderfully just through the different combinations of reading that you may be involved in - your personal studies, studies at church and in family, etc.

Here's one that I've just seen for the first time today, one part from my own reading and another through preparing a sermon. I'm going to quote the first passage in the ESV, because I think the interpretation of the rather obscure passage is rather good, keeping a literal idiom whilst making its meaning clear. This is 2 Samuel 15:3-9, describing how David established his kingdom over all Israel, coming to Jerusalem:
3 So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron, and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel. 4 David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years. 5 At Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months, and at Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years. 6 And the king and his men went to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land, who said to David, “You will not come in here, but the blind and the lame will ward you off”—thinking, “David cannot come in here.” 7 Nevertheless, David took the stronghold of Zion, that is, the city of David. 8 And David said on that day, “Whoever would strike the Jebusites, let him get up the water shaft to attack ‘the lame and the blind,’ who are hated by David's soul.” Therefore it is said, “The blind and the lame shall not come into the house.” 9 And David lived in the stronghold and called it the city of David. And David built the city all around from the Millo inward. 10 And David became greater and greater, for the Lord, the God of hosts, was with him.
Now, in Matthew 21:1ff we read how the Son of David - a central theme of Matthew's - came to claim his kingdom in Jerusalem, as he headed into the final week and to the cross. The Lord comes suddenly to his temple, and symbolically purges it - anticipating the greater purging that was to come in AD70. And lo and behold, in this passage the same characters - the blind and the lame - appear as back in 2 Samuel when his predecessor came to his:
14 And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, 16 and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise’?”
It's an echo - no doubt about that; too much is correlated for it to be a coincidence. But how to construe it? What was Matthew, and ultimately the Holy Spirit, hinting at? Here's my stab:

When King David came to claim his kingdom, his enemies (the Jebusites) posited the blind and the lame as his enemies. They were of course speaking mockingly - even the blind and lame would defeat him! But David rose to the challenge, and came to claim his kingdom.

Here in Matthew the true David comes to claim his kingdom in Jerusalem, having ridden in on the king's donkey and come to visit his house (the temple) - and the blind and the lame are there to great him; not as posited enemies, but as his welcomers and friends, those whom he heals. Jesus came to bringing healing and peace to the nations (hence he rode the donkey, not the war-horse), not judgment and death. But notice by implication, that the scribes and the chief priests have taken the position of the cursed Canaanite Jebusites. As Jesus came to visit to judge/cleanse the temple he was purging it of the evils that had grown up under their oversight, and hence it was a fairly clear rebuke to them. But instead of receiving the rebuke, the rejected it and the rebuker. They identified themselves as instead of being God's chosen leaders, being Jehovah's enemies those who (ultimately in AD70) were the class waiting to be destroyed by the true David's determined vengeance.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Africans versus aid

In this interesting letter in the Daily Telegraph this week, Africans ask us to cease and desist with damaging "development aid"...

Home-Ed Help

Need some friendly help with home education? From some-one who's been there and knows the challenges? Need a support package to give you a helping hand? Try this:

I'm sure I don't need to declare conflicts of interest, but the proprietor is an in-law-in-law, and I can testify that I know one of Paula's daughters in particular and she's a great credit to her mum!

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Behold your king

Just over 2 1/2 years ago, I began teaching through Mark's gospel in the Kijiji slum in Nairobi. Then we moved to Eldoret, and I began again from the start of the book, preaching on Sunday mornings when it was my "turn".

We've now reached chapter 11, where Jesus at last enters Jerusalem, the end of a long road - openly showing and declaring himself (and having the people declare him) to be the promised Messiah, come now to bring salvation to God's people, riding the donkey of prophecy (Zechariah 9:9). It feels like we've been travelling with him for those years as the disciples did - watching, listening and learning. The repeated teachings about the true nature of the Messiah's kingdom and what real Christ-honouring service means - in contrast to what the natural expectation of blind, fallen man is - has made a deep impression on me and I hope on my hearers, which I pray will bear lasting fruit for us all.

Two interesting things I learnt - firstly, riding a donkey does not in itself signify poverty or self-abasement; Solomon was set on a donkey when he inherited the kingdom from his father David (1 Kings 1:33); in fact, all the king's sons did (2 Samuel 13:29). Secondly, the popular idea (I read it in John Wesley's notes) that the same crowd that shouted out "Hosanna" later shouted out "crucify him!" is nothing more than a speculation, and an unlikely one on the face of it - the gospels tell us that those who welcomed Jesus as the Messiah were those who came up to Jerusalem with him; those who shouted "crucify him!" a few days later were the allies of the rulers in Jerusalem.

Now that we've reached this great moment, it's quite thrilling. For a long time, Jesus was content - actually deliberately chose - to remain away from open controversy and centres where premature attention would be drawn to him. But now, as the true king of Israel and of the covenant, and now that the planned time had arrived to ratify that covenant with his blood, he mounted the king's donkey and deliberately presented himself to the capital of Israel, God's chosen city, as the one for whom they had been waiting. The rulers complained and then schemed when Messianic praise was given to him - but the "nobodies" who had been waiting long for this moment rejoiced and could not keep quiet with their shouts of praise as the so-long longed-for King now strolled in to - at last - inaugurate his kingdom. This is especially exciting when you preach to lots of this world's "nobodies".

That kingdom was to be brought in through a painful cross, of which Jesus in those proceeding times had spoken often, though with so little understanding even from his nearest. But understand it or not, the kingdom had arrived. That ultimately meant devastating judgment for those who did not want it - but liberty and life now to be freely given to those who were waiting. Which are you? To the unbelieving eye, a carepenter-cum-popular-preaching was riding on a young animal into the city. To the eye that God had opened, the king was about to ascend his throne. Which do you see?

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Things we know aren't true

A few days ago my eyes glimpsed upon a British Sunday newspaper headline. It was something to the effect of:
"Mothers choosing work over children has no long-term effects, study shows."
Ha, ha, ha.

I've also this week been reading a mathematical book. It had an interesting discussion about the way modern mathematics analyses ideas. One part has discussed the mathematicians' "tool" of "proof by contradiction" or "reductio ad absurdum". When given an idea, turn it around and look at the consequences of the reverse idea.

I wonder how many people would spot the obvious nonsense in the newspaper's headline more clearly if it had been phrased the following way. Wonder why the editor didn't choose one of these...
Time spent with your children is wasted, study shows
Or this:
Investing in your kids: pointless, say scientists
Because that's the logical upshot... if not investing in your children has no long term negative effects, then on the other side of the coin investing in your children can't have any long term positive effects either. You can't win with both heads and tails. If nothing is lost one way, then neither can anything be gained the other way.

It was one of those newspapers whose editorial slant would definitely like such things to be true. Perhaps you've heard of the preacher who wrote in the margin of his notes, "argument weak here - shout louder!" And in Western civilisation, there's no way to shout louder than for the Sunday newspaper to give it the main headline and proclaim that (drum roll) scientists, (all bow!) have produced a study (gasp!). Even in post-modernity, the mythical white-coats seem to have retained their trump card in popular cultural imagination: when academics speak, truth speaks! Those who dare to question them can only be reactionary fundamentalists, tsk tsk.

But no matter how loudly they shout, we still know it's not true. God gave children to parents for a reason, and part of that reason is so that they can raise them, and that's what works best. That's how God's world works, and all other things being equal, in the world that God constructed, following God's ways will never be equal to the alternatives. God's world works God's way, and we know it.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Clark Pinnock and the "wider hope" - salvation for the unevangelised?

I remembered a reason why I revamped my homepage. It was to make it easier for me to add to it articles I've written in the past that can still be of benefit to others. Today I've added this article: Clark Pinnock and the "wider hope" - hope for the unevangelised?

Monday, 9 August 2010

As I imitate Christ

Not too long ago I was teaching the adult Sunday School from Acts 20 - Paul's farewell speech to the Ephesian elders.

One thing that struck me is that Paul spent most of the time talking about... himself.

That seems quite surprising, when we consider that 1) Paul was speaking under inspiration and 2) in another place, under inspiration Paul said that he did not preach himself, but Jesus Christ the Lord.

But what was the summary of what Paul had to say about himself? When teaching, I put it like this: "You've seen what I've done; now you do the same."

I've found that thought a great challenge and spur to my thinking. Can I say the same to my people. When the time comes for me to pass on, will I be able to say...
"You know how I've lived and taught. Now that you are the leaders here, you make sure you do that, and don't do something different."
I can't remember ever hearing someone say that, or even teaching that we should. And yet Paul does, and thinks we should too (that's the point!). Or will I have to say:
"You know what I've taught you to do - make sure you obey those things."
That's not a bad thing to be able to say - but it's lacking. Against the apostolic, Biblical standard, it falls short. Biblical is "be followers of me, even as I also am of Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1).

Jesus did not just teach us how to be servants; he also pointed to himself as the true example of it (Mark 10:35-45 - which I preached on last week). Paul followed this pattern in life as well as in doctrine. All of Christ's servants  - but especially pastors and church-planters - are expected to do the same. When the time comes for us to move on (whether through a new calling or incapacity or death), we should not need to say "now, for some new leaders, you'd better send to the seminary/denominational HQ/wherever". We should be able to say to those we've trained, "you know exactly what I've done, day in and day out - you do that".

I have the growing conviction that a lot of church-planting missionary work falls short because this goal is hardly even considered. The outsider comes in and does what he does - but it's not something that could be imitated by those inside the culture he's come to. Only someone with his education, specialised training and access to resources could do it. But that does not only apply in missionary situations. Even in the local church - how often do leaders automatically think of dispatching potential leaders off to the specialised institutions where they can learn the special secrets of the initiated? If we could just say to those potential leaders "you well know my practice - do that!", what kind of church growth might we, by the grace of God, then see? (Whilst we're on this aside, here's another one that I read in a book earlier today - notice in Acts 20:34-35 that Paul challenges the local church elders to remember how he, Paul, worked hard to provide for the needs of the poor - and then says that they, the local church elders, should do the same. That's interesting, isn't it... how many local church elders do you know who have followed Paul's instructions here?).

But whether church leader or not, if someone wanted to know how to serve Christ, what would you say? Could you say "watch and see"? That's meant to be the basic answer every right-walking believer should be able to give.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

The awesome John Calvin

For as long as I've been blessed with sufficient discipline to prepare sermons properly, there have been two authors who I always consult where possible, regardless of the book or subject.

One of those is Matthew Henry; the other is John Calvin.

Calvin's penetrating insights into the ebbs and flows of whichever passage he is tackling are timeless, and the consistency of the quality of the comment is awesome.

I don't really know who reads this blog and I might be preaching to the choir here... but if you prepare sermons and don't routinely consult John Calvin, now's a great time to form a new habit. You couldn't possibly regret it.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Matthew Henry on prayer

This delightful comment on prayer comes during Matthew Henry's commentary on the healing of blind Bartimaeus:
The waterman in the boat, who with his hook takes hold of the shore, does not thereby pull the shore to the boat, but the boat to the shore. So in prayer we do not draw the mercy to ourselves, but ourselves to the mercy.
Then in another place:
Though Christ knows all our needs, he desires to know them from us.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Home-page revamp

None of the content has changed (apart from a few extra sermons added from other places), but I've spruced up my home-page.

I had a few improvements I wanted to make, but they were waiting on being facilitated by some back-end work. I can't remember any more what those improvements were, but they're on a list somewhere... but the site is now in shape for me to easily add resources which will, God-willing, make it a lot more useful place for visitors in future.